A new Indo-Pacific strategic arc is beginning to emerge, connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans through Southeast Asia. This new strategic construct is being forged by a range of factors. Notably, India is emerging as an important strategic, diplomatic and economic actor, ‚ÄĚlooking East,‚ÄĚ and becoming more engaged in regional frameworks. Growing trade, investment and energy flows across this broader region are strengthening economic and security interdependencies. These two factors combined are also increasingly attracting international attention to the Indian Ocean, through which some of the world’s busiest and most strategically significant trade routes pass.

The 2009 Defence White Paper made clear Australia’s enduring interest in the stability of what it called the wider Asia-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific is a logical extension of this concept, and adjusts Australia’s priority strategic focus to the arc extending from India though Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia, including the sea lines of communication on which the region depends.

The Indo-Pacific is still emerging as a system. Given its diversity and broad sweep, its security architecture is, unsurprisingly, a series of sub-regions and arrangements rather than a unitary whole. But over time, Australia’s security environment will be significantly influenced by how the Indo-Pacific and its architecture evolves.

Security in the region is subject to a mix of trends towards integration and competition. The region’s strategic architecture, together with the rising capacity of states to focus on regional security issues, is developing through forums such as the East Asia Summit and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers Meeting Plus. The habits of cooperation built through this architecture are establishing some of the positive foundations needed for regional security. At the same time, historical territorial or maritime disputes such as in the South China Sea and East China Sea, regional flashpoints, and the increasing military capacity of many states, increases the risk of destabilising strategic competition.

The influence of other regional powers such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Indonesia, is becoming more important. Although the strategic environment will be shaped largely by the relationship between the United States and China, and by the rise of India in the longer-term, the increasing number of influential Asian states means we are witnessing the evolution of a more complex and competitive order…


For Australia, this more complex environment will make it more challenging for us to achieve or influence outcomes. Asian countries will balance a broader range of interests and partners, and Australia’s voice will need to be clearer and stronger to be heard.

As the National Security Strategy notes, ‚ÄĚmultilateralism is inherently difficult and requires perseverance in pursuit of sometimes seemingly incremental development. Australia is working with its partners to strengthen regional forums ‚ÄĒ¬†especially the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum ‚ÄĒ¬†so that they can better contribute to regional stability. At the same time, we are developing bilateral relations with our most important partners, and providing support for smaller or ad hoc groupings to gain traction on issues of shared concern.‚ÄĚ A credible [Australian Defence Force] underpins Australia’s influence and reach. While the task of achieving our security objectives may be more complicated, our legacy of building defence and military relationships within the region positions us well to work in this more complicated environment…

More than any other, the relationship between the United States and China will determine the outlook for our region. Some competition is inevitable, but both seek stability and prosperity, not conflict. On this basis, Australia sees the most likely future as one in which the United States and China are able to maintain a constructive relationship encompassing both competition and cooperation.

It will be important for the United States and China to grow their political and strategic relationship to match their deep economic integration. Both countries have a clear interest in preserving regional stability and security. We expect that both the United States and China will work hard to maximize cooperative aspects and minimize the competitive elements in the relationship. At the heart of continued stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific is a positive and enduring bilateral US-China relationship at every level ‚ÄĒ¬†economic, political, strategic and military-to-military.

The United States will continue to be the world’s strongest military power and the most influential strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future. The role of the United States in the Indo-Pacific has been central to maintaining a stable Asian region for more than 60 years. The United States’ alliances and partnerships in North and Southeast Asia and the United States’ guarantee of extended deterrence ‚ÄĒ¬†the commitment that it would come to the defence of any of its allies that were attacked ‚ÄĒ¬†has provided a stable security environment underpinning regional prosperity.

Through its multifaceted rebalance, the United States is shifting its strategic posture to support a peaceful region where sovereign states can enjoy continued security and prosperity. This rebalance underlines an increased United States’ focus on Asia. The United States has signed the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, joined the East Asia Summit, upgraded its relations with India and reviewed its military posture in Asia.

The US rebalance provides opportunities for deeper bilateral and multilateral political, economic, diplomatic and military cooperation with regional states. The United States has announced that its rebalance includes enhancing partnerships with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Vietnam and has outlined a vision for substantive and sustained military-to-military engagement with China as part of its broader relationship…

Australia welcomes China’s rise, not just because of the social and economic benefits it has brought China’s people, but also in recognition of the benefits that it has delivered to states around the globe. China’s continued economic growth has been a positive contributor to the economies of Australia and other states, helping to offset the economic troubles of Europe and relatively low growth in the United States.

The Government does not believe that Australia must choose between its longstanding Alliance with the United States and its expanding relationship with China; nor do the United States and China believe that we must make such a choice. Their growing economic interdependence and developing security cooperation reinforce this point. The Government does not approach China as an adversary. Rather, its policy is aimed at encouraging China’s peaceful rise and ensuring that strategic competition in the region does not lead to conflict.

Photo: Aritra Deb / Shutterstock

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