US Intensifies Military Presence in Indo-Pacific
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
It has been some time since the term Indo-Pacific was officially adopted by the US. But many people believe that apart from renaming US Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command in May, Washington has made little substantial progress in its Indo-Pacific strategy. However, from the perspective of military deployment, the general outline and structure of US military presence is being shaped. Such military presence includes materials and equipment, military exercises, military exchanges and the establishment of military bases, which can enable US troops to flex their muscles.
The establishment of the Indo-Pacific Command indicates that the Indian Ocean is no longer ancillary to the US' overall Pacific strategy, but a crucial part of the entire Indo-Pacific region. The strategic position of the Indian Ocean has thus been elevated. The move also shows that US strategic focus is shifting from sea to land. Guam in the Western Pacific, Darwin Harbor in northern Australia and Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean will provide support for the new Indo-Pacific strategy. Military presence at the three spots will be key to future US Indo-Pacific strategy.
The roles of the three places are different. Guam and Diego Garcia will be hubs of military operation and Darwin Harbor will be a support center.
Located in the Western Pacific Ocean, Guam is closer to Southeast Asia with large airports, berths and warehouses. It can not only store military equipment, but also quickly respond to a crisis in frontier regions and adjust US military presence from focusing on Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia.
In the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia has been a US base since 2007. Its status will be raised with the renaming of the Command.
Over the last few years, the US has been attaching growing importance to Darwin Harbor while building up military presence at this base. However, although Australia is an ally of Washington, it does not want to be servile to the US. That means Canberra will restrict the role of Darwin Harbor in the Indo-Pacific strategy. It will support Guam and Diego Garcia but there may not be any direct military operations setting off from Darwin Harbor.
Apart from bases, military drills are another form of showing off defense might. The Malabar naval exercise was originally carried out by the US and India in the Indian Ocean. But later they brought in Japan and expanded the area of the war games toward the Western Pacific. This year, the exercises were held off the coast of Guam.
With the US extensively promoting the Indo-Pacific strategy, there will be more war games like the Malabar exercise. They will be held both in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Countries from not only the Pacific region but also the Indian Ocean will participate. The US will dominate the drills, but will retreat behind the scenes. Countries in the region will play an increasingly crucial role in it. In addition, there will be more exercises involving the air forces and navies.
While the US boosts its air and maritime deterrence in the region, it is also ratcheting up its military presence in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia through establishing military bases, and increasing the scale and intensity of military drills.
The US will inevitably strengthen its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region in the future. Be it the setting up of military bases, military drills, military exchanges or weapon tests, these activities are undertaken with the single goal of targeting China. Such move would jeopardize regional peace and stability.
The author is a professor at the PLA National Defense University. firstname.lastname@example.org