Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo
The year 2021 will see navy vessels of the Western European countries deployed to the Indo-Pacific region one after another.
Britain will dispatch the recently commissioned aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group to the Western Pacific and carry out joint exercises with the Self-Defense Forces of Japan and the U.S. military. France has sent an amphibious assault ship and a frigate to the Pacific on a three-month mission.
Germany will also send a frigate to Asia this summer to sail through the South China Sea, which is, if realized, going to be the first time since 2002.
The obvious purpose of these dispatches is China. There is a joint effort coalescing around a common purpose to keep free and open maritime order governed by conventional international law which China is supposed to abide by as a member of international community, refraining from unilateral expansive actions at sea based on peculiar histrocial claims.
It may seem as if the Age of Imperialism and the gunboat diplomacy came back. How about if the Dutch and the Portuguese vessels are added to it, is it going to further turn the tide of history into the Age of Exploration and Discovery when Europeans traveled all the way to Asia to find spices, golds and other precious goods?
Of course not. This time, the Europeans do not have the dominant power and they bring together what they still have from their meager resources of naval power to hedge China’s dominance.
The certain thing is the new centrality of Indo-Pacific region in the world politics. This region overlapping two Oceans covers and connects the area which consists of most of the economic driving forces in the 21st century.
In this context, India’s strategic presence is rising, as its location as an intersection of Indian and Pacific Oceans is of vital importance to many. How India will navigate this uncharted water where tides of the world powers collide is the focal point of the geopolitical competition of this century.
In November last year, India took part in the Malabar joint naval exercises with QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue حوار أمني رباعي) countries which is U.S., Japan and Australia as well as India.
Then, there were reports in February this year about India’s participation in naval drills in the northern Indian Ocean with Iran and Russia. China also would join according to some reports. Indian authority denied these reports later.
India’s real intentions are still not known, but there is a tug of war on India, real or informational.