Structural Change in the Indo-Pacific: Emerging Strategic Dynamics

William Tow
Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University

Vol. 15 (2021): 81–110 | Download PDF


Several components of contemporary Indo-Pacific security relations are especially prominent. Among these are the rise of China and its impact on both regional and international power politics; intensifying geopolitical rivalry over the Korean peninsula, in the East and South China Seas, and throughout the various ‘island chains’ spanning both the Pacific and Indian Oceans; and ASEAN’s incessant quest to exercise leadership on regional order-building processes. The internal political dynamics and economic imperatives of contending state actors along with ‘non-traditional’ security factors such as climate change and pandemics are increasingly shaping these trends in ways previously and insufficiently appreciated. After offering a short overview of the rapidly evolving Indo-Pacific security environment, the analysis will focus on China’s centrality in regional security politics, responses to that country’s rise by other key strategic actors (i.e., the United States, Japan, and India) and future prospects for ASEAN to remain a viable player in ongoing regional geopolitics. The article concludes that while efforts to institutionalize regional stability and order-building by ASEAN and other multilateral entities will persist, great power competition and crisis diplomacy will most likely dominate the Indo-Pacific security environment over the remainder of this decade and beyond.


Indo-Pacific geopolitics, regional flashpoints, China’s rise, bilateral/minilateral security