Turmoil In The Indo-Pacific

Written by John West, Asian Century Institute

If there were any doubts that the Indo-Pacific was in turmoil, such doubts were quashed in recent days when the US and allies formally blamed Chinese government-linked hackers for a massive hack of the Microsoft Exchange email system. How did the Indo-Pacific end up in such turmoil?

From image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Post Cold War Naivete

Some three decades ago, when the Cold War came to an end, there were great hopes, perhaps naive in retrospect, for peace, prosperity and democracy in what we now call the Indo-Pacific. Starting with Japan, a number of Asian countries enjoyed extraordinary economic development. Authoritarian South Korea became a democracy in the late 1980s, and Taiwan would follow a few years later.

This post-Cold War era was to be a new world order led by the US, the only remaining superpower, after the dissolution of the USSR, and the liberation of the countries of Central Europe. Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, China was initially a pariah in the international community, and at that point, its economic reforms and opening were not very far advanced. But China would re-emerge a few years later, when economic reforms were relaunched.

US’s unipolar moment fades quickly

The US’s “unipolar moment", the period when it stood proudly as the world’s only superpower, would not last long. An early sign of the US economy’s fragility was the bursting of the 2000 dotcom bubble. This was quickly followed by the tragic 9/11 attacks which led to America’s forever wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were immensely costly both financially and in terms of lives lost. Moreover, these forever wars, somewhat like the Vietnam war of decades earlier, greatly undermined America’s self belief and international trust in the US as a global superpower.

Then came the 2008/9 global financial crisis which shined a terrible light on America’s casino capitalism, destabilised the whole world economy, further widened America’s yawning inequality, drove a rise in populism and arguably led to the presidency of Donald Trump. And then came America’s appalling handling of COVID-19 which highlighted its dysfunctional health system and above all political system.

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