Terminology of the Geopolitical Power Struggle: “Asia-Pacific” or “Indo-Pacific”?

Geopolitical debates between different power groups in international relations are generally shaped by geographical descriptions (terminology). As a matter of fact, when the state or group of states place themselves at the center of the world, they determine the names of the remaining regions through their own positions. The concepts of the Middle East, Central Asia and Far East, which reflect a European-centered perspective, are one of them. These geopolitical definitions are perceived as a reflection of the efforts of the power centers that gave the region its name to dominate the world. As these geopolitical interpretations increased in the international relations literature, perceptions that the West is the “power center of the World” have intensified.

Undoubtedly, the influence of the modernization movement and the nationalization process has a great influence on the dominance of the Western worldview in international relations. That is why the Eurasian powers started to defend their geopolitical concepts vigorously against the definitions of the West in the post-modern period. For instance, Putin’s Russia after 2001 prioritized the New Eurasian ideas that started in Eastern Europe and extended to Japan emphasizing vastly on the Turkish-Islamic World. In this regard, Putin made a geopolitical challenge against the West, declaring Russia to be a “Eurasian country” from the very beginning and placed Moscow at the center of the Eurasian World. Similarly, instead of using the term of Central Asia, which is the concept of the West, the countries of the region defined themselves as Center of Asia, and in the same way, the concept of the Middle East began to be replaced by the term, West Asia. The most important focus of current geopolitical debates is on the concepts of the Far East, Asia-Pacific or Indo-Pacific.

First of all, the Far East concept is the product of the modern period and a reflection of a geographical definition demonstrating the world views of the West. This term has been used to describe the countries located in the far east of the Asian continent compared to Europe and America during the First and Second World Wars. As a product of the modern era, this geopolitical concept is used for geographical and cultural definitions rather than current political debates due to its terminological meaning.

The concepts of Asia-Pacific or Indo-Pacific are the subject of the geopolitical power struggle especially between China, the United States of America (USA), Russia, India and Japan. In general, the concepts of Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific contain different geopolitical connotations in terms of its terminological meaning as well as mostly expressing overlapping geographies.

In order to examine how Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific basins differ from each other regarding their terminological meanings, it is necessary to begin with the regional policies of the U.S. While the Asia-Pacific policies of the U.S. were shaped by the concepts of “Asian Pivot” and “the Rebalance” during the Obama administration, they were replaced by “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” during the Trump period. Therefore, the U.S. is trying to create a front in Asia Pacific with India, Japan, Australia and other Southeast Asian allies in order to balance Russia and China. While Trump calls this front “free and open Indo-Pacific;” Joe Biden, the new President of the U.S., declared “secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”[1] In other words, the U.S. tries to turn the Asia-Pacific region into an “anti-China axis” and execute this through the Indo-Pacific conceptualization.[2] The most important reason for this is that the U.S. sees India as an important ally that will contain China.

On a broader perspective, the U.S. and its regional ally India prefer to stay away from a China-based definition of the Asia-Pacific. Russia stands out as the “equation changing actor” in these geopolitical balances of power. In this respect, the U.S. is trying to use India to break the Asia Pacific axis rising through Russia-China cooperation. With the support of the U.S., India wants Russia to take a more active role in the Indo-Pacific and tries to develop bilateral cooperation with Moscow for this purpose. The New Delhi administration desires to implement the Russia-India-Japan triple mechanism in the Indo-Pacific.[3] However, Russia opposes the use of the Indo-Pacific concept because it excludes China geopolitically.[4] As a matter of fact, Russian officials state that the U.S. uses India, Japan, Australia and other Southeast Asian allies as a medium against China in the region, hence they admit that the U.S. concentrates on Indo-Pacific geopolitics.[5]

The U.S. proposes the Indo-Pacific in order to prevent the cooperation of Russia and China, the biggest threats to itself in Asia-Pacific, and to create an alternative geopolitical axis. Thus, the rapprochement of Russia, as the “equation changing actor,” with both China and Pakistan, is a geopolitical difficulty, causing problems for the U.S. and India. At this point, especially India wishes Russia, the dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to develop closer cooperation with the organization. However, the main purpose of Russia’s development of cooperation with ASEAN is to fill the geopolitical gap of the U.S. in the region. Indeed, the Southeast Asian countries are allies of the USA and India in the Indo-Pacific alliance and at the same time they represent a “geopolitical axis of its own.” In other words, although ASEAN countries are generally perceived as allies of the U.S., they advocate multilateralism in the geopolitics of the region. Therefore, it is possible say that ASEAN is “another balancing actor” in the geopolitical power struggle in the region.

The U.S. efforts to shape regional policies on the concept of Indo-Pacific since the Trump era has been pursuing a strategic purpose. This strategic plan is to break the rising China-Russia alliance in Asia-Pacific. Although India’s geopolitical assessment of the region and Indo-Pacific strategy of the U.S. seem to be compatible with each other to a great extent, the two countries diverge when it comes to military and security interests. India is trying to establish a geopolitical balance that would guarantee its own security in the Indo-Pacific within the scope of its “Look East/Act East” policy. The U.S., on the other hand, positions itself as the hegemonic power of this geopolitical axis.

To conclude, Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific conceptualizations appear as a reflection of the geopolitical power struggle in the region. Asia-Pacific is witnessing the rise of Russia and China. Thus, those who prefer to use this concept accept that Russia and China balance the U.S. as balance of power in the world. The concept of Indo-Pacific has started to take its place in the international relations literature as a new geopolitical challenge of the U.S. toward China.


[1] “China Strengthens Military Coordination With Russia”, News Click, https://www.newsclick.in/china-strengthens-military-coordination-russia, (Accessed: 13.01.2021).

[2] “Geopolitical Forces Pushing Russia, China Closer Together”, Asia Times, https://asiatimes.com/2020/10/the-geopolitical-forces-pushing-russia-china-closer/, (Accessed: 13.01.2021).

[3] “India Hopes Russia Will Join Indo-Pacific With Japan Trilateral”, Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-hopes-russia-will-join-indo-pacific-with-japan-trilateral/articleshow/77450048.cms, (Accessed: 13.01.2021).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Russia Is No Longer a Strategic Asset for India’s Foreign Policy”, Eurasia Review, https://www.eurasiareview.com/01012021-russia-is-no-longer-a-strategic-asset-for-indias-foreign-policy-analysis/, (Accessed: 13.01.2021).

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