‘Indo-Pa­cific’ a new term for old anx­i­eties

Global Times - - Editorial -

The con­cept of a “free and open Indo-Pa­cific” has been ap­pear­ing more of­ten in US diplo­matic rhetoric. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump used the term many times dur­ing his just con­cluded Asia tour. Dur­ing the East Asia Sum­mit in the Philip­pines, lead­ers from the US, Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and In­dia held their first “quad” talks on Indo-Pa­cific co­op­er­a­tion, trig­ger­ing a lot of spec­u­la­tions.

The “Indo-Pa­cific” la­bel did not break the tra­di­tional frame­work of the US’ Asia strat­egy. Com­pared with “Asia-Pa­cific,” “Indo-Pa­cific” merely in­di­cates a read­just­ment of US strate­gic view and strate­gic fo­cus, while pro­vid­ing In­dia with a role.

The re­bal­anc­ing to the Asia-Pa­cific strat­egy fo­cuses on se­cu­rity and econ­omy, while the “Indo-Pa­cific” strat­egy has yet to come into shape. Judg­ing from the use of the term in US and Ja­panese diplo­matic cir­cles, it seems to cover a wide spec­trum in­clud­ing is­sues re­lat­ing to se­cu­rity, econ­omy and val­ues.

Most US strate­gists and pub­lic opin­ion mak­ers be­lieve the re­bal­anc­ing strat­egy has failed to en­cir­cle, let alone con­tain China’s rise. The idea of “Indo-Pa­cific” is a fresh one, but if re­viewed care­fully, it ap­pears as an­other empty slo­gan. What is most im­por­tant is that China is the big­gest trade part­ner of all four coun­tries.

Indo-Pa­cific coun­tries have been strength­en­ing trade and cul­tural ties with China with the fa­cil­i­ta­tion of the China-led Belt and Road ini­tia­tive. The US and Ja­pan have lit­tle lever­age to play geopo­lit­i­cal games in the re­gion, and few coun­tries are will­ing to fall into the or­bit of Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo.

South­east Asia is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple. The re­gion was the fo­cal point of the re­bal­anc­ing strat­egy, and the South China Sea dis­pute was a ma­neu­ver aimed at ma­nip­u­la­tion. How­ever, Wash­ing­ton has failed to push for­ward the strat­egy, and the Philip­pines’ about-face has made the US a laugh­ing stock.

In the event of a war, the “Indo-Pa­cific” strat­egy may prove use­ful. But a mil­i­tary show­down among ma­jor pow­ers in the 21st cen­tury seems unimag­in­able. No coun­try would wel­come it at the cost of its de­vel­op­ment.

What is the sig­nif­i­cance of China’s rise in a glob­al­ized era? This is the core ques­tion in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics this cen­tury. While some elites in the US and Ja­pan are wor­ried, de­pressed and jeal­ous of China, they nonethe­less tried to in­cite other coun­tries to counter China with hol­low strate­gies, which only re­flect their anx­i­eties.

In­dia has its own trick to play. In the past, the main­stream me­dia in In­dia was ob­sessed with com­pet­ing with China on GDP growth and in­ter­na­tional sta­tus. Now they are keen to com­pare their coun­try to Aus­tralia or Ja­pan to see which can curry more fa­vor from the US. Af­ter the US be­gan us­ing the term “Indo-Pa­cific,” some In­dian me­dia out­lets were ec­static that their coun­try had be­come an im­por­tant pil­lar of this new US strat­egy.

An­other round of de­bate over strate­gies will no doubt flour­ish, but what will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine the fu­ture strate­gic land­scape is each coun­try’s abil­ity to de­velop on its own terms. China only needs to be ded­i­cated to de­vel­op­ment and to im­ple­ment its Belt and Road ini­tia­tive in a down-to-earth man­ner.

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