Asia’s development, economic and political attention, and balance are shifting towards the Indo-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific area is increasingly shaping geopolitics of the international system, with regional and foreign powers actively battling and working with one another to oppose and extend their own and others’ effects.

The region is important because it is home to 60% of the world’s population. The Pacific coastline is shared by three of the world’s largest economies: the United States, China, and Japan. This area includes not just big economies, but also several regional actors who play a significant role in Indo-Pacific affairs. Because of significant commercial routes, straits, and chokepoints, the importance of this region has grown even more. Almost 80% of global trade goes via the Malacca Strait alone. Different competitions are taking place among significant stakeholders, and as a result, the regional balance of power is altering. Currently, the United States and China are aggressively playing in this region to dominate it and oppose each other. They are also involving other Indo-Pacific littoral governments to fulfill their national interests.

Historically, China began its maritime trade under the Song dynasty in the 11 century, and several dynasties in China were active in sea trade for the next three centuries. However, towards the end of the 15 century, the Chinese emperors reduced their marine commerce owing to several internal concerns and obstacles. With its Belt and Road Initiative project, China is returning to maritime commerce almost 6 centuries later. President Xi Jinping presented the One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme, subsequently known as the Belt and Road Initiative, in 2013. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a worldwide initiative launched by China to connect several continents through road and marine trade routes.

China initially had geopolitical and economic interests in East Asia and the Western Pacific, but it has now expanded its interests to include the whole Indo-Pacific area. This Indo-Pacific area is vitally important to China; the reunification of Taiwan is China’s top objective. Second, to address the Malacca conundrum, China is largely reliant on hydrocarbon imports. Almost 70% of China’s energy reserves, petroleum, and LNG exports pass across the Malacca Strait. Not only does it meet its energy needs, but it also transports 20% of world marine commerce and 60% of Chinese trade commodities over the Malacca Strait, making it the most vital communication channel for the Chinese economy.

China’s String of Pearl programme has also resulted in the militarisation of the region by India and the US to sabotage Chinese trade routes. The programme entails deep seaport construction, increased naval presence, and encirclement of India. With the String of Pearl, China has developed deep seaports in the majority of Indian Ocean littoral states, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. This will assist China in countering the Malacca conundrum since India has historically dominated the Malacca Waterway and has threatened to shut the Malacca strait.

China’s rising footprints in the Indian Ocean, as well as its growing military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, has attracted US attention to the region. As a result, the US switched its strategic focus from the Pacific-Atlantic to the Pacific-Indian Ocean. Under Trump’s administration, the US formally launched the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision (FOIP). The US is also giving China a run for its money through Quad (the United States, India, Australia, and Japan) and AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). AUKUS represents a redefinition and re-establishment of American dominance in the Indo-Pacific area.

The strategic confrontation between China and the United States began in the South China Sea when the US launched eight nuclear-powered submarines as an expansion to the US Navy’s fleet. China has three marine zones at the moment: the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the South China Sea. The United States is combating and restraining China in all of these maritime zones through strategic partnerships and FOIP. To offset China’s influence, the United States is strengthening ties with ASEAN countries. China and the United States are playing an action-reaction game in which both nations have militarised the region with their naval presence. How this competition pans out will decide the future of the region. Until then, the two powers will continue to lock horns with each other while the regional countries look for emerging blocs to protect their interests.