The dynamically changing distribution of power, led mainly by the rise of China, constitutes the major challenge in a wide spectrum of security issues in the Indo-Pacific region. Promoting a favorable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is becoming an increasingly difficult task; success depends on the ability of the United States and its allies to provide deterrence and defense against China’s assertive challenges, and also on coordinated diplomacy to manage the status quo. The Biden administration’s preference to invigorate and modernize US alliances and partnerships is an essential approach to address these challenges.1 The success of the alliance and partnership strategy depends on an understanding of the diverse nature of the balance of power in the region that requires a tailored and integrated approach. The nature of the balance of power change is gradational. The primary challenge lies in long-term US-China strategic rivalry as the most fundamental variable in the region. However, the challenge to the status quo begins with maritime coercion or territorial incursion in China’s vicinity that requires a short-term response, primarily by countries directly concerned. Initial responders should include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and ASEAN member states, given the rapid speed of change in bilateral power relations vis-à-vis China. For many Indo-Pacific states, a limited strategic depth creates front-line exposure to China’s military/para-military challenges. The problem associated with US allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific is that none of the countries can address the China challenge by itself. For example, the air and naval balance in the Taiwan Strait, perceived to be stable in the 1990’s, was rapidly overtaken by China’s force modernization in the mid-2000’s as China deployed hundreds of 4th generation fighters, advanced frigates, and short-range missiles within a short period of time. Until the early 2000’s, Japan’s Air and Maritime Self-Defense Force (SDF) maintained a qualitative advantage over China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and Navy in the bilateral context. However, Japan’s National Defense Program Guideline in 2018 (NDPG 2018) addressed, for the first time, the situation when “maritime and air superiority becomes untenable” with an apparent widening gap
in capabilities between Japan and China.