Thu, Jun 27, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Era of diplomatic neutrality is over

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

The Indo-Pacific, widely known as the Indo-West Pacific or Indo-Pacific Asia, includes the Indian Ocean, the western and central parts of the Pacific Ocean, and the countless waterways and islands connecting these two vast maritime zones. In the past few years, the Indo-Pacific has emerged as a new geopolitical construct that is used to describe the increasing rivalry between the US and China.

The central tenets of this strategic vision are evident in the first Indo-Pacific Strategy Report: Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a Networked Region, published and made available online by the US Department of Defense on June 1.

This timely and important document outlines a wide range of security challenges posed by China, and calls for the need to work closely with strategic partners in upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific.

There are three major takeaways from this strategy report.

First, the document articulates a new “pan-Asian” or “global Asian” implementation strategy for the US military to guard against Chinese expansionism.

Marking the beginning of the end of a golden age in US-China relations, this report signals a major policy shift from the old tactic of “strategic reassurance” with China to that of managing overt competition and conflict.

This strategic reorientation does not occur in an ideological vacuum. Many in foreign policy circles have acknowledged that Washington conceded too much to China in the past in a rush to execute its goal of strategic reassurance and partnership.

Today, the discourse of the “China threat,” both real and imagined, implants a deep sense of crisis among think tanks and lawmakers.

The Pentagon’s report formally refers to China as a revisionist power that strives to increase its international influence and prestige at the expense of the established order, Russia as a revitalized malign actor, and North Korea as a rogue state.

Identifying China as one of three destabilizing forces, the report finds it necessary to decisively counter evolving Chinese-Russian strategic cooperation.

Like it or not, the growing opposition to China is now a bipartisan issue, regardless of which political party will win next year’s US presidential election.

The consensus is that the US should enlarge its strategic footprint worldwide to balance against China and Russia. Evidently, China’s remarkable rise to domination has validated US military deployments in Asia, and has prompted the US to reconnect with old allies and find new ones.

Second, the reprioritization of the Indo-Pacific as a new global theater complements the simultaneous mobilization of traditional US allies such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand. The US has gone so far to integrate these allies into a web of interlocking strategic partnerships with Taiwan, Singapore and Mongolia, as well as countries across the Indian Ocean.

Criticizing China as an outside actor that has caused serious democratic backsliding in Cambodia and Myanmar, the US positions itself as a guardian of international laws and sovereignty.

It has reached out to those developing Asian nations that border China and feel threatened by its rising influence. Washington is keen to identify common interests with these states to contain China’s ascension to hegemony.

Third, the report provides a coherent framework for US lawmakers to pursue policies critical of China. As the current political climate serves as an incubator to advance an anti-communist agenda, China has become an external scapegoat, or an anti-ethical other, in the US’ popular imagination.

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