The Trump administration put forward its Indo-Pacific Strategy in December 2017. The Department of Defense published its Indo-Pacific Strategy Report in June last year to further expound upon the strategy. The central idea of the strategy is to ensure the political and economic interests of the United States through the preparedness, partnerships and the promotion of a networked region. Its essence is to compete with and prevail over China strategically, to delay its development and contain its rise and rejuvenation.
To contain China, the U.S. Congress successively passed the Taiwan Travel Act in 2018, the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018, the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018, the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, the National Defense Authorization Acts for fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020 to upgrade U.S.-Taiwan relations and interfere in China’s internal affairs.
But no matter what the Trump administration tries to do, the Indo-Pacific strategy is doomed to fail. The reasons follow.
First, Trump’s America First Strategy benefits the United States at a cost to others and is opposed by other countries. To protect U.S. trade, the Trump administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports from all countries, as well as a 25 percent tariff on $550 billion worth of imports from China.
China retaliated by imposing a 25/5 percent tariff on $110 billion worth of imports from the U.S. Then Canada, Russia, India, Japan and European countries also announced the imposition of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.
To alleviate its defense burden, Trump administration demanded that NATO member states and South Korea increase their defense budgets. This annoyed its allies and undermined alliances and overall relations. To sell its own natural gas to Germany and other EU countries at a higher price, the Trump administration announced sanctions on enterprises taking part in the Nord Stream 2 Project, which is firmly rejected by Russia and Germany, as well as a number of EU countries.
Second, American society is deeply split, and a fierce struggle is underway between those who support and those who oppose Trump. This means Trump will not have the support of a majority of Americans no matter what he does. As soon as his was inaugurated as president of the United States, large-scale parades for and against him took place throughout the country.
He discarded almost all of Obama’s policies, abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership and seeking repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. His travel ban was supported by only 13 states and actively resisted by many others. It was hung up in court in the end.
Trump has been deeply enmeshed in Russia-related controversies and was impeached by the House of Representatives.
How can a distracted Trump concentrate his attention on implementing the Indo-Pacific strategy?
Third, overall U.S. national strength has declined, and so it’s difficult to support the Indo-Pacific Strategy’s aims — to offer substantive alternative plans with sufficient financial commitment to countries in the region (and thus halt the progress of China’s Belt and Road Initiative), consolidate and extend the U.S. network of partnerships while maintaining its hegemony in the region and undermine China’s relations with states along the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The U.S. GDP was $20.51 trillion in 2018, but its debt was $22.72 trillion in 2019 — 106.5 percent of GDP. And the government was forced to shut down twice in the past three years. How could such a government invest as much as it wants in the Indo-Pacific region?
Fourth, Trump’s withdrawal from international agreements has severely damaged U.S. credibility. In the past three years it successively pulled out of the TPP, the Paris agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The signing of an international agreement means the signer agrees to undertake certain commitments and responsibilities, while withdrawal means he eats his words and tries to dodge his international commitments and responsibilities. Trump’s pullouts from these agreements has not only seriously undermined the world order and security but has severely damaged the reputation of the United States.
Fifth, most countries in the Indo-Pacific region whose economic development is closely linked with China will not cater to the U.S. without scruples.
In 2018, trade between China and ASEAN countries reached $587.87 billion (exports of $319.24 billion; imports of $268.63 billion), an increase of 14.1 percent. China became ASEAN’s largest trade partner 10 years running, and ASEAN became China’s third-largest trade partner eight years running.
China’s non-finance direct investment in ASEAN countries was $9.95 billion in 2018, an increase of 5.1 percent. Meanwhile, ASEAN countries’ investment in China amounted to $5.72 billion, an increase of 12.5 percent.
In the same year, trade between South Korea and China reached $268.64 billion (exports $162.16 billion; imports $106.48 billion), an increase of 11.9 percent.
Trade between Japan and China amounted to $317.53 billion (exports $143.99 billion; imports $173.54 billion), an increase of 6.8 percent.
Closely bound with China economically, these countries will not cater to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy when there is no real threat from China.
Sixth, India, which is striving to be a world power, will be reluctant to be a U.S. chess piece. India is the linchpin of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, just as Japan was the linchpin of Obama’s Rebalancing Strategy. Within the China-U.S.-India triangle, India enjoys the best position and can get favors from both the U.S. and China if it can strike a good balance. Moreover, India is a member state of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and can be greatly benefited from both.
Therefore India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated: “Inclusiveness, openness and ASEAN centrality and unity … lie at the heart of the new Indo-Pacific. India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members, nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. And by no means do we consider it as directed against any country.”
What Modi said demonstrates that India would not like to be a U.S. chess piece. Without India’s full support the Indo-Pacific Strategy will be seriously crippled.
Seventh, China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its concept of a human community with a shared future have been widely accepted and supported and have won China high popularity. In an address at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in March 2013, President Xi Jinping brought up the Concept of a human community with a shared future for the first time. And during his visits to Central and Southeast Asia in September and October 2013, he unveiled plans to implement the Belt and Road Initiative in cooperation with related countries.
Six years later, the initiative and the concept have been written into documents of the UN and some international organizations, and China had signed 197 cooperation documents with 137 countries and 30 international organizations as of the end of 2019.
The China Development Bank had offered more than $190 billion of support for more than 600 BRI projects as of the end of 2018. Some of those projects have been completed and have benefited the local people and governments.
Eighth, China’s comprehensive national strength has grown, and it’s difficult for the U.S. to contain it. China’s economy continues to develop at an annual growth rate of around 6 percent, and its GDP was $13.46 trillion in 2018. Its military strength has grown considerably, and its science and technology are advancing fast.
Although the U.S. military has deployed 60 percent of its Navy ships, 55 percent of its personnel, about two-thirds of its Marine forces and 60 percent of its overseas tactical aviation assets to the Indo-Pacific region, it won’t be easy for the U.S. to contain China’s development as it might have wished.
Ninth, U.S. pressure has driven China and Russia closer. The U.S. launched a trade war, a technology war and a financial war against China. It obstructed Russian cooperation with Iran and Syria, withdrew from the INF Treaty and sanctioned Russia for Nord Stream 2. It refused to lift some of the sanctions on North Korea even though the country stopped its nuclear testing and pulled down some of its nuclear facilities. The U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA and sanctioned Iran, listed the Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization and killed high-ranking commanders in a drone attack in Iraq.
Tenth, the Indo-Pacific Strategy is doomed to fail because it goes against historical trends. In the current world the main theme is peace, development, cooperation and win-win, but the nature of the Indo-Pacific Strategy is competition, containment, confrontation and a U.S. win, which goes against the tide.
The Indo-Pacific Strategy does not serve the economic and security interests of the countries in the region, and so, inevitably, it will fail to gain popularity.