Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 9 News List

A new order is required
for the Indo-Pacific region

Indo-Pacific powers must take stronger action to strengthen regional stability, reiterating their commitment to shared norms, not to mention international law, and creating robust institutions

By Brahma Chellaney

The past continues to cast a shadow over the relationship between South Korea and Japan — the US’ closest allies in East Asia.

China, for its part, uses history to justify its efforts to upend the territorial and maritime status quo and emulate the pre-1945 colonial depredations of its rival Japan.

All of China’s border disputes with 11 of its neighbors are based on historical claims, not international law.

This brings us to the third key challenge facing the Indo-Pacific region: changing maritime dynamics.

Amid surging maritime trade flows, regional powers are fighting for access, influence and relative advantage.

Here, the biggest threat lies in China’s unilateral attempts to alter the regional status quo.

What China achieved in the South China Sea has significantly more far-reaching and longer-term strategic implications than, say, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as it sends the message that defiant unilateralism does not necessarily carry international costs.

Add to that new challenges — from climate change, overfishing and degradation of marine ecosystems to the emergence of maritime non-state actors, such as pirates, terrorists and criminal syndicates — and the regional security environment is becoming increasingly fraught and uncertain.

All of this raises the risks of war, whether accidental or intentional.

As a US National Security Strategy report put it: “A geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Yet while the major players in the region all agree that an open, rules-based order is vastly preferable to Chinese hegemony, they have so far done too little to promote collaboration.

There is no more time to waste.

Indo-Pacific powers must take stronger action to strengthen regional stability, reiterating their commitment to shared norms, not to mention international law, and creating robust institutions.

For starters, Australia, India, Japan and the US must make progress in institutionalizing their Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, so that they can better coordinate their policies and pursue broader collaboration with other important players, such as Vietnam, Indonesia and South Korea, as well as with smaller nations.

Economically and strategically, the global center of gravity is shifting to the Indo-Pacific region.

If the region’s players do not act now to fortify an open, rules-based order, the security situation will continue to deteriorate — with consequences that are likely to reverberate worldwide.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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