This paper sets out three challenges to the creation of a future for Indo-Pacific states and peoples consistent with the visions of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) expressed by Japan, India, the US and Australia, and now by the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific. It also describes a path for states to operate in an environment of coercive Chinese state power that seeks to influence how states relate and how they operate within their domestic boundaries.
The first of two main solutions is a protective one and involves Indo-Pacific states building national immune systems that resist coercion and protect against covert or coercive interference, as this enables healthy engagement with the Chinese state and economy. The other major path of work is for Australia and other Indo-Pacific states to strengthen their own domestic cohesion and policymaking so that they can operate in an environment in which intrusive powers seek to disrupt and fragment debate and decision-making.
- Australia is not alone in facing covert interference and punitive economic measures used by the Chinese state as means of expressing disagreement and also influencing policy directions and decisions.
- Individual states’ approaches to operating in an environment of increasingly coercive Chinese state power with international and domestic aspects can be enabled by the experience and actions of others operating in that same environment. An international community of interest can emerge that, like software vendors and cybersecurity firms, exchanges information on security vulnerabilities and ‘patches’ that respond to changes in the threat environment.
- The Indo-Pacific concept, and its accompanying FOIP vision, will both work best when they’re combined with individual nation-states’ policy frameworks that build national immune systems and healthy domestic polities—and so allow healthy engagement with both the Chinese economy and the Chinese state.