by Austin Bay
April 10, 2018
U.S. Pacific Command still calls itself PACOM, but it appears INDO-PACOM -- India-Pacific Command -- might be the acronym of the future.
Pentagon and State Department studies now routinely refer to the "Indo-Pacific region," as do the defense and foreign policy papers authored by their counterparts in Japan and Australia.
"INDO" obviously contracts Indian Ocean, equivalent to "PAC." However, Chinese admirals in Beijing detect another implication: the huge nation that dominates that body of water -- India.
To paraphrase Shakespeare's Hamlet, (SET ITAL) aye, there's the rub. (END ITAL)
For China, India is a very large rub. The subcontinent dominates the Indian Ocean. China, seeking to assure a steady supply of raw materials and energy for its expanding economy, has invested heavily in Africa and the Middle East. Tankers carry oil from Sudan and freighters cobalt from Congo to China, passing through waters patrolled by the Indian Navy.
That's the result of long-standing geographic circumstances. However, in the last 25 years, other facts have changed.
As the Cold War faded, a cool aloofness continued to guide India's defense and foreign policies. Indian military forces would occasionally exercise with Singaporean and Australian units -- they'd been British colonies, too. Indian ultra-nationalists still rail about British colonialism, but the Aussies had fought shoulder to shoulder with Indians in North Africa, Italy, the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and suffered mistreatment by London toffs. Business deals with America and Japan? Sign the contracts. However, in defense agreements, New Delhi distanced itself from Washington and Tokyo.
The Nixon Administration's decision to support Pakistan in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War embittered India. Other issues hampered the U.S.-India relationship. Indian left-wing parties insisted their country was a "Third World leader" and America was hegemonic, etcetera.
However, in the last 12 to 15 years, India's assessments of its security threats have changed demonstrably, and China's expanding power and demonstrated willingness to use that power to acquire influence and territory are by far the biggest factors affecting India's shift.
In 2007, The Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), at the behest of Japan, held its first informal meeting. The Quad's membership roll sends a diplomatic message: Japan, Australia, America and India. Japan pointed out all four nations regarded China as disruptive actor in the Indo-Pacific; they had common interests. Delhi downplayed the meeting, attempting to avoid the appearance of actively "countering China."
No more. The Quad nations now conduct naval exercises and sometimes include a quint, Singapore.
The 2016 Hague Arbitration Court decision provided the clearest indication of Chinese strategic belligerence. In 2012, Beijing claimed 85 percent of the South China Sea's 3.5 million square kilometers. The Philippines went to court. The Hague tribunal, relying on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty, supported the Filipino position that China had seized sea features and islets and stolen resources. Beijing ignored the verdict and still refuses to explain how its claims meet UNCLOS requirements.
That is the maritime action. India and China also have mountain issues. In 1962, as the Cuban Missile Crisis diverted world attention, the two Asian giants fought the Indo-Chinese War in the Himalayas. China won. The defeat still riles India.
Armed incidents still occur in two sectors where the border is disputed. One is in the east, the India-Bhutan-China border "trijunction," and one in the west, near the junction of the China-Pakistan-India border.
By the way, China supports Pakistan in its nuclear-armed cold war with India. India says Chinese rhetoric vis-a-vis the Himalayan disputes echoes its intransigent positions regarding the South China Sea.
The Quad would be a fearsome foursome. The decision lies in New Delhi.