Country Report: China (December 2022)


In late 2022, Chinese analysts devoted a great deal of attention to the Indo-Pacific. They assessed the role of minilateral cooperation in the US Indo-Pacific strategy. They examined the origins and evolution of Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy and evaluated Japan’s policy toward South Asia in the context of this broader regional strategy. Chinese observers also analyzed the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy and the distinctive strategies of the UK, France, and Germany. Taken together, this research demonstrates a recognition of the impact that various countries’ Indo-Pacific strategies have on Chinese interests.

The United States and Minilateral Cooperation

In Xiandai Guoji Guanxi, 2022, no. 10, Yang Fei and Fang Changping assess minilateral cooperation as a component of the US Indo-Pacific strategy, arguing that both the Quad relationship (US, Japan, Australia, and India) and AUKUS (Australia, the UK, and the United States) are key parts of US efforts to compete with China for regional influence. Yang and Fang assert that these minilateral configurations are gradually surpassing the role of larger multilateral architectures in US diplomatic affairs. Minilateral cooperation covers both economic and security issues, and regional great powers and middle powers are at the core.

Yang and Fang contend that the new minilateral cooperation mechanisms have three key attributes: First, they seek to expand cooperation on economic and non-traditional security matters. The Quad is the main mechanism for economic cooperation, with a focus on supply chains, human capital, and infrastructure. Non-traditional security cooperation within the Quad focuses on issues such as public health, climate change, cybersecurity, and disaster relief. Second, the minilateral mechanisms seek to advance traditional security cooperation. The Quad has been particularly focused on maritime security and strategic cooperation, while AUKUS is more focused on military cooperation. Meanwhile, trilateral security cooperation among the United States, Japan, and South Korea has continued to develop under the Biden administration. Third, the minilateral cooperation mechanisms are centered around regional great powers and middle powers. The key players in the multilateral configurations led by the United States are Japan, India, South Korea, and Australia, which all have similar amounts of national power, long-term bilateral security relations with the United States, and democratic systems. Through mechanisms such as “Quad+”, these minilateral configurations have begun to build ties with other Indo-Pacific countries. Furthermore, countries from outside the region, such as the UK and France, have begun to seek out their own minilateral cooperation arrangements in the region (such as the trilateral dialogue among India, France, and Australia).

Yang and Fang argue that the key strategic objective of the United States’ minilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is to develop a framework for regional geostrategic competition with China by developing flexible cooperation mechanisms that exclude China. The United States believes that these cooperation mechanisms can help the United States to regain its regional economic competitiveness, which has declined due to China’s economic growth and the economic nationalism of the Trump administration. Yang and Fang also believe that the United States seeks to create a regional security scenario that is unfavorable to China by drawing long-standing US allies into the minilateral cooperation mechanisms, strengthening the military capacity of its Asia-Pacific alliances, and persuading India to side with the United States against China. Importantly, Yang and Fang argue, the United States seeks to exclude China from the regional security framework. Interestingly, Yang and Fang speak relatively favorably of earlier efforts such as the Obama administration’s Asia-Pacific rebalance, which, they contend, was intended to “check and balance” China, but not to “contain” it. They argue that these earlier efforts included China in regional cooperation mechanisms, such as APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum. However, they argue, the United States has come to see China as a strategic competitor and has turned against engagement policies. This has resulted in a comprehensive competitive strategy toward China, in which the minilateral cooperation mechanisms play a key role.

Yang and Fang believe that the Indo-Pacific minilateral cooperation mechanisms are likely to strengthen, given the potent US conception of China as a strategic competitor. In their view, growing minilateral cooperation will harm China’s security interests: countries in the Indo-Pacific will face more pressure to choose sides (and some will choose the United States), and the risk of an arms race and military conflict in China’s neighborhood will increase. Economically, minilateral cooperation will undermine other, more inclusive regional multilateral economic mechanisms, such as ASEAN, and intensify geoeconomic competition with China, particularly in areas such as infrastructure and technology. Economic and trade relations between China and members of the minilateral cooperation mechanisms will be negatively impacted by the influence of “China threat theory” promoted by the United States, as evident by efforts to cut China out of supply chains.

Nevertheless, Yang and Fang assert that Indo-Pacific minilateral cooperation faces some important limits. Internal differences among the members of the minilateral cooperation mechanisms will limit their development. India, for example, has a long-standing foreign policy of seeking to balance among great powers and will not want to choose between China, the United States, and Russia; its foreign policy preferences also differ from those of the United States in important respects. Other countries, like South Korea, have important economic and political relations with China which they will not want to damage. Second, the deeper integration of these minilateral mechanisms will be negatively impacted by their fragmented agendas. The members of these mechanisms have different economic and strategic priorities, and cooperation is often focused on particular issues. Yang and Fang argue that it will be hard to develop deeper, stronger relationships from such a basis (although neoliberal institutionalists would argue that cooperation on a narrow set of issues can lay the groundwork for broader cooperation and integration). 

Yang and Fang conclude that China should strengthen its engagement with countries in the Indo-Pacific, with which, they argue, it does not have fundamental security or economic disagreements. They also caution that China should be aware of minilateral cooperation aimed at China elsewhere in the world (for example, the Five Eyes alliance), and note the potential for minilateral cooperation efforts to grow into multilateral cooperation or to link up with other multilateral mechanisms.

Japan and the Indo-Pacific

In Dongbeiya Luntan, 2022, no. 4, Qiao Liang evaluates the origins and evolution of Japan’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy. Qiao traces Japan’s interest in building a geographically expansive multilateral mechanism in Asia with Japan as the dominant power to the Meiji era. Japan’s sphere of influence during World War II demonstrates Japan’s long-time interest in “Pan-Asianism” and maritime security. After World War II, facing limits on its military and political power, Japan expanded its economic, technological, and cultural influence, contributing hundreds of billions of dollars in economic assistance and building close trade ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific.

Nevertheless, Qiao argues, the creation of the “Indo-Pacific” strategy is closely associated with former prime minister Abe Shinzo and bears certain “Abe” characteristics: it is an independent and autonomous strategy that focuses on building a multilateral framework that Japan can use to advance its interests if the United States eventually withdraws from the region; it is grounded in a set of values emphasizing “freedom,” “openness,” and international law; and it is flexible and resilient.

Qiao asserts that Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy has undergone four stages of development: the embryonic period (2006–2011), the mature period (2012–2015), the stable development period (2016–2019), and a new round of comprehensive expansion. Abe’s interest in connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans from a geopolitical and values-based perspective was evident during his first stint as prime minister, but the idea fell by the wayside once he stepped down. However, the idea gained ground in 2010–2011, when the Obama administration began to explore the Indo-Pacific concept to describe its own strategy. Upon returning to office in 2012, Abe began to reexplore the Indo-Pacific strategy in partnership with the United States and expanded it from a linear concept that focused on economic relations and shared values between Japan and India to a quadrilateral concept that encompasses the United States and Australia and extends to security and military affairs. After 2016, Japan began to officially refer to the Indo-Pacific concept in official documents, particularly regarding ASEAN, India, and Africa. Japan expanded its infrastructure investment in South Asia, its military cooperation and values diplomacy with India, and its economic aid to Africa. With the Trump administration’s embrace of the Indo-Pacific strategy in 2017, Quad relations strengthened. Growing US interest in the Indo-Pacific concept somewhat weakened Japan’s previously leading role, and after 2019 Japan temporarily slowed its promotion of the strategy as it sought new ways to gain autonomy and independence. After 2020, however, Japan began to expand its implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy in response to Sino–US and other great power relations and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qiao argues that Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which Japan now refers to as the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), has three significant characteristics. First, it is comprehensive, covering security, defense, economics, technology, and culture, with an ideological emphasis on the shared values of “freedom” and “openness”. Japan relies on both minilateralism and multilateral mechanisms. Second, it is strongly grounded in shared values that form the basis for Japan’s multilateralism. Third, it is appropriately positioned, meaning that Japan is clear-eyed about its vulnerabilities (open sea lanes are crucial for its access to resources and trade); its limited capabilities to ensure its security interests; and how it can advance its own strategic goals by actively developing its relationships with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region, making itself indispensable to the United States as the United States implements its own Indo-Pacific strategy, and working with various international organizations.

In Qiao’s view, Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy consists of five layers. The core is maritime security, given Japan’s strategic interest in secure access to sea lanes. The next layer is the values framework of a free, open, and rules-based Indo-Pacific, based on Japan’s commitment to a liberal world order. The third layer is economic and technology competition, in which Japan has a comparative advantage. The fourth layer is Japan’s network of multilateral mechanisms: Japan both uses existing institutions and mechanisms and creates new ones to advance its Indo-Pacific strategy. The fifth layer is the construction of a positive global image, which increases Japan’s influence.

Qiao asserts that Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy has expanded and deepened in recent years, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Japan has changed the language it uses to describe its Indo-Pacific approach from “strategy” to “concept” to “vision”, which makes the approach seem less confrontational and therefore more appealing to neutral countries in the region that are hesitant to pick sides. At the same time, the changing language reflects Japan’s shift from the original emphasis on security and defense to an understanding of the approach that also encompasses economics and trade competition and values. Ultimately, Qiao argues, Japan seeks to limit the role of other countries, including both China and the United States, in the Indo-Pacific in line with its historical efforts to play a “leadership” role in a “pan-Asian” region.

Furthermore, Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy has expanded and become more comprehensive. Japan now competes not just in the military field, but also in economics, trade, and science and technology. This reflects the Japanese government’s efforts to bring to bear Japan’s comparative advantages, especially in Southeast Asia where its companies have well established ties. In addition, Japan uses its values to attract other countries and works through multilateral and minilateral mechanisms, while inducing China to invest its resources in higher-risk, lower-yield areas like West Asia and the Middle East. Qiao contends that Japan is building on its success to expand its strategy geographically to include countries in Africa and the Pacific islands, and to advance its relations with countries in Central Asia and Northeast Asia.

Qiao argues that the future implementation of Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy will experience some challenges. Like other countries in the region, Japan faces a strategic tension: on the one hand, it benefits from globalization and therefore does not want to engage in a strategic showdown with China; on the other hand, mutually exclusive geopolitical strategies, trade and technology competition, and ideological differences have all intensified since the outbreak of the pandemic, which makes Japan and other countries like it less willing to rely on Chinese supply chains and more wary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Consequently, Japan must consider Sino–US relations as it implements its Indo-Pacific strategy. Japan will also have to manage its potential marginalization as a result of US bilateral relations with other regional powers and the new AUKUS configuration, and the various Indo-Pacific strategies adopted by countries both inside and outside the region.

Finally, Qiao turns to the impact of Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy on China. From the perspective of China’s international security interests, China’s main concerns are that Japan will further strengthen geo-economic competitiveness, further deepen the minilateral framework, and further expand the geographical scope of the “Indo-Pacific”. The most direct impact of Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy will be on investment in China’s BRI projects because the two countries’ companies will compete to invest in infrastructure projects and for supply chains and market share, which will impact public opinion toward China. Nevertheless, there will be room for cooperation on shared global governance issues. Qiao argues that China should respond to Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy by developing its own “two-ocean” Indo-Pacific strategy, building on China’s advantages as an “economically attractive power.” Qiao urges China to develop its own comprehensive maritime strategy in the region to ensure its security interests, to increase the competitiveness of its companies so that it can compete for infrastructure projects, and to promote positive foreign cultural exchanges to strengthen China’s regional image. By doing so, Qiao concludes, China will be able to confidently and actively respond to Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy and that of any other country.

In Riben Yanjiu, 2022, no. 3, Jiao Jian assesses Japan’s relations with South Asia in the context of its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy.” Jiao argues that Japan is responsible for transforming the “Indo-Pacific” concept into a strategy, and that its understanding of this strategy is unique from that of the United States, despite the two countries’ similar goals. In a June 2022 speech, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promoted a version of the Indo-Pacific strategy called the “Kishida vision for peace”, which includes five pillars: a commitment to a rules-based Free and Open Indo-Pacific; stronger defense capabilities and security cooperation with the United States and “other like-minded countries”; a commitment to create a nuclear-free world; efforts to strengthen the UN and reform the UN Security Council; and greater international cooperation on issues such as economic security. Though Abe stepped down as prime minister in 2020, he retained a great deal of influence over Japanese politics. His assassination in July 2022 calls into the question the future of the Indo-Pacific strategy he championed.

Jiao asserts that although both Japan and the United States have adopted Indo-Pacific strategies, these strategies are not identical. The idea of the Indo-Pacific originated with Abe, but it gained much greater influence once Trump began to promote it in 2017. The US adoption of the Indo-Pacific concept was, Jiao contends, an effort to integrate its Asia-Pacific strategy with its South Asia policy. In the 2017 National Security Strategy, the United States indicated that the Indo-Pacific is the most important region for US strategic interests. Jiao argues that this strategy is motivated by US anxiety about its declining hegemonic power and the rise of potential challengers. The concept is based in traditional geopolitics, with Japan in the north, Australia in the south, and India in the west. The United States seeks to attract other countries in the region with the concepts of “freedom” and “openness” to guard against China and maintain its regional dominance. The Biden administration has further developed the concept, most notably in the February 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States, which Jiao sees as a further sign of the US desire to maintain regional hegemony and increase pressure on China.

Given the centrality of the US–Japan alliance to Japanese foreign policy, Japan has accepted the US Indo-Pacific strategy. Japan’s priorities include maritime security, the principles of “freedom of navigation” and the law of the sea, and a diversified security cooperation system that includes stronger Japanese military capabilities, the US–Japan alliance, and the Quad. Japan has adopted a more expansive conception of the “Indo-Pacific” than that of many other countries, in which the region stretches to Pakistan and even further to the parts of Africa that border the Indian Ocean.

Jiao next assesses Japan’s relationship with South Asia in the context of the “Indo-Pacific.” Japan seeks stronger cooperation with South Asian countries, but its relationships with different countries vary. Japan’s relations with India have grown much closer since Modi took office in 2014, as evident by more frequent exchanges and deepening cooperation under the Quad. The bilateral relationship is characterized by stronger strategic interaction, greater regional cooperation, deeper military cooperation, and an anti-China focus.

Japan also pursues selective cooperation with other South Asian countries. Japan sees Pakistan as a crucial regional power, but their bilateral relationship is limited by Japan’s warmer relations with India and by its wariness over Pakistan’s ties to China. Japan’s relations with the other five countries in South Asia—Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives—are mainly limited to economic and trade relations, but Jiao cautions that analysts should remain attentive to the potential for outside powers to intervene in these countries if domestic instability there increases.

Jiao argues that Japan’s diplomacy toward South Asia is strongly influenced by the strategic interests of the United States, given the US–Japan security alliance, but that Japan also pursues its own strategic interests. US and Japanese strategic interests regarding China are largely aligned, and Japan has followed the containment strategy central to the US Indo-Pacific strategy. At the same time, Jiao contends, Japan has gradually reasserted its own diplomatic autonomy as US hegemony has declined. Although its security relationship with the United States remains the primary aspect of its foreign policy, Japan seeks to maintain good economic relations with China (its largest trading partner) and to cooperate with China on issues of global governance. Furthermore, Japan’s strategy toward South Asia is not just an attempt to contain China, but also reflects its desire to develop overseas markets for Japanese exports. Overall, Japan hopes to strengthen its global influence.

Jiao concludes that Japan and the United States continue to find it difficult to compete with China’s central position in global supply chains and the regional economy, meaning that the Indo-Pacific will continue to be an area for competition in the future. Nevertheless, Jiao argues that China should be attentive to Japan’s South Asia policy because of Japan’s growing influence in the region and because of the efforts of both Japan and the United States to persuade other countries to help them contain and balance against China.

The EU and the Indo-Pacific

In Deguo Yanjiu, 2022, no. 2, Zhao Ningning and Fu Wenhui explore the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy in light of the 2021 EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, and the implications for China. Zhao and Fu argue that the EU has developed its Indo-Pacific strategy in response to the development of the Quad and tense Sino–U.S. relations, which have motivated the EU to develop an independent policy and increase its presence in the region to protect its interests. Economic interests are one key driver of the EU’s policy: the EU has substantial and growing trade relations with countries in the Indo-Pacific. The EU has grown wary of asymmetric economic interdependence, particularly its reliance on the United States and China, and seeks to develop its economic relations with other Indo-Pacific economies to diversify its supply chains and increase its economic security. A second key driver is the EU’s desire to increase its strategic autonomy in response to the geopolitical competition between China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific. The EU does not fully support the United States, but also does not side with China. The EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy aims to increase the EU’s strategic autonomy by strengthening its military capabilities and regional economic relations. The EU hopes to establish itself as a third major player in the region (in addition to China and the United States) so it can protect its strategic interests. A third key driver is the EU’s desire to coordinate with regional partners on global governance issues and to increase the EU’s influence. Environmental and ocean governance present opportunities for the EU to increase its regional influence, given its relative weakness in economic and military terms compared to China and the United States.

The EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy focuses on four key areas. First, it seeks to strengthen the EU’s economic cooperation with regional partners, which are of particular interest to the EU both because it seeks to strengthen the resilience of its supply chains and because of the market size of these economies. Second, the EU seeks to develop a regional political and security framework that promotes multilateral cooperation grounded in common values and principles, in keeping with the EU model of governance. Third, the EU wants to address global governance of non-traditional security issues, such as climate change, ocean governance, and disaster response. Fourth, the EU aims to promote human rights and democratic values to counter the threats it perceives from authoritarian regimes in the Indo-Pacific.

Zhao and Fu argue that the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy is characterized by an expansive definition of the region, which extends from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island countries, in contrast to more “traditional” definitions that focus only on the area between the west coast of India and the east coast of the Pacific Ocean (a definition they seem to attribute to the United States, Japan, and Australia, although Jiao Jian argues that Japan also adopts this broader geographical definition). They contend that this extended definition of the region allows for a less competitive and more cooperative relationship with China by drawing the focus away from China and builds on the EU’s previous diplomacy toward Africa. Consequently, an expanded understanding of the region allows the EU more influence in regional affairs.

In addition, Zhao and Fu assert, the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy represents strategic continuity with previous EU strategic efforts in the Indo-Pacific. As laid out in the 2016 Global Strategy, the Indo-Pacific strategy seeks to reduce the EU’s dependence on other states; the Indo-Pacific strategy also pulls together previous efforts to cooperate with countries in the region on trade, technology development, and environmental governance.

Furthermore, the Indo-Pacific strategy demonstrates the EU’s pursuit of strategic autonomy, meaning that it can make and enforce international rules, rather than just accepting the rules set by other powers. The EU seeks to decrease its security dependence on the United States and its economic dependence on China. In short, the Indo-Pacific strategy envisions an EU that neither unites with the United States against China nor sides with China. Instead, the EU seeks to develop multilateral mechanisms and build relations with “like-minded” countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India, New Zealand, and Indonesia.

Zhao and Fu argue that the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy will advance the EU’s goals of greater autonomy and advance its security, economic, and regional governance objectives. In addition, they assert that increasing the EU’s discursive power and promoting a positive image in the region will strengthen the EU’s global influence, which is important for the self-confidence and cohesion of Europeans. The Indo-Pacific strategy will create more strategic space for the EU, allowing it to balance and mediate Sino–U.S. competition, rather than siding with the United States against China (which would go against its economic interests). 

Although Zhao and Fu believe that the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy will ease bipolar confrontation, they caution that it will intensify multipolar competition. They argue that the EU’s policy will be attractive to small and middle powers that do not want to choose sides between China and the United States. These countries will be able to instead strengthen their relations with the EU, which will decrease the regional tension from bipolar competition. Nevertheless, the EU has specific interests in the region that will impact regional security and stability. For example, the EU is expanding its naval presence and military operational capabilities in the region, which Zhao and Fu view as destabilizing. Likewise, they criticize the EU’s shift toward viewing China as an economic competitor and argue that its pursuit of discursive power and a regional leadership role undermine the ASEAN-centered regional security order. On balance, therefore, they argue the EU’s actions have contributed to uncontrollable geopolitical competition.

Zhao and Fu argue that the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy will combine competition and cooperation with China and will seek to balance China’s influence. They view the EU’s recent policy toward China as “opportunistic”: the EU cooperates with the United States to put ideological pressure on China, but also seeks cooperation with China on issues of global governance and in some economic aspects. In keeping with this general approach, the Indo-Pacific policy aims to balance between China and the United States. On the one hand, the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy encourages China to play a role in creating a peaceful and prosperous region, rather than defining China as a threat. This means that the EU is a potential partner for China. However, the EU’s efforts to increase its regional influence complicate the geopolitical situation and, to some extent, counter Chinese regional influence and the Belt and Road Initiative.

Zhao and Fu conclude that the success of the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy is uncertain. There are different views within the EU: France and Germany are more enthusiastic about the strategy than some states in Central and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, the EU is now distracted by the war in Ukraine. In the long run, however, Zhao and Fu believe that the Indo-Pacific strategy will be an important test case for the EU’s pursuit of strategic autonomy. Given these developments, Zhao and Fu urge China to develop its own Indo-Pacific strategy. 

In Yinduyang Jingjiti Yanjiu, 2022, no. 4, Geng Pengtao disaggregates the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, looking at the approaches of the UK, France, and Germany in the context of their respective identities. Each of the countries has specific goals in the Indo-Pacific. While the UK’s Indo-Pacific strategy is a subset of its global policy, France’s Indo-Pacific strategy is composed of four pillars: “territorial and sovereign security; development, connectivity, and innovation; multilateralism and the rule of law; and environmental protection”. Germany’s goals are more specific: it seeks to avoid unilateral dependence and increase political and security ties with regional actors; it promotes regional security governance and attention to non-traditional security challenges; and it advances trade, connectivity, and global climate governance.

Geng argues that the UK, France, and Germany share many common objectives, but that their distinct identities give rise to differences in their Indo-Pacific strategies. The UK’s identity is that of a global leader that seeks to shape the world order and take an influential role in global affairs. The UK wants to be recognized not just for its sea power, but also for its economic and technological power, its diplomatic influence, its environmental leadership, and its cyber power, among other facets.

The UK’s Indo-Pacific strategy applies its global ambitions, rooted in this individual identity, to a specific region. Post-Brexit UK views the United States as its most important partner, rather than the EU, and seeks a return to its historic role as a great power. Consequently, the UK is taking a more active role against China in the Sino–US competition—it views China as posing an increasing security and economic threat to UK interests—while also continuing to maintain positive economic relations with China and cooperate with China on transnational challenges like climate change.

In contrast to the UK, France defines itself as a “local member” of the Indo-Pacific because of its overseas territories and exclusive economic zones in the region, including Réunion Island and French Polynesia. Consequently, France sees a secure and prosperous region as crucial to its sovereign interests. However, France lacks the capabilities to do this alone and does not want to rely on the United States; therefore, it views the EU as a “multiplier of power and influence” and has taken a leading role in promoting the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy. France sees China’s rise as challenging the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific and democratic values, but also views China as an important partner. Consequently, France wants to play a mediating and stabilizing role in the region.

Geng asserts that Germany identifies itself as a “normative force” that is embedded in both the EU and NATO, a supporter of the global world order, and an active participant in globalization and multilateral governance. In this vein, it is focused on security and economic cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific. Despite its geopolitical interests, Germany does not pick sides between China and the United States, reflecting the importance of China to the German economy.

Geng contends that these different identities give rise to different implementation practices. As global military and political great powers, the UK and France take a more active role in pursuing their own security capabilities than Germany, which is constrained by historical legacies. This mainly occurs through the projection of maritime power in the Indo-Pacific. Given its overseas territories, France has established forward bases, while the UK mainly projects power by mobilizing its navy.

All three countries emphasize security cooperation with like-minded countries, such as India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, but their participation in regional security mechanisms has different emphases. The UK relies on the Five Powers Defence Arrangements (among Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK), the Five Eyes, and AUKUS; its support for a NATO role in the region remains unclear. France has joined a number of regional organizations and attempted formal cooperation with India and Australia, but it is unclear how significant of an impact these efforts will have on regional security. Germany is more focused on European security and lacks both the capabilities and the desire to intervene in Indo-Pacific security. Consequently, it tends to act through the EU and ASEAN. However, Germany plays an indirect role given arms sales by German companies.

In terms of economic policy, the UK is focused on the CPTPP and developing bilateral trade agreements, while Germany relies on the EU’s trade negotiations. France, like Germany, supports EU trade negotiations, but is also concerned with the economic development of its overseas territories. On matters of global governance, Germany and France are more enthusiastic about bilateral and multilateral tools than is the UK.

Although the three countries each have unique identities that give rise to different Indo-Pacific strategies, they have similar power positions and general characteristics that produce similarities in their Indo-Pacific strategies. All are playing key roles in the shift toward a multipolar order, support the existing rules-based world order, and identify as democracies and supporters of human rights. In the context of great power competition, the war in Ukraine, and increasing domestic tensions, the three countries have become increasingly dependent on the United States for security and have become more inclined to stick together. Although the three countries do not feel an urgent need to pick sides between China and the United States, their ideological differences with China have become increasingly prominent, most notably in their critiques of Chinese policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong on human rights grounds.

The similar characteristics among the UK, France, and Germany have given rise to a collective identity and deeper cooperation and coordination. Although the three countries have a long history of working together in NATO and the EU (prior to Brexit), they have not been part of a bloc that views China as the adversary. However, in recent years, a series of developments have suggested that such a bloc is forming, as reflected in their Indo-Pacific strategies. The three countries’ Indo-Pacific strategies are grounded in a common anxiety based on China’s non-democratic ideology. They are uneasy about shifts in the global power structure produced by the ongoing power transition and believe that the existing rules-based global order is under threat. They see the Indo-Pacific as an arena in which future great powers are engaged in geopolitical and economic competition and believe that their involvement in this region will allow them to shape the future global agenda. To this end, the three countries have dispatched ships to patrol the South China Sea under the premise of protecting the rules-based international order. They have also taken a competitive approach toward standard setting in areas such as artificial intelligence and network connectivity and have taken steps to diversify their supply chains to reduce their dependence on China.

This shift toward more bloc-like behavior has three main causes. First, the Biden administration has been trying to rebuild its alliance relations so that it can contain China, calling for an “alliance of democracies”. Second, there is the potential for the three countries’ alliances, specifically NATO or the EU, to drag them into Sino–US competition. Geng believes that some Central and Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Lithuania, have demonstrated a willingness to provoke China in exchange for security and economic rewards from the United States. Finally, the three countries are each experiencing political fragmentation and radicalization.

Geng concludes by considering the implications for how to manage relations between China, the United States, and the EU. Despite some differences, the transatlantic relationship is still of primary importance to the EU and the United States, especially as China grows more powerful, but the UK, France, and Germany all navigate this in different ways based on their identities.

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