Indo-Pacific alliance could end prematurely

By Liu Dian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/13 22:53:40

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

US President Donald Trump held his first Asian tour this month after taking office, with all Asian countries wondering what Asian policy his administration will pursue. In a speech in Japan, Trump for the first time formally put forward the notion of establishing an Indo-Pacific region that is free, fair and mutually beneficial.

From the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific, indicates an extension of the US' Asian policy direction. In August, the Trump administration proposed a new South Asian policy in an effort to enhance relations with India so it can increase its influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

The rapid rise of India's economy and regional influence are important reasons why the US intends to rope in India. The important geopolitical and economic status of India and the Indian Ocean can't be overlooked.

Although the Trump administration has ostensibly abandoned the "rebalance to Asia" strategy of the Barack Obama era, the US won't give up influence in the region, and it still hopes to balance China indirectly by finding a new focus and safeguarding the international system led by the US.

The introduction of the Indo-Pacific concept reflects the allied reaction of the US, India, Japan and Australia to China's Belt and Road (B&R) initiative. With the continuous promotion of the initiative, China's international influence has risen significantly, and it has begun to play a leading role in global governance. In contrast, the US and Japan are becoming anxious as their ability to shape the international order is relatively declining. Changes in the international environment have caused stress in these countries.

After the US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Japan still insisted on promoting negotiations for the pact. Additionally, in the hope of balancing the influence of the B&R initiative, Japan has been actively competing with China for infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia, and it jointly launched the Asia Africa Growth Corridor program with India covering the Asia-Pacific and African regions.

Faced with the worldwide enthusiastic response to the B&R initiative, the US rapidly drew India, Japan and Australia to its side as a means of indirectly hedging China's growing influence. This rushed connection could end prematurely, however, given the haste in which it was conceived.

The US is an important promoter of the four-nation alliance. However, Trump, who gives the US priority, will also be an important obstacle to its unity.

This commercially minded president, while drawing Japan and India into an Indo-Pacific alliance, has also criticized the US trade deficits with those countries, and he is likely unwilling to assume more responsibility for the economy and security of its allies.

Australia has always held an ambiguous attitude toward China and the US. On the one hand, it hopes to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region by utilizing the protection of the US. On the other hand, it is also reluctant to give up the enormous economic interests of trading with China.

India's non-aligned tradition and longstanding strategic autonomy make it hard for this country to participate deeply in the team. Japan, the most passionate participant of the union, will ultimately fail to accomplish anything if it lacks strong support from the other three nations.

The US-China deals signed on Thursday that set world records showed the huge common interest between China and the US and further indicated to the world that China's development as well as the B&R initiative is not for its exclusive growth but for the world's beneficial common development.

The "stress-inspired" union of the four nations is an inevitable response to changes in the global order, but it is by no means the optimal one. However, those countries may gradually realize that cooperation and pursuit of common interests are the best choices. By understanding this, perhaps the rushed alliance will evolve into win-win cooperation covering the four countries and the rest of the world under the new international political and economic order.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.


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