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Sunday, July 01, 2018, 10:28 (GMT+7)
On the US Indo-Pacific Strategy

In 2017, US President Donald Trump paid a visit to a series of Asian countries in company with the “free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy” in a bid to implicate these countries. This is among the central parts of the U.S. National Security Strategy 2017 and its Defence Strategy 2018. In this paper, we will research the Indo-Pacific strategy’s objectives and nature.

Indo-Pacific Region consists of countries located on the coasts of the Indian Ocean and the West Pacific Ocean as well as the seas connecting the two. Currently, this region is home to the world’s three largest economies, namely America, China and Japan as well as rapidly-growing ones, such as India, China, Bangladesh, etc. Militarily, 7 out of 10 strongest militaries of the world belong to this region, including the U.S., China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Pakistan, and Australia. As a result, Indo-Pacific Region has been the place where major powers compete against one another for influence.

It is believed that the US Indo-Pacific Strategy is the result of the two key elements. The first is the US internal affairs. Being adjacent to other oceans and the gateway connecting the US with the world, the Indo-Pacific is always considered as a crucial geo-strategic region directly impacting on the US national security and global leadership role. Thus, the Indo-Pacific Strategy serves as a measure for Washington to defend the interests of its citizens and market, to ensure maritime freedom and security, maintain the balance of power, and to promote US-style democracy and human rights in this region. The second is from the outside of the US. America believes that China’s rise, especially Beijing’s effort to build and militarize its outposts in the East Sea, is threatening the free trade flow, the national sovereignty of other countries, and the stability of the region; and that China’s acceleration of the “Belt and Road” Initiative is threatening the US leadership role in this region. Meanwhile, in the Indo-Pacific Region, there hasn’t appeared a multilateral mechanism for collective security yet; most of the mechanisms for security in this region are based on bilateral treaties and agreements, such as the US-Japan Security Treaty, the Mutual Defence Treaty between the US and the Republic of Korea, etc. Due to both internal and external elements mentioned above, the US has found it necessary to gather force, deepen relations with its regional allies, and promote the role of India in order to protect its interests and maintain its influence and No.1 position in this region.

Targets and contents of the Strategy

Preserving the US economic benefits and political, military, diplomatic power, and containing the countries threatening the US position, especially China and Russia, is what the Indo-Pacific Strategy is aimed at. Economically, the US continues to strengthen economic cooperation with other countries, particularly large markets, in an effort to maintain its role as an economic locomotive. Besides, Washington enhances the policy to prevent trade deficit and unfair competition with regional countries via the establishment of tariff barriers and the application of the law on intellectual property in a bid to protect the US market and contain other countries economically.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Shinzo Abe and other world leaders at an ASEAN Summit dinner in the Philippines (photo: PTI)

Diplomatically and politically, the US improves relations with its allies to achieve the strategic balance between Washington and other political, economic, military powers worldwide, ensuring that they have a decisive voice in international and regional forums and organizations, establishing new alliances as the counterbalance to China and Russia. The US continues to employ artifices of “anti-terrorism”, “democracy” and “human rights” to intervene in the region, while implementing the “stick and carrot” policy and applying “double standard” to other countries, particularly unruly ones as defined by the US. Concerning defence and security, the US promotes defence cooperation with regional countries and maintains security in the area stretching from Japan seas to Indian Ocean as well as in the whole route to Africa, while supporting its close allies in maintaining their preeminent military power to deter other countries. To strengthen and expand the alliances, Washington focuses on the two main solutions, namely (1). Raising India’s strategic position by encouraging this country to play a more significant role in the region and promoting trade and military relations with New Delhi; (2). Accelerating the establishment of a quadrilateral coalition including America, Japan, Australia, and India in order to prevent regional countries from threatening the US leadership role. Culturally, through the Strategy, Washington hopes to impose its values, particularly US-style universe values of freedom, democracy, human rights, ethnicity and religion on countries in the region.

Responses from countries

After Trump’s visit to Asia, China stated: “peaceful development and win-win cooperation represent the mainstream of the times. Parties have the right to put forward plans and views on the method to promote regional cooperation”. However, when the Indo-Pacific Strategy was more clearly included in the US National Security Strategy 2017 and its Defence Strategy 2018, Beijing angrily responded to and considered it as “the old-fashioned Cold War mentality” while announcing that “China will never pursue a policy for its own interests jeopardizing other countries’ ones”. Same to China, Russia criticized the US for employing this Strategy and its confrontational notions against the current mainstream to prove its leadership role.

As for key factors in this strategy, namely America, Japan, India and Australia, each country has different priority, but all share a common vision and strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific Strategy by the US. More specifically, America and Australia placed emphasis on security while Japan and India stressed the integration, maritime freedom, and respect for international law. After the quadrilateral dialogue held on November 12th, 2017, these countries actively actualized their priorities. Japan – the first country putting forward the notion “Indo-Pacific” – actively implemented this Strategy (which was included in Japan’s Diplomatic Bluebook 2017) through its deepened cooperation with India, America, Australia, and the ASEAN. As far as Australia is concerned, its Foreign Policy White Paper 2017 stressed the maintenance of an open, inclusive, and wealthy Indo-Pacific Region and the cooperation with India and Japan to maintain security in the Indian Ocean and foster the US security pledge in the region. As for India, Prime Minister of India Modi has recently used the term “Indo-Pacific” more regularly and advocated encouraging maritime security cooperation and improving regional integration at his meetings with leaders of Japan and America.

Impacts of the Strategy

It is thought that the US Indo-Pacific Strategy will turn this region into a new playground for fair, free and open competition which is not completely dependent on China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative. Moreover, this strategy will create more motivations and resources for strengthening regional countries’ defence and security potential, ensuring that they stand a chance of taking advantage of proper elements, such capital and technology for the sake of socio-economic development, defence and security consolidation, and settlement of common security challenges. The Strategy will also positively impact on regional countries’ defence thought and military build-up while deepening defence cooperation between regional militaries and America. Besides, the adjustment in the US strategy will lead to fierce competition among major powers, thereby giving other countries in the region opportunities to improve their technology capability to modernize their militaries.

However, it is believed that the concurrent appearance of China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative and US Indo-Pacific Strategy will possibly lead to tensions and competition as the “zero-sum game”, particularly in hot spots, such as the East Sea, the South East Sea, Taiwan, and Korean peninsula. In addition, the collision between China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative and the US Indo-Pacific Strategy will continue to make the armed race in the region more complex.

Southeast Asia is defined as the centre of Indian Ocean – Pacific Ocean and the centrepiece of the “Belt and Road” Initiative. In the competition for influence between major powers, the Southeast Asia becomes an “arena” for intervention and force gathering to contain one another. Thus, ASEAN member states will hardly avoid becoming the objects to be implicated by the US and the quadrilateral coalition as one side and China as the other. And considerable challenges posed to the ASEAN and its member states now are how to achieve a sense of unity and consensus within ASEAN and maintain its centrality in regional security mechanisms to avoid being engrossed in the competition for influence and division.

Le Duc Cuong

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