The changing face of Indo-Pacific partnerships

By Dr Pooja Bhatt

The Indo-Pacific region is currently defined by two trends. On one hand, Indo-Pacific countries are working together to create a more free, open and connected region – including finding solutions for shared challenges like supply chains, climate change and clean energy.
But on the other hand, strategic tensions like the Ukraine war and increased Chinese assertiveness are driving concerns about economic and national security, causing many Indo-Pacific countries to turn inward to protect their own national interests.
But even as we begin to see a tension between traditional cooperation and protectionism, it’s important that countries still find ways to work together. No Indo-Pacific country wants to see war or crisis that will further burden the global economy or threaten their own security.
Because of these trends, new patterns in international partnerships are beginning to emerge. Traditional multilateralism has shown its limitations in resolving issues – most recently through the UN’s inability to condemn Russia for the war in Ukraine. Now, bilateral and minilateral partnerships are beginning to emerge as much more effective ways to work together.
In the Indo-Pacific region, three types of partnerships are increasing in prominence:

1. Issue driven partnerships

Authoritarian countries – most commonly those that are resource-rich and well-moneyed – are entering into issue-based partnerships focused on areas like energy trade, technology sharing and educational exchanges. These partnerships are becoming more common as a result of the Ukraine war – sanctions imposed on Russia by the international community are driving increased cooperation with like-minded countries, most notably China and some West Asian countries. For example, Russia recently agreed to a 30-year contract to supply gas via a new pipeline to China.

2. Developmental partnerships

Many Indo-Pacific countries are providing financial assistance to developing neighbours on areas across trade, climate, clean energy, food, health, and disaster management needs. These partnerships generally offer two-way benefits and keep the region secure and stable. However, some unequal partnerships like China’s Belt and Road Initiative have exemplified the dark sides of these partnerships.

3. Security partnerships

Security partnerships focused on intelligence and technology sharing, and joint development and operations have increasingly emerged in the last few years – one notable example is AUKUS. These exclusive, top-level partnerships are only entered into between most trusted countries. 
These trends are taking place simultaneously and the region is completely in flux – we can’t even look to the past to tell us what future cooperation will look like. Unlike the Cold War, where the world was divided into three clubs: the US, USSR and non-aligned states, we are witnessing partnerships that are more complex, and countries are more intertwined and inter-dependent than before.
The Indo-Pacific has become the geostrategic centre of the world – home to multiple countries with increasing nuclear and conventional arsenals and ethnic and historical rivalries. And as competition and conflict continue to unfold, the region is at a critical juncture where the decisions made now will determine the future.
So even as the international environment continues to be characterised by tense geostrategic competition, it’s important that countries keep open channels of communication with one another. And what’s clear from new patterns of international cooperation is that the future is going to be much different from the past.

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