Indo-Pacific strategy more a geopolitical military alliance

By Long Xingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/7 20:08:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Since the second half of 2017, US President Donald Trump and other senior officials have frequently mentioned the "Indo-Pacific" concept, but not as a strategy. International speculation has swirled over whether this is a geopolitical strategy or a geoeconomic one. In June, US Defense Secretary James Mattis used "Indo-Pacific strategy" in his remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue. It points at US plans to build more of a geopolitical military alliance than an economic one in the Indo-Pacific region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech - America's Indo-Pacific Economic Vision - at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum on July 30, demonstrating that the US' Indo-Pacific strategy has not only geopolitical aims, but also geoeconomic cooperation plans.

While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert, the geoeconomic concept will promote regional economic development and should be welcomed.

In the speech, Pompeo clarified the geographical range of the Indo-Pacific strategy and underscored India's position. He defined the Indo-Pacific for the first time in over a year as stretching "from the United States west coast to the west coast of India," basically the previous Asia-Pacific plus India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

As the US has kept close economic and security relations with the Asia-Pacific region, replacing it with the Indo-Pacific reflects that the US values both India's importance and prospects. That explains why Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross later designated India as a Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) country, which "acknowledges the US-India security and economic relationship" and is comparable to trusted NATO allies. The US will ease its export controls on defense and other high-tech products to India.

During the speech, Pompeo announced $113 million in new US initiatives to support foundational areas in the region. Although he said the US launched the initiatives not to take on China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI), it has been influenced by the BRI to some extent.

After all, geoeconomic cooperation is better than geopolitical struggle. As US and Chinese investments can both facilitate Indo-Pacific development, the two can synergize to create a complementary effect.

A "free and open" Indo-Pacific, as the US refers to, shares similarity with an open, inclusive and transparent BRI of China. Pompeo defined that a "free and open" Indo-Pacific means the US wants all nations "to be able to protect their sovereignty from coercion by other countries" and "to enjoy open access to seas and airways." This is actually in the interest of China, the world's largest trading and shipping country. The 21st Maritime Silk Road, proposed by China, overlaps much with the Indo-Pacific in geographical terms.

China advocates extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. The Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and the Gwadar Port in Pakistan, both run by Chinese companies, are open to vessels from any country.

China and the US share a target of promoting infrastructure construction and connectivity. Pompeo said the US is committed to "connectivity that advances national sovereignty, regional integration and trust," and allocated $113 million in immediate new funds to expand economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific. China proposed the BRI and established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to help improve infrastructure in Indo-Pacific countries.

According to the AIIB, developing countries in the Indo-Pacific need $26 trillion only for infrastructure by 2030, which cannot be met by a single country or just a few.

Given the common goal, all efforts are welcome as long as they can help promote regional infrastructure development. That's exactly why India decided to join the AIIB despite skepticism. The US is capable of funding regional infrastructure development in a bigger way.

Governments and companies in China, the US, Japan, India and others can cooperate in the Indo-Pacific region to advance economic development and share the achievements.

Pompeo said the US will craft "better and higher-standard bilateral trade agreements." Most Indo-Pacific developing countries, including India, currently cannot meet the standards in terms of market access, environment, labor and intellectual property rights. In such circumstances, the US can work with developed economies in the region, such as Japan, Australia and Singapore, toward the goal.

The author is a senior research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.


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