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Hiroshi Yuasa

【#480】Chance Has Come to Promote Indo-Pacific Quadrilateral Partnership

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2017.11.16 (Thu)

November 13, 2017

     At a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Da Nang, central Vietnam, the United States attempting to recover its lost ground with an Indo-Pacific strategy clashed with China expanding its magnetic field under its ”Belt and Road” initiative. In his speech on November 10, U.S. President Donald Trump, who has led to doubts about U.S. engagement in Asia by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, used the geographical concept of Indo-Pacific for the first time to impress other APEC countries with U.S. involvement in regional security, while speaking mostly about economics. Trump cited the three principles of the rule of law, individual rights and freedom of navigation and overflight under the framework of the Indo-Pacific in an apparent bid to counter China’s ambition of regional hegemony.
Trump emphasized “Indo-Pacific”
     In Beijing where he stayed until the morning of the day, President Trump received a very warm reception and hailed his “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, indicating his favorite “art of the deal” diplomacy to extract economic concessions from China and pressure on North Korea over its nuclear development. In his APEC speech, however, Trump accused “product dumping, subsidized goods, currency manipulation and predatory industrial policy” with China in mind, stepping up his offensive against the country.
     APEC leaders have been testing Trump’s seriousness of engagement in Asia. If small Asian countries cannot rely on the United States for their survival and prosperity, they have no choice but to get on China’s Belt and Road bandwagon. The Obama administration offered “pivot” to Asia but failed to take actions commensurate with the offer. The Trump administration has pulled out of the TPP, leaving anxiety about its commitment to Asia.
     In October, however, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Unites States desired a “free and open Indo-Pacific” protected through cooperation between democratic countries, and repeated the phrase of “Indo-Pacific” 15 times in a speech during his subsequent India visit. In his APEC speech, President Trump used the phrase 10 times and praised India as the world’s largest democracy even though she is not a member of the APEC. The message was delivered with knowledge of India’s military face-off with China on their border that had lasted until recently.
In face of China’s military expansion
     Originally, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched the concept of “Indo-Pacific” for linking the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in his address, titled “Confluence of the Two Seas,” at the Indian parliament in 2007 in an apparent bid to check China addicted to military expansion.
     In response, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi switched from the traditional “Look East” policy for learning from economic development in East Asia to the “Act East” policy seeking a strategic link to East Asia and proactively supported India-U.S.-Japan joint military exercises. During his tour of Australia and some Asian countries in mid-January this year, Prime Minister Abe aimed to build an Indo-Pacific security framework. During his visit to the United States in February, Abe sought President Trump’s “Act West” policy, so to speak.
     Behind the approach has been China’s rapid military buildup. The problem is that the Indo-Pacific strategy in the Trump speech is still vague and lacks details. The chance has come for Abe to prompt the United States as Japan’s ally to move to set up a quadripartite Japan-U.S.-Australia-India strategic dialogue, which could form a basis of multilateral defense arrangements under the Indo-Pacific strategy.

Hiroshi Yuasa is a Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.