KIMS Morning Forum

The 126th KIMS Morning Forum

Indo-Pacific Strategy: evolving from rhetoric to policy

  • President Donald Trump presented ‘Free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP)’ as a new strategy in Asia in Da Nang of Vietnam while visiting Asian countries in November 2017. Since then, the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which had been in rhetoric level emphasizing basic and abstract values such as ‘Rules-based Order (RBO)’ and ‘Freedom of Navigation’, has evolved into specific ‘policy’ beyond the stage of ‘idea’.
  • Secretary of State Michael Pompeo presented specific economic programs of Indo-Pacific Strategy in a speech on July 30, 2018 titled ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision’ and a series of interviews and meetings conducted around ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) which was held on August 4, 2018.
  • In addition, at Shangri-La Dialogue (Asian Security Council) held on June 1, 2019 in Singapore, Patrick Shanahan, acting Defense Secretary of the U.S., announced the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the US Department of Defense in the keynote speech mainly aimed at checking China.
  • Immediately after the speech, US Defense Department published the ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy Report’ which proposed the 4 major security challenge factors facing the U.S. as the People’s Republic of China as a Revisionist Power, Russia as a Revitalized Malign Actor, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a Rogue State, and Prevalence of Transnational Challenges including terrorism and suggested Military Preparedness, Partnership with Alliances and Friendly Nations and Military Response Strategy by Promoting a Networked Region of Korea, US and Japan and US, Japan and Australia.
  • The U.S. has set economic development, governance and (maritime) security as the 3 core axes of Indo-Pacific Strategy and is saying that it will implement the policies through close cooperation with the alliances and partner nations in the region. Specifically, first, the U.S. will implement alternative infrastructure and economic development in the region focusing on investment of private funds unlike the implementation method of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China. Secondly, the governance of the nations in the region will be improved to meet transparency, the rule of law and the international standards and practices. Third, security cooperation with the nations in the region will be reinforced for Freedom of Navigation and protection of maritime security in Indo–Pacific region. The U.S. is committed to making omnidirectional efforts in order to achieve the three strategic goals.

Major programs of Indo-Pacific Strategy

  • Secretary of State Michael Pompeo emphasized in a speech delivered on July 30, 2018 at ‘Indo–Pacific Business Forum’ hosted by US Chamber of Commerce in Washington that the U.S. intend to establish partnership, not domination, in the Indo–Pacific region and the vision of Indo–Pacific is opened to all nations that support free and open RBO. In addition, Secretary Pompeo made it clear that the U.S. opposes any nation that pursues domination instead of partnership aiming at China.
  • In the same speech, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo proposed the following 4 major policy programs of Indo-Pacific Strategy. First, the U.S. is going to implement an economic support program for the nations in the region worth 113 million dollars in the areas of digital economy, energy and infrastructure. Second, the U.S. will expand the volume of development credit from 30 billion to 0 billion dollars a year in order to facilitate private investment in the areas of construction of infrastructure, economic development and the struggle against poverty in the developing countries in the Indo–Pacific region. Third, in addition to facilitation of investment in infrastructure and implementation of development cooperation programs, the U.S. will establish the tripartite cooperation with Japan and Australia to closely coordinate the programs being implemented independently in each nation.
  • Australia is actively keeping pace with the U.S. by setting RBO in the region as the main goal of foreign strategy with the ‘2017 Foreign Policy White Paper’ published in 2017. It is thought that the U.S. focused its ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’, which was originally expected to have a strong character of national security, on economic areas as a result of consultation with Australia and Japan.

Evaluation and prospect

  • First, the ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ of the U.S. has now been converted into a substantive policy action supported by budget beyond the level of abstract ideas as it has been materialized as a policy program with the 3 core elements of economy, governance and national security.
  • Second, differently from the original expectation, the Indo–Pacific policies of the U.S. which have been announced so far have more economic character than national security character. They emphasize the economic development of the nations in the region and are focused on providing policy and technical supports and cultivating capabilities for that purpose. Of course, the ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy Report’ announced by US Defense Department on June 1, 2019 emphasizes the situation of national security of the U.S. in military terms, especially in the security cooperation in maritime security, but until recently, the U.S. has emphasized economic aspects such as development cooperation, governance improvement and facilitation of private investment.
    – It is evaluated that the U.S. has strengthened the economic character of the Indo-Pacific Strategy as part of the strategy to encourage support and participation of the developing countries in the region including ASEAN. It is true that when the U.S. strongly criticized the offensive actions of China in the South China Sea, pushed ahead with the ‘Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs)’ regularly and held Quadrilateral arrangement (QUAD) of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia with the following nations in Manila, the Philippines in November 2017, it was worried that the U.S. would try to create a consultative group with the character of national security in order to check China and expand the consultative group to demand participation of the nations in the region.
  • Third, it is noteworthy that the U.S. is going to promote minilateral cooperation including bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral cooperation with the nations agreeing to the Indo–Pacific policy of the U.S. Participating in the 3rd Indian Ocean Conference held in Hanoi, Vietnam, on August 27 and 28 of 2018, Alice Wells, assistant secretary of US State Department, said that “The US will implement flexible regional groupings of like-minded partners” in order to realize the goals of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
    – In addition, the U.S. is emphasizing that it will make efforts to strengthen RBO in the region in the framework of the existing system not by forming a new system substituting the systems existing in the region. For this, the U.S. is going to utilize the ASEAN Centrality systems that are the core multilateral cooperation mechanism in East Asian region, i.e. ARF, ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM+), East Asia Summit (EAS), etc. and strengthen cooperation with Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) which is a regional consultative group participated by 21 nations in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Fourth, the Indo-Pacific Strategy being implemented by the Trump administration is likely to be continued in the future as it is not a simple independent initiative of the administration division but it is receiving bipartisan support of the US Congress. The establishment of RBO and transparent governance being emphasized by the U.S. has a strong character of responding the foreign policy of China which is emerging as a strong power in terms of economy and diplomacy. Not only the Trump administration but also the US Congress are thinking that RBO including Freedom of Navigation is being threatened by the continued offensive military security action of China to change the status quo by force in the East China Sea, South China Sea and the Indian Ocean region.
  • Finally, it is still uncertain how effective the policy programs to be implemented by the U.S. for support of the economic development in the region will be. In particular, the core economic goal of this strategy is to encourage expansion of investment of private US companies in the Indo–Pacific region but it is difficult to predict the favorable reaction of companies which pursue commercial interest.

Policy implications

  • First, as the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the U.S. is entering the stage of enforcement in earnest, it is necessary for Korea to maintain an open and positive attitude about it and seek active cooperation with it in relation to the implementation of the New Southern Policy. The values of Rules-based Order (RBO), Freedom of Navigation, open market economy, etc. being emphasized in the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the U.S. is not very different from out basic stance which supports multilateralism and open regionalism at local and global level.
  • Second, as the U.S. is proposing expansion of private investment in the developing countries in the region as the core factor of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, there is a leeway to seek common factors with the New Southern Policy and economic aspects of Korea. There are many common factors between the New Southern Policy of Korea which seeks to diversity economic cooperation with ASEAN and India Ocean nations and expand the horizon of diplomacy and the initiatives of the U.S. to increase cooperation in the areas of infrastructure, digital economy and energy. Thus, it is necessary to search for the ways that can find the common factors of the policies of the two nations to create synergy.
  • Third, the U.S. is going to promote various types of minilateral cooperation for implementation of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, and it corresponds with the stance of Korea to use minilateral cooperation as an important means of diplomacy. However, it is necessary not to limit the partners for minilateral cooperation to specific nations but to proceed minilateral cooperation flexibly with India, China, etc. in addition to Western countries such as the U.S., Japan and Australia. If there is a policy demand in specific issues, it is necessary to actively promote various forms of minilateral cooperation among Korea, US and China; Korea, China and Japan; and Korea, US and India in addition to Korea, US and Japan; and Korea, US Australia.
  • Finally, it will be more beneficial to our national interests if the regional cooperation in the region in the future develops on the basis of the various institutional mechanism of ASEAN which has played the role of a medium for regional cooperation in East Asia rather than competition between the U.S, and China that compete for formation of an exclusive regional structure putting each of them in the center. In this respect, it is necessary to actively seek for the ways to reinforce diplomatic and strategic cooperation with ASEAN whose stance is similar to use in relation to the establishment of the local system in the region.

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