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The Battle for the Indo-Pacific

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books and culture

The Battle for the Indo-Pacific

A book of essays explores Asia’s geopolitics. August 21, 2020
Politics and law

Asia’s New Geopolitics: Essays on Reshaping the Indo-Pacific, by Michael Auslin (Hoover Institution Press, 263 pp., $29.95)

Michael Auslin, an historian at the Hoover Institution, argues that the United States has no global strategy to contain China’s overwhelming ambitions. Moreover, he believes, the U.S. does not understand the collective destiny of Asia. Local agreements, whether economic or military, with India, the Philippines, or Japan cannot balance the power of Beijing, which aims to control this part of the world.

In his new collection of essays, Asia’s New Geopolitics: Essays on Reshaping the Indo-Pacific, Auslin argues that China’s economic growth, the foundation of its strategic ambitions, reveals the extent of the Communist regime’s cheating, propaganda, and massive theft of intellectual property. If Chinese stealth fighters look very much like U.S. planes, he observes, the only rationale is copycat and theft.

Auslin reviews the Beijing regime’s incremental advancements: the creation of artificial islands in the South China sea, for instance, illustrates its long-term strategy. Indeed, China acts as a patient chess player. China’s gamesmanship, concurs British historian Niall Ferguson in the foreword, is the greatest strategic challenge of the next generation.

How should the U.S. cope with the Chinese threat? The current American policy goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific encompasses too vast a battlefield. Instead, Auslin puts forward the concept of an “Asiatic Mediterranean.” He believes the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea—an expanse of water between China and its neighbors Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia—is key to the region. China treats this Asian Mediterranean as if it were its own coastal waters. Though America remains dominant on the Pacific’s high seas, it does not appreciate the strategic importance of its marginal seas—and thus, each Chinese encroachment in the Asian Mediterranean brings only a tepid U.S. reaction.

Taiwan is crucial, Auslin maintains. For Chinese President Xi Jinping, annexing Taiwan is a dream. The U.S. knows it, but how should it respond? Auslin suggests a more proactive military policy in the region.

Auslin’s essays were written before two major regional events: Hong Kong’s democratic revolt against Beijing’s interference in the local judiciary system, and Taiwan’s reelection of a pro-independence president. Beijing may have a superior military strategy in the Asian Mediterranean, but it has no soft power. Democratic ideas supported by the U.S. still have the upper hand in that regard—but as Auslin notes, the region could use more American hard power in the future.

Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

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