East Asia

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 149–161 | Cite as

Three Faces of the Indo-Pacific: Understanding the “Indo-Pacific” from an IR Theory Perspective



This paper examines the three faces of the Indo-Pacific from an IR theory perspective. It suggests that the realist face of the Indo-Pacific is a “balancing strategy” against China. The liberal face of the Indo-Pacific aims to form a new “institutional setting” that facilitates cooperation among states across the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. According to constructivism, the Indo-Pacific offers an “ideational construct” for promoting value-oriented and norm-based diplomacy in the region. This paper argues that these three faces of the Indo-Pacific concept are theoretically problematic and practically flawed. There are two ways of institutionalizing the Indo-Pacific, though. One is exclusive institutionalization with China as an outside target, which follows the realist logic of making China a common threat in the region. The success of this approach mainly depends on how China behaves in the future. The other is the inclusive approach of institutionalizing the Indo-Pacific by embracing China and other states into a new Indo-Pacific institution. It will not be easy, but the endeavor of the inclusive institutionalization of the Indo-Pacific will produce positive externalities of peace and stability to the region.


Indo-Pacific Realism Liberalism Constructivism Institutionalization Institutional balancing US-China relations 


Funding Information

This work was supported by the Australian Research Council [grant number FT160100355], the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation [grant number 16-1512-150509-IPS] and a Korea Foundation policy-oriented research grant.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Griffith Asia Institute & Center for Governance and Public PolicyGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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