China’s growing footprint in the Pacific Islands 
GS Paper 2, IR.

China’s Foreign Minister’s eight-day tour to 10 Pacific Island Countries (PICs), co-hosting the Second China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers Meeting with Fiji. During the summit, China’s attempt to push through a comprehensive framework agreement, a draft of which had already been leaked, failed to achieve support among the PICs. Though this has aroused regional fears about China’s expanding influence in the Pacific islands, it has also been interpreted as evidence of China’s regional constraints.

How did the term Indo-Pacific become popular?

  • Countries in an area naturally get together to discuss establishing particular order and structure in order to ensure peace and security.
  • In a similar vein, some countries have used the term Indo Pacific (I.P) in official announcements.
  • During his visit to Russia, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar stated that intellectual property is one of the new concepts and methods spawned by the changing globe.
  • In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about I.P as a shared future at the Shangri-La conference.
  • A ‘Track 1.5’ meeting was also held between India, France, and Australia to identify security problems and difficulties in the Indo Pacific.
  • The existence of four major economies (the United States, China, Japan, and India) increases the significance of the Indo Pacific.

Is the Indo-Pacific region undergoing a major shift in the international political order?

  • The international liberal order, led by the United States, had lasted almost 75 years.
  • In terms of trade and investment growth, China stands to benefit the most from the directive.
  • Until the Cold War, the centre of gravity of global politics and trade remained across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Later, it was replaced by Asia Pacific, which was intended to exclude Indian interests, particularly in the context of the Cold War.
  • At the moment, the liberal order is undergoing transformation as countries such as the United States reconsider their approach to international relations.
  • The move from Asia Pacific to I.P is interpreted as a shift in the centre of gravity of world politics toward Asia.
  • It also represents a shift in the Balance of Power and the pivot of geopolitics.
  • The Indo-Pacific area is home to 65 percent of the world’s population, 63 percent of the world’s GDP, and more than 60 percent of the world’s marine trade flows through the region. Many nations’ economic interests and future prosperity are inextricably connected to the freedom of passage and free movement of commerce in the Indo-Pacific.

In Terms of China:

  • The development of China as an economic, scientific, military, and political superpower has caused a seismic change in the power balance. The tremors are now visible, and their effects can be felt all around the world. As a result, it is maintained that controlling the emergence of a diplomatically aggressive China would be vital for the Indo-Pacific region’s safety, security, and stability.
  • The renewal of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the establishment of a trilateral security treaty have stemmed from a more muscular China (AUKUS). India, Japan, and Australia are developing powerhouses that are seen as balancing forces in the area.
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the western world’s response, have introduced a new dimension to the Indo-Pacific power struggle. Closer connections between Beijing and Moscow, as shown during the current global division, might have major consequences in the future.

What are the PICs’ (Pacific Island Countries) Strategic Implications?

  • The Pacific Island Countries are a group of 14 governments located mostly in the Pacific Ocean’s tropical zone between Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu are among them.
  • The islands are separated into three distinct divisions based on physical and human geography: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.
  • The islands have a relatively modest land area and are spread out throughout the enormous equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  • As a result, while being among the world’s smallest and least inhabited governments, they have some of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Large EEZs have enormous economic potential because of the abundance of fisheries, energy, minerals, and other marine resources found in such zones.
  • As a result, they prefer to be known as Big Ocean States rather than Small Island States. Indeed, Kiribati and FSM, both PICs, have greater EEZs than India.
  • Furthermore, in major power competition, these nations have played a significant role as springboards for force projection and laboratories for developing and showing strategic capabilities.

What and how does China want to Achieve with the PICs?

  • Unlike the Western countries, China has no specific historical ties to the PICs. As a result, its interest in PICs is relatively new, and is tied to China’s ascent in recent decades.
  • The PICs are in the logical path of China’s maritime interest and naval force build-up. They are located beyond China’s ‘First Island Chain,’ which signifies the country’s first maritime expansion hurdle.
  • The PICs are strategically positioned in what China refers to as its “Far Seas,” control of which will make China a formidable Blue Water Navy—a vital condition for becoming a superpower.
  • At a time when the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue has developed as a key power in the Indo-Pacific in comparison to China, China’s desire to influence the PICs has grown even more essential.
  • Aside from the PICs’ huge marine riches, the Taiwan issue is important in China’s Pacific calculus. China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade state, is preparing for what appears to be an impending military assault. In this framework, it is critical to undermine Western dominance over Pacific Island chains that might stymie reunification.
  • Keeping the PICs away from the West and Taiwan will make China’s aim of Taiwan reunification simpler to achieve. It should be recalled that for the past few decades, acquiring diplomatic recognition in the Pacific has been a zero-sum struggle between China and Taiwan.
  • Through economic generosity, China has gained diplomatic recognition from ten of the fourteen PICs. Taiwan is now recognised by only four PICs: Tuvalu, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru.

What are the pillars of India’s Indo-Pacific strategy?

  • India’s approach to I.P might be summarised as “Open, Integrated, and Balanced.”
  • In the I.P., there is no hegemonic power. It is an important factor in the context of the Chinese PLA fleet aiming to supplant the overwhelming US presence in the region. China has formally gained supremacy in both the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
  • India seeks to turn a ‘divided’ region, notably ASEAN, into a ‘integrated’ one. It is a response to China’s divide and rule approach among ASEAN members.
  • India’s vision is built on a multipolar globe (through collaboration with all countries) and a multipolar Asia (consisting of India, China, ASEAN, Japan, Australia, etc.). No significant nations will take over important economic and commercial channels in such an order.
  • India wishes for the region’s democratisation as well. In the previous 10-15 years, the region has shifted from an American lake to one of Chinese assertiveness.
  • The United States had to acknowledge that only war could force China out of the South China Sea.
  • The United States’ inability to project influence, retain coalitions, and form alliances has resulted in the area becoming a Chinese lake.
  • India’s strategy also aims to restore an earlier order in the I.P, which has been destabilised by Chinese assertiveness.

What are China’s Threats in the Indo-Pacific?

  • China is a “power actor” in international diplomacy, threatening the region’s political order.
  • China is exerting itself in the Indian Ocean by giving military equipment to Bangladesh, Thailand (three submarines), Myanmar, Sri Lanka (frigate), and other countries.
  • China professes to be rising peacefully, yet they fail to address the worries of regional nations due to a lack of openness in their operations. Nobody knows what China’s next move will be.
  • China is also accused of colonising the area, as evidenced by the mounting debts of nations that received Chinese loans, cultural concerns voiced by residents of Hambantota in Sri Lanka (where China is building a strategically significant port), and illegal entry into Myanmar.
  • Chinese politics is known for its erratic swings from one extreme to the other, as seen by their motto “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom,” which was followed by a cultural revolution.
  • In 2012, China seized and walled Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, despite Philippine claims and a US diplomatic action against it. However, the Chinese have refused to move and continue to dominate the shoal, posing a hegemonic danger.

What are the Other Difficulties and Threats?

  • The challenges in the I.P involve more than merely safeguarding trade channels from a single country’s dominance.
  • Terrorism poses a significant concern, particularly to India. Terrorism is flourishing in areas close to I.P.
  • Maritime security and domain awareness are also important aspects of the I.P. idea.
  • There is political jargon that describes the I.P as an arc of prosperity where everyone can collaborate. While the political focus is on such chances, it frequently distracts from the genuine challenges, such as fighting Chinese assertions.
  • India is working toward a multipolar international order, as well as a resolve of like-minded countries to fight anyone who could threaten a multipolar world. However, many in the international community are opposed to such a resolution, which reflects a cold war attitude (such as NATO and Warsaw pact).
  • India likewise sees a rule-based international order. However, there are concerns about countries that use force and might to defy the order.

Is it necessary for India to concentrate more on operational challenges in the Indo-Pacific?

  • The region’s strong movements by China are a geopolitical and geo-economic reality. In Cold War parlance, it demands counterbalancing and containment of China as an unavoidable component of I.P policy.
  • There are numerous perspectives on India’s response. According to Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar, the notion of limiting China subscribed to by the US and others is based on a Cold War mentality. He also noted that India is exploring for ways to collaborate with China and other stakeholders.
  • At best, India’s approach regards China as a challenge rather than a danger.
  • India and China are partners in organisations such as the BRICS, Russia-India-China Trilateral (RIC), East Asia Summit (EAS), and others.
  • In many areas, such as the effects of globalisation, climate change, and so on, India and China share comparable interests, particularly in light of the United States’ withdrawal tendency.
  • A planned Eurasian Economic Cooperation conference in Russia further reinforces India’s focus on possibilities rather than obstacles.
  • India has the capacity to develop mini-lateral and trilateral relationships such as India-France-Australia and India-Australia-Indonesia (Indonesia is a central player within the ASEAN).
  • Recent strategic alliances with Japan, a similar one suggested with South Korea, and bilateral alliances with ASEAN nations such as Vietnam highlight the importance of counterbalancing.
  • Smaller nations in the area want India to step up and assist them economically and militarily as a counterbalance to China.

What are India’s Long-Term Prospects in the Indo-Pacific?

  • Naval forces and diplomacy are two critical weapons for increasing India’s standing in Indo-Pacific issues. Both techniques enable India to exert influence on events that take place far from our boundaries.
  • India must use its already strong trade and business links to develop minilateral diplomacy, blue water policy, and greater economic integration through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). All of these parts are necessary to complete the Indo Pacific’s open, integrated, and balanced image.
  • Achieving an open, connected, and balanced Indo Pacific will greatly improve American power projection and influence in the area.
  • India’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), on which programmes like as Sagarmala are based, must be exploited to increase international trust in India’s position in the Indo-Pacific.


  • The Indo-Pacific region is a strategic environment that presents both problems and possibilities for India and all other players. Appropriate diplomatic manoeuvring, economic and military assertiveness, and exploiting space as a building component for a multipolar world order are critical for the realisation of India’s goals in the area.
  • To avoid an imbalance (against the US and China) in favour of economic relations, the EU will need to provide appropriate space and support to France and other EU members with significant assets and links to the Indo-Pacific.
  • The nations in the region should have equal access to common spaces on the sea and in the air as a right under international law, which would need freedom of passage, unhindered commerce, and peaceful resolution of conflicts in line with international law.
  • It is critical to build regional connection based on sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, good governance, transparency, viability, and sustainability.
  • MDA (Maritime Domain Awareness) is required for Indo-Pacific security. MDA entails a thorough awareness of every marine operation that may have an influence on security, safety, the economy, or the environment.
  • Multipolarity: The region’s countries’ security, stability, and adherence to the rule of law are critical. This will also allow for regional multipolarity.
  • Smaller states in the area want India to step up and assist them broaden their choices, both economically and militarily. India should strive to achieve their goals.
  • For India to tackle the difficulties of the Indo-Pacific region, it needs strong naval capabilities, multilateral diplomacy, and economic integration with other states.
  • India must maintain its India Ocean vision, SAGAR – Security and Growth for All in the Region.


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