Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith says the critical and growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean continues to be under-appreciated. Smith noted in a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney that the Indo-Pacific will be home to three of the world’s superpowers – the United States, China and India – and is now home to four of the world’s largest militaries – the US, Russia, China and North Korea.
“The critical strategic importance of the Indian Ocean continues to be substantially under-appreciated,” Smith said. “The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim are home to more than 2.6 billion people, almost 40 percent of the world’s population. The Indian Ocean already ranks among the busiest routes for global trade. It will become a crucial global trading thoroughfare in the future.
“The proportion of world energy supplies passing through critical transport choke points, including the Straits of Malacca, the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal will only increase in coming years. Crucial trading routes, the presence of large and growing naval capabilities, as well as transnational security issues such as piracy, will drive Australia to ultimately put the Indian Ocean alongside the Pacific Ocean at the heart of our maritime strategic and defence planning,” the minister said.
“In this century, the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Rim, what some now refer to as the Indo-Pacific, will become the world’s strategic centre of gravity. The rise of China is a defining element in this, but it is far from the only or whole story. The rise of India is still under-appreciated, as is the rise of the ASEAN economies combined. The major and enduring economic strengths of Japan and South Korea also need to be acknowledged.
“So must the great individual potential of Indonesia – as it emerges from a regional to a global influence so important to Australia. As well, the US re-balance to the Asia-Pacific will see greater US military, economic and political engagement in our region.
“The ongoing shift in influence towards our region is, however, not just about economics or demographics,” Smith continued. “Military and strategic influence is also moving to our part of the world. Economic growth has underpinned military modernisation and military capability growth across the region. The Indo-Pacific will be home to three of the world’s superpowers – the United States, China and India – and is home to four of the world’s largest militaries – the United States, Russia, China, and North Korea. The Indo-Pacific is also home to the world’s largest navies, including the navies of the United States, China, India and Russia. The implications of this historic shift continue to unfold.”