The Pacific Ocean region is an expansive and heterogeneous area that includes multiple nations and territories, each with distinct geopolitical and geoeconomic concerns. The primary objective of this article is to present a comprehensive analysis of the fundamental elements that influence the geopolitical and geoeconomic dynamics within this particular region, emphasising its importance within the global context.
Several factors contribute to these dynamics, including the vast expanse and considerable depth of the Pacific Ocean. Encompassing approximately one-third of the Earth’s surface and containing over half of its total water volume, the Pacific Ocean plays a significant role in shaping these dynamics.
The concept of the Indo-Pacific has gained prominence as a strategic framework that connects the Indian and Pacific Oceans, signifying the increasing interdependence and rivalry among significant global powers including China, India, Japan, Australia, and the United States. The independent Pacific Island states have exhibited a collective diplomatic approach, asserting their distinctiveness as significant maritime nations with full authority over their maritime territories. Moreover, they have actively promoted regional collaboration on critical matters such as climate change, ocean governance, and security.
The Pacific Ocean region’s maritime trade route and network facilitate economic integration among prominent global powers such as the United States, China, Japan, Australia, and various other nations. The region in also encompasses significant strategic locations, including the East China Sea, the South China Sea, Australasian Mediterranean Sea, and the Western Pacific. These areas hold considerable importance for both global trade and security.
As per the World Bank, it is observed that the Pacific Rim nations contribute approximately 60% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) and 50% of the global trade volume. The Pacific Ocean harbours a significant quantity of natural resources, including fisheries, minerals, and energy sources, which play a crucial role in the advancement and well-being of numerous nations.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the Pacific Ocean region serves as a focal point for geopolitical tensions and conflicts, as various actors engage in competition to assert their influence and dominance over the strategically significant waterways and islands. Several significant concerns encompass the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea, the increasing nuclear bombing capability of Korea, and the escalating competition between the United States and China. Hence, the Pacific Ocean region possesses significant strategic significance owing to its expansive size and its pivotal role as a crucial maritime trade route.
Let us examine several aspects:
The Pacific Ocean is widely recognised as the largest and deepest among the five oceanic divisions on Earth, encompassing approximately one-third of the Earth’s total surface area. The region encompasses a significant number of islands and possesses abundant marine resources, along with strategically important chokepoints and trade routes.
The ocean’s region accommodates a total of 14 autonomous Pacific island states, which have established their distinctiveness as “large ocean states” rather than being categorised solely as small island states. Furthermore, they have demonstrated a readiness to engage in collaborative diplomacy within the framework of the ‘Blue Pacific’ initiative, with the aim of tackling shared issues such as climate change and ocean management.
The region is currently witnessing a growing competition for geopolitical influence among major global powers, notably China and the United States. China has significantly augmented its economic and diplomatic influence in the region by extending loans, providing aid, and undertaking infrastructure projects for Pacific island nations. The United States has endeavoured to mitigate China’s influence by enhancing its security and defence alliances with regional allies and partners, including Australia, Japan, and New Zealand.
The Pacific Ocean region is confronted with a range of maritime disputes pertaining to issues of sovereignty, boundaries, and resources. These disputes involve not only Pacific island states but also external actors. Several notable examples include the disputes in the South China Sea, the disputes in the East China Sea, and the movement for Chuuk independence.
The region encompasses a wide array of economic interests, which can at times be diverse and even conflicting. These interests span various sectors such as tourism, fisheries, mining, agriculture, and renewable energy. The region is actively engaged in several regional and sub-regional trade agreements, including the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus), the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
These factors exemplify certain intricacies and dynamics within the Pacific Ocean region, necessitating cautious navigation and diplomatic involvement from all relevant parties.
As hinted earlier, the Pacific Ocean region harbours a number of maritime disputes that possess the capacity to heighten tensions among nations. The South China Sea has emerged as a prominent area of interest, characterised by intersecting territorial disputes involving China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan. These disputes have elicited uncertainties regarding the safeguarding of maritime navigation, the exploitation of resources, and the possibility of military confrontations.
China asserts its territorial claim over a substantial expanse of the South China Sea and has strategically positioned numerous coast guard and fishing vessels within contested regions, such as the Spratly Islands. China’s claim is being contested by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in 2016 pertained to a claim initiated by the Philippines and pushed by the west against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The court’s decision ultimately favoured the Philippines.
The United States has undertaken measures, such as freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) and increased support for Southeast Asian partners, in response to China’s territorial claims and land reclamation efforts. The defence treaty between Washington and Manila has the potential to involve the United States in a potential conflict between China and the Philippines, specifically concerning the significant oil and gas reserves in the region.
Rise of China
The growing strength of China’s economy and its expanding influence in the Pacific Ocean region have significantly altered the geopolitical terrain. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has additionally augmented China’s influence and stakes in the Pacific Ocean region and augmented its maritime and military capacities, engaging in regular exercises and patrols within the vicinity.
USA’s Pivot to Asia
In response to the growing prominence of China in Indo-Pacific region, the United States initiated the “Pivot to Asia” policy, with the objective of intensifying its attention towards the Asian region. The policy encompasses the reinforcement of alliances, augmentation of military presence, and facilitation of economic integration with significant Pacific partners, namely Japan, South Korea, and Australia. The United States also participates in multilateral frameworks such as the Quad, which includes the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, with the aim of monitoring, regulating, and impeding the rise of China.
The economies of the region are heavily dependent on maritime transportation for both the export and import of goods. The geoeconomic landscape is significantly influenced by key industries, namely shipping, fisheries, energy, and tourism. Moreover, abundant natural resources, such as oil, gas, minerals, and fisheries, render it a region of significant allure for nations with an insatiable craving for resources.
One of the primary obstacles encountered within the Pacific Ocean region relates to the task of effectively harmonising economic advancement with the imperative of environmental sustainability. The region demonstrates susceptibility to the ramifications of climate change, including the escalation of sea levels, coral bleaching, and occurrences of severe weather phenomena. In addition, the region is confronted with challenges arising from illicit fishing activities, the presence of marine pollutants, and ongoing maritime conflicts. The resolution of these matters necessitates the establishment of regional collaboration and the facilitation of multilateral discussions in order to safeguard peace and stability within the Pacific Ocean region.
The presence and role of various multilateral institutions are significant factors that exert influence on the geopolitical and geoeconomic dynamics of the Pacific Ocean region. These institutions function as platforms for regional actors to interact, pursue shared interests, and effectively manage conflicts. The region is home to several notable institutions, including ASEAN, APEC, and the Pacific Islands Forum. These organisations possess distinct mandates and memberships; nevertheless, they collectively contribute to the management of conflicts arising from divergent narratives between Western, regional, and Chinese perspectives. Additionally, they have established channels for engaging in discourse with external collaborators and stakeholders, including but not limited to the United States, China, Japan, Australia, and various other entities.
The trajectory of geopolitics in this particular region will be dependent upon the manner in which these two dominant powers, the US and China, navigate their interactions, alongside the strategic calculations made by other regional stakeholders, including Japan, Australia, India, and ASEAN, as they seek to maintain a balance between their interests and alliances. Several pivotal factors that will influence the geopolitical landscape encompass trade, security, climate change, and human rights. It is probable that the United States and its Western allies will endeavour to uphold their presence and exert their influence in the region, while China will persist in asserting its territorial claims and pursuing its interests, particularly in the South China Sea and Taiwan. The likelihood of conflict or cooperation will be contingent upon the manner in which both parties navigate their disparities and establish shared interests.
Written by Rajeev Ahmed
Geopolitcal Analyst, Strategic Thinker and the Editor at geopolits.com
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