‘Indo-Pa­cific’ an ‘Amer­ica First’ ploy

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

Just be­fore and dur­ing his maiden trip to Asia as US pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump re­it­er­ated the im­por­tance of pro­mot­ing a free and open “Indo-Pa­cific re­gion”, a term rarely used by his pre­de­ces­sors. Three ex­perts share their views on Trump’s “sub­tle shift” in lan­guage with China Daily’s Cui Shoufeng.

Con­tro­ver­sial re­gional body un­der close watch

The change in Washington’s rhetoric — from Asia-Pa­cific to Indo-Pa­cific — car­ries mixed sig­nals for the re­gion. In his re­marks at the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion meet­ing in Da Nang, Viet­nam, Trump again men­tioned Indo-Pa­cific. It is “an honor to be here in Viet­nam — in the very heart of Indo-Pa­cific”, he said.

In­dia, US, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia held their first of­fi­cials’ meet­ing on the side­lines of the ASEAN sum­mit on Sun­day.

The quadri­lat­eral “al­liance”, which the United States, In­dia, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia plan to build to strengthen their “Indo-Pa­cific ties”, how­ever, would not af­fect the eco­nomic in­ter­de­pen­dence of Asian economies nor would it serve the pur­pose of con­tain­ing China, if there is one. With more coun­tries join­ing the Bei­jing-pro­posed Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, it seems an un­wise move to miss the re­cip­ro­cal na­ture of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s vi­sion and ex­clude China from re­gional eco­nomic gov­er­nance.

Among the four likely part­ners in the “quad”, Ja­pan has been the most en­thu­si­as­tic about forg­ing a quasi Indo-Pa­cific al­liance, prob­a­bly to ac­cel­er­ate its pur­suit of wider geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence and build a full-fledged mil­i­tary. In­dia, too, wants to re­in­force its dom­i­nance in South Asia and be­lieves it is a good idea to get closer to the US and Ja­pan. And nei­ther Ja­pan nor In­dia has shown any in­ter­est in the Belt and Road projects.

But Aus­tralia, which en­joys de­cent eco­nomic ties with China, may be less keen to push for­ward the new group­ing.

Trump’s call for “free and re­cip­ro­cal trade” sug­gests the “Amer­ica First” pol­icy re­mains high on his agenda. Whether and how Trump will elab­o­rate on his “Indo-Pa­cific” vi­sion should be watched closely.

Move may have lit­tle im­pact on projects

In­dia has long been open to the idea of an Indo-Pa­cific re­gion, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons. Be­ing just an ob­server in the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion fo­rum, its geopo­lit­i­cal fo­cus has al­ways been the In­dian Ocean, and an Indo-Pa­cific al­liance could en­hance its role as a re­gional power.

Rex Tiller­son’s speech dur­ing his trip to In­dia last month of­fers a glimpse into Washington’s “Indo-Pa­cific” pol­icy, as he called for In­dia to play a big­ger role in Asia’s new and de­vel­op­ing se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion, which also in­cludes Ja­pan and Aus­tralia. He also wanted the US and In­dia to use their eco­nomic prow­ess to fa­cil­i­tate con­nec­tiv­ity and growth in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion.

Over the past few months, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has paid un­par­al­leled at­ten­tion to US-In­dia re­la­tions while tak­ing a tougher care for the el­derly. So de­vel­op­ing a com­mu­nity-based oldage sup­port mech­a­nism and in­sti­tu­tional el­derly care is the need of the hour.

But the de­vel­op­ment of in­sti­tu­tions for el­derly care faces some prob­lems, the fore­most be­ing the im­bal­ance in sup­ply and de­mand. The Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs says China has more than 28,000 reg­is­tered in­sti­tu­tions for old-age care with about 7 mil­lion beds. How­ever, pub­lic el­derly care in­sti­tu­tions en­joy a bet­ter reputation and their ser­vices are much in de­mand, whereas pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions are gen­er­ally found want­ing when it comes to tak­ing proper care of the el­derly.

The au­thor­i­ties should there­fore deepen sup­ply-side struc­tural re­form of pub­lic old-age sup­port re­sources to both guar­an­tee so­cial se­cu­rity for el­derly sup­port and pro­mote el­derly care in­sti­tu­tions, as well as to im­prove the man­age­ment and ser­vice stance against Pak­istan. It has also en­dorsed In­dia’s “Act East pol­icy”, de­signed to deepen eco­nomic and strate­gic re­la­tions with South­east Asian na­tions, and may in­clude it in the Indo-Pa­cific ar­range­ments.

But de­spite be­ing a known ad­vo­cate of the Indo-Pa­cific vi­sion, In­dia may re­frain from go­ing too far be­cause such a quasi quadri­lat­eral mil­i­tary al­liance would have un­wanted im­pli­ca­tions for the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor and could force Pak­istan to take counter mea­sures.

Zhang Zhixin, head of Amer­i­can Po­lit­i­cal Stud­ies at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can Stud­ies, China In­sti­tutes of Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions Lin Min­wang, a re­searcher at the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Fu­dan Univer­sity, Shang­hai, and a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Pan­goal In­sti­tu­tion Chen Yang, a PhD can­di­date at the Grad­u­ate School of So­ci­ol­ogy of Toyo Univer­sity, Ja­pan

US pol­icy: Buy our arms to build an al­liance

De­spite Trump’s blunt com­plaint against decades of “mas­sive trade deficits” with Ja­pan, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe may still find some re­lief in the fact that Washington is on board for the Indo-Pa­cific al­liance that Tokyo has long en­vi­sioned.

While the US looks set to “in­clude” the Indo-Pa­cific in its tra­di­tional Asia-Pa­cific strat­egy, Ja­pan’s role in re­gional af­fairs may ex­pand and its par­tic­i­pa­tion in mil­i­tary drills in the In­dian Ocean gain more “le­git­i­macy”.

Tokyo could also be em­bold­ened to com­pete with the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road, the sea route of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, which Ja­pan and In­dia have re­fused to join, and keep chal­leng­ing Bei­jing over the South China Sea is­sue.

Be­sides, the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion also feels the urge to cap­i­tal­ize on the US’ in­ter­est in build­ing an Indo-Pa­cific se­cu­rity frame­work, as China still mat­ters a lot more to the US than Ja­pan when it comes to in­ter­na­tional and re­gional af­fairs. That is why Abe has ex­tended full sup­port for the likely shift in the US’ Asia-Pa­cific pol­icy.

But the high­light­ing of the term “Indo-Pa­cific” by US of­fi­cials be­fore and dur­ing Trump’s trip to Asia does not mean the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which fo­cuses more on the do­mes­tic econ­omy and bi­lat­eral trade deals, will carry it through. Rather than us­ing the bulk of its diplo­matic re­sources in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion, Washington is more likely to urge Can­berra, New Delhi and Tokyo to do more and per­suade them to buy more weapons from the US as a “dis­play of unity”.

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