The Geopolitics of Indo-Pacific Trade

While there is talk of a broader ‘Indo-Pacific’, encompassing the Indian Ocean as well as the Pacific, this is not yet reflected in the geopolitics of trade.

Trade has been at the heart of Asia’s economic growth over the past 50 years. Japan, followed by the four Asian Tigers of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, and then – largest of all – China, pursued development strategies based on the export of manufactured products to the US and Europe. This growth was underpinned by a stable geopolitical framework that focused on economic integration and trade liberalisation, while relying on the US post-war security umbrella to maintain and, for the most part, fund security and keep sea lanes open.

The words ‘Asia-Pacific’ and ‘Chimerica’ captured the essence of this relationship, covering the trade flows from Asia across the Pacific and the close integration of economic activities between China and the US. Not all countries chose or were able to pursue this growth path – most notably India (albeit with success in back-office outsourcing services), but also Sri Lankaand Indonesia. As a result, these economies grew less rapidly and were less integrated into the global economy. The economic reality was indeed ‘Asia-Pacific’ rather than ‘Indo’-Pacific.