With its conceptual ambiguity, “Indo-Pacific” is the latest geopolitical buzzword between the United States and its allies. Behind its increased use is an overt aim to curb China’s growing economic, political and military influence between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Beijing’s foreign policy deliberation is being rigorously tested with this increasing tilt by the West towards the Indo-Pacific.
For China, this tilt complicates the already erratic relations between Beijing and Taipei, escalates the sabre-rattling in the South China Sea, and disrupts its flagship Belt and Road Initiative, which the country has invested heavily in. But the growing geopolitical significance of the region goes well beyond China’s relations with Western liberal democracies and regional economies. It exposes a permanent contradiction in Beijing’s foreign policy between pursuing economic growth with trade partners and simultaneously conducting combative diplomacy with many countries.
The reality is that if Beijing doubles down on its diplomatic war of words, it will not help fulfil China’s own age-old foreign affairs priority – creating a stable external environment to foster its domestic economic development. This conservative maxim was advocated by Deng Xiaoping but it should remain a mantra for Beijing in handling foreign affairs today.