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Assessing U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy

Mar 09, 2023
  • Chen Jimin

    Guest Researcher, Center for Peace and Development Studies, China Association for International Friendly Contact

Since the announcement by the United States of its Indo-Pacific vision in 2017 and the release of its Indo-Pacific Strategy in 2018 — as well as its implementation of military, political, economic, diplomatic, and technological policies — the U.S. strategy has made significant progress at the cognitive, policy and strategic levels.

First, the Indo-Pacific Strategy has not only raised Americans’ awareness of the importance of the Indo-Pacific region but has also gained attention and policy follow-ups from other major countries or groups of countries to that region. The U.S. strategic community’s awareness of the importance of the Indo-Pacific region has increased significantly, and the Republican and Democratic parties have found a high degree of agreement. This strengthens the will and determination of the U.S. to promote the strategy and helps maintain its stability and continuity. In addition, the strategy has effectively focused the international community’s attention on the region.

The United States is not the first country to use the Indo-Pacific concept, nor is it the first to focus on the region at the policy level, but the promotion of the Indo-Pacific concept at the international level and the widespread attention of the international community to the region are directly related to the high-profile proposal of the United States.

With the gradual clarification and steady progress of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, countries or regional organizations have put forward their own strategies or ideas. By contrast, the attention of non-Indo-Pacific countries is even greater and more high-profile at the policy level. France, Germany, the European Union and Canada have all introduced their own Indo-Pacific strategies. As a result, the region is not only the direction toward which the U.S. strategic focus has shifted but has even become the center — where the world’s major strategic thinking is directed. The attention of countries or groups of countries inside and outside the region have, to a certain extent, coordinated with or responded to the United States as it implements its Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Second, the overall policy structure of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy has been formed and has been continuously enriched and improved. This is mainly reflected in the fact that the strategy has clear strategic objectives, clear strategic targets and a relatively balanced policy system. The Trump administration basically built a whole-of-government, whole-of-society, whole-of-field policy framework for it. The Biden administration has absorbed this policy framework in its entirety and further improved it, most notably in terms of systemic and balanced policies.

From a policy perspective, while maintaining strategic investment and high-profile involvement in the security aspects of the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. has paid more attention to policy design and implementation in other areas. In particular, it launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity and built an economic platform to promote its strategy.

From the perspective of topics, the U.S. has not only strengthened its focus on traditional security areas but also incorporated non-traditional security topics into the Indo-Pacific Strategy, such as climate change, disaster relief and epidemic prevention and control, in response to the concerns of some regional countries to a certain extent.

From the perspective of governing philosophy, the Biden administration has revised the Trump administration’s “America first” principle, revived traditional multilateralism, and repaired and developed alliances and partnerships — such as upgrading the U.S.-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and building the AUKUS trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States — to revive U.S. dominance in international organizations and multilateral platforms.

Third, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy poses a greater challenge to China. The U.S. defines China as a strategic competitor that poses an all-encompassing challenge to it. The U.S. Department of Defense calls China a pacing challenge. This means that relative gains have become a primary consideration in U.S. policy toward China, with the result that the United States is less likely to cooperate and is more inclined to delay and curb China’s development.

In this context, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy puts direct pressure on China by gaining geographical proximity, and it exerts indirect pressure on China’s development by shaping the regional environment, with the ultimate goal, obviously, of serving its grand strategy of outcompeting China — in short, to “win.”

There is no doubt that the Indo-Pacific Strategy has exerted considerable pressure on China’s sovereignty and security interests (the Taiwan question is the most concentrated and obvious manifestation), bringing more complexity and uncertainty to China’s development environment and forcing China to focus more energy and resources on the Asia-Pacific region. This will, to a certain extent, alleviate the competitive pressure that the United States faces from China at the global level. From the perspective of China-U.S. strategic competition, the Indo-Pacific Strategy has to some extent served as a counterweight to China’s development strategy and process.

There are many constraints on the Indo-Pacific Strategy, most notably in its positioning, which has serious flaws. In essence, the strategy is designed to maintain U.S. dominance based on the premise that China is the main competitor of the U.S. However, China does not have a so-called hegemonic strategy. Beijing has repeatedly stressed that China neither expands nor seeks spheres of influence, nor does it seek so-called dominance, and thus there is no issue over competing with the United States for dominance.

In fact, making international relations more democratic, law-based and rational is the common expectation of the international community today, and also the development trend. The Indo-Pacific Strategy, as a strategy to maintain U.S. dominance, pursues a zero-sum mindset and adopts a power policy of bloc politics, confrontation, decoupling and long-arm jurisdiction. This is obviously contrary to the expectations of the international community and the development trend of the times.

The Indo-Pacific Strategy is supposed to deal with international relations in the 21st century, but it uses 20th century thinking and will therefore inevitably run into problems here and there. To be more specific, the strategy has improper strategic goals, an imaginary competitor and an ineffective and misguided way of doing things. This strategic design flaw has become its Achilles heel.

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