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A long tactical mind game has begun for control of Indo Pacific

A new, long and potentially ugly physical and mind games have begun, where conventional and tactical firepower alone would not guarantee long term success and acceptance

Collins Chong Yew Keat Aug 25, 2022
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Indo Pacific

Europe has been fighting a losing war in reasserting its foothold in the Indo-Pacific, worsened by the limited economic and military capacity in securing its interests in the region. The aftermath of the two great wars have seen a compelled inward-looking and rebuilding agenda, with constrained capacities in reorienting its strategies on its former colonies. 

China’s entrenched grip and intention to dictate the region’s security threatens the historical foundation of the West, in which reliance on the US alone to contain China is increasingly overstretched. Britain and France tried to fill the gap but were hampered by consistency and reach, although seen as a much-needed European representation in sending a clear message to China.

Its long held defensive-oriented military bearing has enabled realignment and openings for non-military advancement which has contributed to Germany’s integral leadership in areas including knowledge creation and scientific advancement. Moscow’s forceful change on the rules-based order and Beijing’s similar intention pose a direct threat to this architecture that Berlin helped to maintain, jolting the Germans out of complacency.

German moves

Germany’s latest efforts to join the fray through its inaugural marathon 24-hour flight to Asia by its Eurofighter jets in joining the Pitch Black exercise, on top of its Bayern frigate’s seven-month deployment earlier this year in the Indo Pacific that marked a breakthrough after two decades, is intended to showcase a four-pronged objective.

Firstly, it intends to signal to Beijing that it is ready for a decreased business dependence and for an enhanced stance in protecting its greater economic and geostrategic calculations in the region. Secondly, to warn Moscow and future adversaries that Berlin intends to exit its confinement of focus on economic and value-based issues to one that is security oriented with gradual shift to a more assertive military posture. 

This rapid deployment of the long-range fighter flights aim to demonstrate the agility and capacity of Germany to spread its airpower to a distant potential conflict area, serving as a needed critical intervention to secure its interests abroad, or to deter aggressive intentions despite the lack of an aircraft carrier.

Thirdly, to yearn for greater leadership in the West’s containment force, playing a deeper role in return for more consolidated trust and reciprocal support for its defensive needs outside the sphere of NATO, and in anticipating starker threats originating from Indo Pacific. 

Fourth, the shift of posture to be communicated to the local populace in pushing for heightened public support and acceptance of its enhanced security needs, and to solicit greater national unity and political wins.

Western responses

The strategic returns derived from this move gave reassurances to the fearful regional players yearning for a united and consistent Western response and support. Conversely, it gives new barriers for Beijing, Pyongyang and Moscow to halt the expansion of the West’s containment team. It also serves as a pretext for both to justify their hardened fear-mongering tactics and to display larger cards and tools in their tactical countermeasures. 

The flight manoeuvres near Taiwan during the trip back for Germany’s jets will be seized upon by Beijing to blame Berlin and the West for the 'unwarranted' provocation amidst already worsening tensions. These military  manoeuvre, coupled with the unwavering consistency in support of Taiwan through the visit of the high-profile US delegation to Taiwan after Nancy Pelosi’s trip, might drive home to Beijing the oft-repeated refrain of the West's commitment to freedom of maritime passage and a rules-based regional order.  

It reinforces the reminder to Beijing that a committed and combined force of deterrence is still mighty, but risks further pushing Beijing to an already tight corner that will invite riskier mistakes and miscalculations in its retaliations.

Dangerous games

Any potential lines that are crossed by Beijing’s counter actions will be used to the team’s advantage, and Beijing is smart enough not to have played into the tactical mind game by the West. However, the bulk of the pent-up anger will be channelled to the immediate neighbourhood, with Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo bearing the impact of greater coercive affronts as part of Beijing and Pyongyang’s new game of testing the limits and response strategies.

A cat and mouse game might not yield a clear victory for either, but both sides are seen to act on securing their interests and needs, and that a victory in tactical and mind games, at the very least, will do some justice to their national pride and collective purpose.

For China, only an outright comprehensive victory over the West both in its geopolitical aspirations in the region and the world and in its soft power and cultural dominance will justify its "100-Year Marathon" by 2049 and in redeeming its dented pride by the "Century of Humiliation". The greater alignment and combined forces of the Western-led containment team will seek to ensure that the historically predominant, stable and proven rules-based international order and norms will persevere against Beijing’s onslaughts.

A new, long and potentially ugly physical and mind games have begun, where conventional and tactical firepower alone would not guarantee long term success and acceptance. 

(The author is a Kuala Lumpur-based strategic and security analyst. Views are personal. He can be contacted at collins@um.edu.my)

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