America’s Indo-Pacific Folly

Adding New Commitments in Asia Will Only Invite Disaster

By Van Jackson

March 12, 2021

On his first phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping after taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden stressed that “preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific” was one of his top priorities. He made a similar point to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, promising to “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” and to South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, calling the U.S.–South Korean alliance a “lynchpin of the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.” On a call between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, both leaders affirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japanese alliance as a “cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Only a decade ago, the phrase “Indo-Pacific” would have left most foreign policy experts scratching their heads. Today, it is not just stock language in Washington but a widely accepted reconceptualization of Asia that is rearranging U.S. foreign policy. In the early days of his administration, Biden appointed Kurt Campbell—one of the architects of President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia—as his “Indo-Pacific Coordinator,” a newly created position on the National Security Council. Soon after, Admiral Phil Davidson—head of what just a few years ago was the Pacific Command but is now the Indo-Pacific Command—announced that the Pentagon was shifting away from its historic focus on Northeast Asia and Guam toward “revising our Indo-Pacific force laydown . . . to account for China’s rapid modernization.” And ahead of Biden’s meeting this week with the leaders of the Quad—a loose coalition among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that seeks to counter China—White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the president’s decision to make the summit one of his earliest multilateral engagements “speaks to the importance we’ve placed on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.”

The Indo-Pacific’s evolution from unfamiliar term to foreign policy cliché is not the product of rigorous policy debates or careful consideration. Rather, Washington’s national security establishment has unthinkingly internalized a Trump-era turn of phrase that is rife with unrealistic expectations and unvetted assumptions. The goal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” may sound noble, but pursuing it will lead the United States astray.

The concept of an Indo-Pacific expands what is meant by Asia to include the Indian Ocean region, an area of debatable interest to the United States that many now see as vital for countering China. Widening the regional aperture in this manner encourages military overstretch by positioning the United States for commitments that will be difficult to defend and distracts policymaker attention from other parts of Asia, where decades of hard-won peace hinge much more directly on American words and deeds. East Asia and the Pacific are not just subsets of a greater Indo-Pacific—they are the core geography of U.S. power and influence in Asia. Forsaking them for the latest geopolitical buzzword is an epic blunder in the making.


The modern concept of the Indo-Pacific dates back to 2007, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe observed in a speech in India that “the Pacific and the Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity. A ‘broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form.” After the speech, the Indo-Pacific became a recurring referent in Japanese, Indian, and eventually Australian foreign policy circles. The Indian Ocean had always mattered to these countries; Australia and India front it, and since the dawn of the twenty-first century, Japanese strategists had quietly promoted the idea of partnering with India there in order to dilute China’s strength in East Asia. Reframing Asia as the Indo-Pacific served the interests of all three of these nations.

The Pentagon’s competition-obsessed Office of Net Assessment started pushing the idea of expanding American influence in the Indian Ocean as part of a broader reorientation of U.S. statecraft toward Asia as early as 2002. References to the Indo-Pacific then began to proliferate during Barack Obama’s presidency, as defense strategists in particular started thinking of the Indian Ocean region as a place to balance a rising China at relatively low cost. But the broader idea of an Indo-Pacific really became lodged in the imagination of U.S. policymakers only after the publication in 2010 of Robert Kaplan’s geopolitical travelogue Monsoon, which popularized the idea that the Indian Ocean would take center stage in the twenty-first-century strategy games of great powers.

Kaplan’s prophecy was self-fulfilling—only after the book became a bestseller did the Indo-Pacific become a Washington obsession—but he did not pull it from thin air. Kaplan identified real patterns crisscrossing the Pacific and Indian Oceans: energy corridors, shipping containers filled with Gucci bags and iPhones, migration, terrorism, and subdued Sino-Indian competition for influence among smaller states that long predated the current all-consuming rivalry between China and the United States. The Indo-Pacific, in other words, was a thing, and it merited attention.

Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region became shibboleths during the Trump era, ways for insiders to identify who among them was working in service of a larger project of zero-sum competition with China.

But the idea quickly leapt from novelty to cliché, ultimately stifling rather than improving debates about Asia policy. In Washington, the Indo-Pacific, as a substitution for Asia, came to matter only as a balancing game against China: it and the Indian Ocean region became shibboleths during the Trump era, ways for insiders to identify who among them was working in service of a larger project of zero-sum competition with China. By 2019, using the term “Asia” rather than “Indo-Pacific” suggested either that one wasn’t in the know or that one wasn’t sufficiently committed to kneecapping Xi.

The Trump administration endorsed this more expansive way of talking about Asia because it symbolized and facilitated an additional front of pressure against Beijing. Enamored with the search for new ways to cause problems for China in the Indian Ocean region, Trump officials believed they could draw Beijing’s attention and resources away from other areas of competition. So far, the Biden administration appears to have imported this thinking wholesale. Unfortunately, neither administration gave much thought to the implications and risks of expanding the field of play in this “great game” with China.


Analytically, the biggest problem with an aggregate Indo-Pacific is that it subsumes an East Asia in which no wars have erupted since 1979. This “Asian peace” is the product of a number of factors, including U.S. forward military presence and alliances, Sino-U.S. détente, economic interdependence, regional norms and multilateral architecture, and the spread of democracy in some quarters. Peace and its causes in East Asia and the Pacific should be the focal points of U.S. policy toward the region, particularly as most of these historical sources of stability have eroded in recent years. What could be more important than preventing war in the world’s wealthiest, most militarized, and most populous region?

By grouping South Asia with East Asia, though, the Indo-Pacific obscures the Asian peace. India and Pakistan have come into conflict repeatedly over the last half century, indicating that the politics of South Asia are out of step with those of East Asia. They are different games. Washington risks losing that insight—and the ability to calibrate policies accordingly—when it views everything through the lens of a single mega-region with a single, albeit implied, mega-purpose. U.S. statecraft cannot address what it cannot see, and the Indo-Pacific formulation turns the Asian peace into a dangerous blind spot.

But a neglected Asian peace is not the only risk Washington runs with its expanded conceptualization of Asia. The United States risks overextending its power in the Indian Ocean region. Washington enjoys many advantages and retains many interests in East Asia and the Pacific: these regions contain five U.S. treaty allies, not to mention Hawaii, where the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is headquartered, and the U.S. territory of Guam. Through the Compact of Free Association, the United States maintains exclusive control over the security of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau in exchange for basing and port access. These alliances and commitments, underpinned by more than 80,000 U.S. troops and dozens of military installations in East Asia alone, give the United States considerable influence in East Asia and the Pacific. But the United States has no comparable alliances, responsibilities, or interests in the Indian Ocean region.

The United States faces a credibility problem in the Indian Ocean region, should it wish to fight a war or engage in coercive diplomacy there.

The United States therefore faces a credibility problem in the Indian Ocean region, should it wish to fight a war or engage in coercive diplomacy there. Without allies or territories in the region, and with scarcer access to bases and ports than in other parts of Asia, U.S. forces would find it harder and riskier to project military power in the Indian Ocean than pretty much anywhere other than the Taiwan Strait. As a result, U.S. threats and commitments in the Indian Ocean region do not carry as much weight as they do elsewhere.

The Pentagon usually expects to overcome disadvantages such as these with more weapons and more funding, rather than with better strategy. But the United States’ thin military presence in the Indian Ocean region is not a gap that needs filling. It is proportional to U.S. interests in the region compared with those in other parts of Asia. Expanding the navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean could make sense if the United States needed to be prepared for the sudden outbreak of war there. But China’s main conflict is on land in the Himalayas—against India, a dispute that does not concern U.S. interests. And China will not remain passive as it perceives the U.S. military further encircling it. The surest path to preventing war in the Indian Ocean is restraint, not more troops in defense of a nonexistent redline. Greater militarization of this part of the world benefits nobody and costs the American taxpayer all the while.

There is also the risk that by trying to cleverly distract and disadvantage China in the Indian Ocean, the United States will distract and disadvantage itself. If the Biden administration had inherited healthy alliances and an uncontested regional order in Asia, perhaps it could have made the case for going even farther abroad in search of new places to stabilize. But the past four years have caused many U.S. allies to question Washington’s reliability, and the list of pressing regional issues has only gotten longer—from intensifying Chinese pressure on Taiwan to North Korea’s runaway nuclear capabilities. Recent polling also indicates that most Southeast Asian nations do not care about great-power competition nearly as much as they do about climate change, economic inequality, and societal recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—the inverse of U.S. foreign policy priorities of late. Biden, in other words, has plenty of repair work to do in East Asia and the Pacific before he should worry about expanding the United States’ sphere of interest.


None of the above is an argument for neglecting the Indian Ocean. But given the region’s relative unimportance to the United States, and Washington’s comparative advantages elsewhere, only low-cost and low-risk initiatives make sense there. The Quad arguably qualifies as such an initiative, as long as expectations are kept in line with reality. The same is true of the United States’ decision to furnish India with intelligence during its recent skirmish with China in the Himalayas—a sensible move, assuming U.S. officials had reason to believe that better information was going to discourage violence. The United States is also right to welcome Canadian, French, and British involvement in the region, since it costs Washington nothing and has the potential to amplify Washington’s voice while moderating its overzealous competitive impulse through democratic multilateralism.

What these initiatives have in common is not just that they constitute a kind of balancing on the cheap but that they encourage other countries to assume greater responsibility for regional security. The United States should be looking for ways to contribute in the Indian Ocean that offer complementarity without commitment—not ways to command the commons, lead the “free world,” or carry the burden for frontline states whose fates are more directly affected by the shape of Indian Ocean politics. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that “every element of what we do in our foreign policy and national security ultimately has to be measured by the impact it has on working families.” Further militarizing the Indian Ocean and distracting from Asia does not meet that standard.

The Indo-Pacific is, at times, a valid analytic construct. Some things do traverse the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the Indian Ocean is of geographic importance to U.S. allies such as Japan and Australia. But an ally’s geography is not the United States’ geography. Washington must not allow hubris, fear, or groupthink to distort its perception of threats, interests, and capabilities. What one calls a thing might be trivial, but how one imagines a thing can carry great importance. In the case of the Indo-Pacific, an imagined sphere of U.S. interest that puts the Indian Ocean on a par with East Asia could lead to disaster.

Source: Foreign Affairs “America’s Indo-Pacific Folly”

Note: This is Foreign Affairs’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean whether I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

US-China relations: Mark Esper urges allies to help counter China in Indo-Pacific

  • Defence secretary says the region has become ‘the epicentre of great power competition’ with Beijing

  • He warns the PLA’s bid to become a world-class military will ‘undoubtedly embolden’ its actions in the East China and South China seas

Sarah Zheng

Published: 7:00pm, 27 Aug, 2020

Mark Esper said the US defence department was increasingly focused on China as a threat in the Indo-Pacific and globally. Photo: AP

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper has called on countries to work with the United States to more effectively counter China in the Indo-Pacific, saying the region has become an epicentre of power competition with Beijing.

In an address on Wednesday in Hawaii, Esper said the US defence department was increasingly focused on China as a threat in the Indo-Pacific and globally, in response to what he described as Beijing’s undermining of the international order and aggressive modernisation of its People’s Liberation Army. The US strategy would include strengthening alliances, bolstering US military capabilities and expanding a network of like-minded partners, he said.

Source: Excerpts SCMP’s report “US-China relations: Mark Esper urges allies to help counter China in Indo-Pacific”, full text of which can be found at

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post its excerpts here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

Nuclear-Armed Submarines and the Balance of Power in the Indo-Pacific

By James Goldrick

May 16, 2020

The maritime strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific is changing rapidly. The future of undersea nuclear deterrent forces has strategic, operational and force structure aspects for all major powers in the region. Strategic competition in an increasingly competitive environment has a significant maritime element, which itself is profoundly influenced by the continuing importance—and progressive expansion—of the region’s underwater nuclear deterrent forces.

To a greater extent than during the Cold War, both threatening and protecting such assets will be difficult to separate from other maritime campaigns. This particularly applies to potential anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations in the East and South China Seas, as well as to India and Pakistan and to North Korea, creating uncertainty over the possibility of unplanned escalations and outright accidents.

Maintaining any kind of regional balance will, therefore, call for cool judgements on the part of all the players, judgements that will need to be continually revised in the light of technological innovation and force development.

The U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) force is central to the country’s nuclear arsenal. While the navy can’t be complacent about threats to the survivability of its submarines, until there are revolutionary developments in sensor technology, the combination of geography, oceanography, and platform and missile capabilities means that its at-sea deterrent will remain the most secure element of America’s nuclear force and thus receive high priority in funding.

The problem for the U.S. Navy is that it will need to start replacing the Ohio class within the next decade, but the cost of 12 new Columbia-class submarines will severely limit its ability to regenerate all the other force elements that will be required to meet the combined challenges of China and Russia.

The navy’s efforts represent just one part of a strategy to push the U.S.’s competitors off balance and regain the strategic initiative. An important maritime element is likely to be undermining China’s efforts to create an underwater ‘bastion’. Here, the Americans must weigh the benefits of actively threatening the security of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s SSBN force against the resource commitments that that would entail, as well as the complications that it could represent for alliance arrangements, notably with Japan and Australia.

In seeking to become the predominant maritime power in the western Pacific, China has its own problems of resources and technology. However attractive the concept of an at-sea deterrent force within its nuclear inventory may be, China must first extend the range of its submarine-launched missiles and considerably improve the stealth qualities of its missile submarines if it is to create a capability sufficient to pose a credible threat to the continental United States.

Russia’s challenges are in some ways parallel to those of the U.S., particularly its need to sustain an SSBN force while modernising the remainder of its navy. Maintaining an at-sea nuclear deterrent remains the highest priority. However, replacement of the older SSBN with the new Borey class must be consuming a very large share of the Russian navy’s resources. To the SSBN program must be added the need to renew the nuclear-powered attack submarine force and continue development of the ASW capabilities necessary to secure the bastions against potential attackers. The limited money available means that Russia’s maritime power-projection assets don’t enjoy the same level of attention.

Japan’s defence expansion, despite the tensions with China and the rise of the PLA Navy, has been relatively limited. Its most significant new elements are focused on developing amphibious forces capable of responding rapidly to any threat to the Ryukyu Islands, including the contested Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands. Japan’s ASW efforts are much less visible in, but perhaps more significant for, its maritime strategy. Japan’s submarine force is slowly expanding, and the modernisation of its surface and air ASW forces continues.

Australia faces equivalent challenges. Because it is one of the few regional players with substantial high-technology capabilities, particularly in the ASW domain, Australia’s assistance will be eagerly sought by the Americans, just as they have long looked to Japan. While its defence expansion remains relatively constrained—and slow—Australia’s emerging force structure will provide both independent national capabilities and strategic weight in alliance terms in ways that are relatively new. Australia has been a regular presence in the South China Sea over many years, but the latest Indo-Pacific Endeavour task group deployments have been on a larger scale than the individual ship deployments of the recent past.

North Korea remains a wild card. Its efforts to develop an underwater nuclear deterrent are only a small part of the increasingly complex problem its future presents for neighbouring countries and the region as a whole.

India must balance its apparently unresolvable tensions with Pakistan against a developing strategic rivalry with China that has important maritime dimensions. The growing Chinese economic and military presence in the Indian Ocean threatens India’s self-image as the dominant power in the region. India’s interest in the South China Sea represents something of a riposte and a deliberate effort to complicate China’s maritime strategy.

On the other hand, the entry of the first Indian SSBN into operational service and the start of its deterrent patrols may have added to India’s nuclear capabilities, but they also create a hostage to fortune that the Indian Navy must factor into its dispositions. Whether Pakistan will add to India’s problems by embarking nuclear weapons in its submarine force is uncertain, as is the priority that the Pakistan Navy will give to locating and tracking Indian SSBNs.

In sum, strategic competition in the increasingly competitive Indo-Pacific has a significant maritime element. Distinguishing threatening and protecting nuclear assets from routine maritime campaigns is increasingly difficult. As SSBN capabilities proliferate, and ASW technology advances, maintaining a regional maritime balance will increase in complexity.

This piece was produced as part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy: Undersea Deterrence Project, undertaken by the ANU National Security College. This article is a shortened version of chapter 2, ‘Maritime and naval power in the Indo-Pacific’, as published in the 2020 edited volume: The future of the undersea deterrent: a global survey. Support for this project was provided by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

James Goldrick served as a rear admiral in the Royal Australian Navy, has published widely on naval issues and now has appointments at UNSW Canberra, the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre and ANCORS (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security).

Source: “Nuclear-Armed Submarines and the Balance of Power in the Indo-Pacific”

Note: This is rea;c;’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

Wary of China’s rise, Pompeo announces U.S. initiatives in emerging Asia

Lesley Wroughton, David Brunnstrom July 30, 2018

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced $113 million in new technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in emerging Asia on Monday, at a time when China is pouring billions of dollars in investments into the region.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Wroblewski

In a policy speech delivered amid increased U.S. trade frictions with China and other Asian countries, Pompeo sought to define the economic aspect of President Donald Trump’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy, which aims to cast the United States as a trustworthy partner in the region.

Pompeo said Washington wants a “free and open” Asia not dominated by any one country, an apparent reference to China’s growing economic clout and heightened tensions in the disputed South China Sea.

“Like so many of our Asian allies and friends, our country fought for its own independence from an empire that expected deference,” Pompeo told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We thus have never and will never seek domination in the Indo-Pacific, and we will oppose any country that does.”

“These funds represent just a down payment on a new era in U.S. economic commitment to peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo said he will visit Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia this week, where he planned to announce new security assistance.

U.S. officials said the American strategy does not aim to compete directly with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which involves dozens of countries in an estimated $1 trillion of mostly state-led infrastructure projects linking Asia, parts of Africa and Europe, but rather to offer a more sustainable alternative by encouraging private-sector investment.

Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University trade professor and former head of the IMF’s China division, said the U.S. initiatives are tiny in comparison to China’s.

“In both scale and scope, these initiatives pale in ambition relative to comparable initiatives by China,” Prasad said. “It also highlights the distinction between China’s approach of bold and grand government-led initiatives and the much more modest role of the U.S. government.”

Analysts said it was difficult to see the U.S. effort generating much excitement in the region, especially given Trump’s habit of undercutting his policy makers on issues ranging from trade to dealings with North Korea.

“The announcement of $113 million to fund economic engagement for the entire region feels a bit underwhelming,” said Daniel Russel of the Asia Society Policy Institute, until last year the State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia.


Countries in the region have been worried by Trump’s “America first” policy, withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and pursuit of a trade conflict with China that threatens to disrupt regional supply chains.

The United States first outlined its strategy to develop the Indo-Pacific economy at an Asia-Pacific summit last year.

It used the term “Indo-Pacific,” defined by Pompeo as a region stretching from the U.S. West Coast to India’s west coast, to highlight a broader and democratic-led region in place of “Asia-Pacific,” which from some perspectives had authoritarian China too firmly at its center.

Among the new investments outlined by Pompeo, the United States will invest $25 million to expand U.S. technology exports to the region, add nearly $50 million this year to help countries produce and store energy resources and create a new assistance network to boost infrastructure development.

Pompeo said the United States has signed a $350 million investment compact with Mongolia to develop new water sources. He said the U.S government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation was also finalizing an agreement to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation and other reforms in Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the same event, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Washington also eased export controls for high-technology product sales to India.

Ray Washburne, president of the U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, said it hopes to double the $4 billion it currently has invested in the Indo-Pacific “in the next few years.”

Brian Hook, Pompeo’s senior policy adviser, told reporters before Pompeo’s speech that Washington is not competing with China’s mostly state-led initiatives.

“Our way of doing things is to keep the government’s role very modest, and it’s focused on helping businesses do what they do best,” Hook said.

Critics of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative have said it is more about spreading Chinese influence and hooking countries on massive debts. Beijing has said it is simply a development project that any country is welcome to join.

Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong, Daphne Psaledakis and David Lawder in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Will Dunham and Yara Bayoumy

Source: Reuters “Wary of China’s rise, Pompeo announces U.S. initiatives in emerging Asia”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

It’s Time Japan Has to Say No to the US

Xi Jinping Thought, Declaration of ‘China Can Say No’ (4)

I said in my post “Will China’s Growth Cease like Japan Did when It Said It Could Say No?” as part 2 of my series of posts “Xi Jinping Thought, Declaration of ‘China Can Say No’” that as Japan failed to surpass the US in economy due to the bursting of its asset price bubble, Japan remains a “yes man” towards the U.S.

But not now!

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was very happy when former US president succeeded in setting up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as the economic arm of US pivot to Asia to contain China.

Of all countries in the world, Japan fears China’s rise most as it remembers well the war crimes it committed when it invaded China. Who can ensure that China will not revenge Nanjing massacre by a Tokyo massacre? However, without the US, Japan is simply unable to counter China; therefore Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regards TPP as vital for Japan’s security.

When US new president Trump wanted to withdraw from TPP, Abe visited Trump twice and tried hard to persuade Trump not to withdraw. By that time, Japa, the yes man, has to say no to the US, though in private.

Japan has to maintain TPP to contain China in spite of US withdraw. Together with other TPP members, they have kept TPP without the US. By so doing Abe says no to the US openly.

In the past, the US told other Western countries not to join China-led AIIB, Japan obeyed though all other Western countries disobeyed and joined AIIB.

Now, Tillerson wants to restore the quad of the US, India, Japan and Australia to counter China especially to hinder China’s Belt and Road initiative that according to Tillerson, will result in saddling the countries cooperate with China with enormous levels of debt.

According to SCMP’s report “Japan ready to cooperate with China on global trade plan, Shinzo Abe says” on December 4, Abe said on that day, “I believe Japan will be able to cooperate well with China, which has been putting forward its one belt, one road initiative”.

After all there are quite a few projects in the initiative that will benefit Japan, for example the Kra Canal in Thailand.

Moreover, Trump’s isolationism will make Japan’s export to the US difficult, but China’s globalization will provide Japan with easy access to the China’s vast market. Japan needs good relations with China for its economy. Only China will not revenge Japan’s war crimes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is wise to see Japan’s importance in Asia and understand Japan’s fear. He wants to draw Japan away from the US and back to Asia. That was why according to Reuters’ report, Xi was low-key in marking Nanjing Massacre anniversary while CPPCC Chairman Yu Zhengsheng said in his speech at the memorial, “China and Japan must act on the basis of both their people’s basic interests, correctly grasp the broad direction of peaceful and friendly cooperation, take history as a mirror, face the future and pass on friendship down the generations.”

Faced with US protectionism and China’s globalization, Japan has to say no to the US, its major competitor in the Chinese market, and make great efforts to improve its relations with China.

The US will be in greater trouble when Japan joins China and Russia in saying no to it.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP and Reuters’ reports, full text of which can respectively viewed at and

Japan, the Large Hole in America’s Quad to Contain China

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan was ready to work with China on its ambitious trade and infrastructure development plan. Photo: AFP

The failure of Obama’s pivot to Asia has caused the US to lose one of its long-term allies the Philippines so that US new President Trump has openly scrapped the economic arm of the pivot TPP and refrained to mention other parts of his predecessor’s pivot.

Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has the wisdom to see that Chinese President’s Silk Road economic belt and 21st century maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road) is vital to China’s national security and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 15- and 30-year goals of modernization and growth of national strength. He switched from the pivot to his Indo-Pacific strategy.

Tillerson first regards India as the most vital part of US Indo-Pacific strategy. He gave a speech for US-India alliance in Indo-Pacific titled “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century” at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on October 18. The alliance aims at containing China but Tillerson did not make it directly clear.

CSIS CEO John J. Hamre asked him at tend of his speech, “Would you – what do you see as being the example of predatory economics that we should be alert to ourselves, between us?”

Tillerson said in reply, “We have watched the activities and actions of others in the region, in particular China, and the financing mechanisms it brings to many of these countries, which result in saddling them with enormous levels of debt.”

He meant that China’s Belt and Road initiative is saddling many countries with enormous levels of debt. He is setting up US-India alliance to hinder China’s Belt and Road.

As China’s multibillion dollar Belt and Road project the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has raised great concerns in India, and as the US has promised to help India modernize its military, India seems quite glad to be US ally in hindering China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Then the US has recovered the quad of the US, Japan, Australia and India as the core of its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China especially to hinder China’s Belt and Road.

It seems the US may succeed as EU seems also unhappy with China’s Belt and Road. Among EU powers, only Italy’s prime minister attended China’s Belt and Road forum. However, EU powers has shown great interest in Belt and Road projects in Iran due to the profitable prospects of those projects. (See my post “Europe and China Compete for Belt and Road Projects in Iran” on Dec. 1.)

However, that does not affect Tillerson’s Indo-Pacific strategy as no EU members are members of the quad.

Now, SCMP says in its report “Japan ready to cooperate with China on global trade plan, Shinzo Abe says” yesterday, “Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday expressed his intention to cooperate with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pet cross-border infrastructure development project while stressing the need for open economic activity across Asia.”

It quotes Abe as saying during a reception at a two-day gathering in Tokyo involving Japanese and Chinese business executives, “I believe Japan will be able to cooperate well with China, which has been putting forward its one belt, one road initiative” in a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Japan wants to cooperate with China’s Belt and Road instead of containing China. After all, Asian market, especially Chinese market, is too important for Japan.

As a result, there is a large hole in Tillerson’s quod to contain China and hinder China’s Belt and Road.

The US failed to prevent EU powers from joining AIIB, but it has been able to keep Japan away from AIIB. Now, not only EU powers but also Japan want to join China’s Belt and Road.

It is not because the US lacks influence on those countries but because the Belt and Road is an attractive initiative to those countries.

The US simply has nothing to counter China’s political, diplomatic and financial innovations of AIIB and Belt and Road.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at

China’s Belt and Road Remains Successful despite Some Disagreements

SubChina says in its report “China and Pakistan negotiate Belt and Road disagreements” yesterday that according to Pakistan’s Power Secretary Younus Naseem Khokar, ongoing energy projects accounting for 72 percent of China’s $50 billion-plus investment package in the country have been making “very smooth” progress.

The scrapping of the previously-agreed hydroelectric power project is regarded as a great setback of China’s Belt and Road initiative, but SubChina says in its report, “The bottom line: Pakistan remains optimistic on China’s Belt and Road projects in the country, striking a contrast with how this investment is perceived in media outside of Pakistan.”

It mentions the agreement among relevant parties on the commencement of the first phase of a special economic zones (SEZ) in Pakistan for the petrochemical, steel, textile, leather processing, and machinery industries.

The report says that Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Interior and Planning, Development and Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal, is confident that the SEZs and other projects would ensure transfer of technology, knowledge and skills to Pakistan.

The energy projects and the SEZs are the major parts of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) linking China with the Middle East, especially Iran.

The US is restoring the quad of US, India, Japan and Australia to contain China in Indo-Pacific, but by winning over India, the US has pushed Russia and Pakistan closer to China as I will elaborate in my next post.

What about the quad of China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan that US quad is forcing those four to form?

The Indian Ocean seems vital to China’s trade with the Middle East, Europe and Africa so that the US forms the quad to be able to cut China’s trade lifelines through the ocean. However, with the CPEC, China has an important alternative land route through Pakistan without going through the Indian Ocean.

In addition, do not forget that as the Arctic Ocean is melting due to global warming, China will soon have a shortcut to Europe through the Arctic Ocean completely under Russian control.

Obviously, US new Indo-Pacific strategy cannot contain China. On the contrary, it helps China overcome Russia’s opposition to its projects in Central Asia and strengthen the iron brotherhood between Pakistan and China to ensure the success of CPEC.

If the US really wants to contain China, it has to win over Russia and Pakistan instead of India. Trump tried to have détente with Russia quite early, but he has been opposed by US Congress and media.

Pakistan was for quite a long time US ally, but the US has never respected it as perhaps the US regards itself as the rider and its allies as horses. Now, Pakistan and the Philippines have refused to be America’s horses. Will India become America’s horse?

I believe that Indian Prime Minister Modi, a very shrewd politician, will not pull chestnuts out of the fire for the US.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SubChina’s report, full text of which can be viewed at

The Quad gets together again

Jeremy Goldkorn  November 13, 2017

Will the Trump Administration’s Indo-Pacific dream last?

The Trump administration has resuscitated the term Indo-Pacific — a description that sounds less Chinese than Asia-Pacific. Another old name has been revived: The Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a meeting of officials from India, Japan, Australia, and the U.S., initiated in 2007, accompanied by joint military exercises. The Quad members have not met again as a foursome until this last weekend.

Then as now, China is the unspoken target:

  • The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that senior diplomats from Japan, Australia, India, and the U.S. met in Manila on November 12, and “discussed measures to ensure a free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific.” All four countries released similar statements, although the Indian version did not explicitly refer to “freedom of navigation.”
  • Indian PM Narendra Modi met Trump in Manila. The White House website says they discussed “their shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” and their resolve to partner to ensure that “the world’s great democracies should also have the world’s greatest militaries.”
  • Trump also met with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, and per the White House on November 13 in Manila, the three leaders “underscored the importance of working together to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Some views on the Quad:

  • From Beijing, a researcher at the Center for China and Globalization says, “China needs to as soon as possible deal with the Indo-Pacific alliance, as it is absolutely in conflict with Belt and Road,” according to Reuters.
  • Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang 耿爽 said rather diplomatically that “the relevant proposal should be open and inclusive and…avoid politicizing or excluding some relevant parties,”according to The Hindu.
  • Writing in the nationalistic Chinese newspaper Global Times, Geoff Raby — former Australian ambassador and now CEO of a Beijing consulting firm — argues more strongly that joining the Quad “is not in Australia’s national interest”: “Recognizing that Australia is more dependent economically on China than any of the others, and by a big margin, it is curious why Australia would want to join a group that China sees as hostile to its interests.”
  • In India, not everyone is convinced the Quad is a good idea: In The Wire, Manoj Joshi says that given the “intense and almost violent conflict of ideas within the U.S. about who and what America is all about…it would be hazardous to depend on the U.S. for an effective leadership of the coalition needed to balance China.”
  • Former Australian national security adviser Michael Shearer tells a sympathetic history of the Quad, which argues that the “four countries should develop a robust annual exercise program to build interoperability, capability and ultimately deterrence in the region.”


Explicit rejection?

Much of the analysis of Trump’s trip to Asia concludes that he leaves behind a region that is uncertain of U.S. commitment to its allies and to global leadership while China rises inexorably under the steely-eyed leadership of Xi Jinping. But the story is more complex:

  • Ely Ratner of the Council on Foreign Relations tweeted: “Way too simple to see U.S. isolation as only big story in Asia this week: Remember the two most important happenings in region — TPP11 and revival of Quad — both explicit rejections of China-led future.”
  • TPP11 refers to a comprehensive trade pact that Trump withdrew from as one of his first presidential acts. The 11 other nations have renewed their commitment to it and renamed it the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

Source: SubChina “The Quad gets together again”

Note: This is SubChina’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

Non-Moron’s Advice to Moron: Replace Asia-Pacific with Indo-Pacific

There is the rumor that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calls US President Donald Trump “moron”. Trump’s success in business proves that he is certainly not a moron so that it is said that Trump challenged Tillerson to an IQ competition.

Trump is certainly not less clever than Tillerson, but Tillerson as a diplomatic professional must be wiser in diplomacy to regard Trump a moron in his profession. There have perhaps been the following conversations between the “non-moron” and “moron”.

Non-moron (referred to as “N” below): You have withdrawn from Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and thus scrapped the economic arm the Obama’s pivot to Asia. Do you want to entirely scrap the pivot?

Moron (referred to as “M” below): What good is the pivot to my “America first” for our economic growth and our people’s benefits?

N. But we will lose ASEAN and the South China Sea.

M. We lost ASEAN long ago. Their economic relations with China are much closer than with us. They now even refuse to take side between China and us.

N. What about the Philippines our long-term ally?

M. We lost it long ago when they drove away us by taking back our military bases there.

N. But they need our military protection.

M. Military protection? Forget that! All the countries we protect have been taking advantage of us. We have incurred heavy costs in protecting them, but they are unwilling to share the costs. They have taken advantage of our protection to maintain incredibly low military budgets. What is the result? They are prosperous while we are heavily in debt.

N. But without the pivot we cannot contain China.

M. Why shall we contain China in the first place?

N. If we do not stop its rise, it may one day replace us as world leader.

M. Can we stop China’s rise? No, we simply cannot stop its rise unless we fight a war with it. We will suffer a lot even if we win. China may still rise after the defeat. See Japan and Germany. They rise again after being defeated.

N. Whether China can be contained or not, you have to contain it. Otherwise lots of people will be unhappy. They want us to prevent our world leadership from being taken by China.

M. Since we cannot contain China and keep on declining, we will certainly lose world leadership to China. We simply cannot help that. Instead of containing China, I want to exploit China’s rise. Its expanding market will provide us with lots of opportunities to increase our exports to China. Xi has promised on phone to help us increase export to China.

N. If you fail to do anything to contain China, you may make lots of people unhappy and thus lose votes in the next election. Moreover, our allies and friends in Asia will lose confidence in us.

M. That is perhaps true, but to make our country prosperous, I have to do so.

N. No, we shall keep containing China while exploiting its rise.

M. You call me moron. You are a moron yourself. How can we contain China while exploiting its rise? You are self-contradictory.

N. You are a moron in diplomacy. Diplomacy is always characterized by tricks. Certainly, we have to strive for better relations with China in order to exploit its rise, but we have to keep on containing China. We can do that.

M. How can we do that?

N. That’s why you need me as your secretary of state. We shall replace Obama’s hopeless Asia-Pacific strategy of pivot to Asia with an Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China. Indo-Pacific means both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, much larger than Asia-Pacific. That shows that we are expanding our containment of China to the two oceans. It will certainly please lots of people at home who want to contain China.

Moreover, we will make India, Japan and Australia happy as they are scared by China’s rise. We will conduct drills of the military of us four countries seemingly directed at China, but you will tell Xi by phone the drill is not directed at China. You will be the good guy while I will be the bad guy. That will be the game we will play to satisfy everyone.

M. There seems not enough pressure to make others believe that we are really containing China.

N. We can make that believable. We will supply India with weapons to enable it to have enough military strength in the Indian Ocean to scare China and make that believable. India has the ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean with its geographical advantages and our advanced weapons.

M. Our weapons are very expensive. Can India afford them?

N. India needs our advanced weapons for its security as it feels very much unsafe being sandwiched between China and Pakistan. Therefore, it will dedicate all its available financial resources to the purchase of our advanced weapons. Our Indo-China strategy will not only pit India against China to divert China’s attention but also enable us to make lots of money from sales of weapons.

As a result, the “non-moron” Tillerson gave a speech for US-India alliance in Indo-Pacific titled “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century” at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on October 18. The alliance aims at containing China but Tillerson did not make it directly clear.

CSIS CEO John J. Hamre quoted Tillerson’s words in the speech, “We need to collaborate with India to ensure the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity, so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics.” Then he wanted Tillerson to make clear whom the alliance is directed at by asking him “Would you – what do you see as being the example of predatory economics that we should be alert to ourselves, between us?”

Tillerson said in his reply, “We have watched the activities and actions of others in the region, in particular China, and the financing mechanisms it brings to many of these countries, which result in saddling them with enormous levels of debt.”

He made it crystal clear that US alliance with India aims at containing China so as “to ensure the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity”. He has thus played the bad guy that wants to contain China and hinder China’s Belt and Road initiative, accusing the initiative of saddling other countries with enormous level of debt.

Since then, Trump repeatedly mentioned the term “Indo-Pacific” and talked about ensuring peace, stability and growing prosperity there to give the impression that what Tillerson said about Indo-Pacific is his idea to contain China. He has thus pleased lots of people and US allies and friends.

The US Indo-Pacific initiative has made India so excited that it neglects its long-term friend Russia and has even showed US military the advanced nuclear submarine that Russia has rented it. (See Global Times report in Chinese on November 10 titled “租我核潜艇却请美军进入!俄对印度很愤慨 (Rent my nuclear submarine but invite US military to enter the submarine! Russia very much upset by India)” at

However Trump plays the good guy when he visited China to make China believe he wants to be China’s friend. That will enable him to benefit from China’s rise.

Good trick, Indo-Pacific! Make India contain China and profit by weapon sales to India in the course of the containment while the US benefiting from improved relations with China. Wonderful!

Article by Chan Kai Yee

Trade or Military War, China Will Be the Winner, US, Loser

There have been two occasions that China preferred war with the US, but the US would not fight.

When tension aggravated as Japan warned it would send its navy to drive away Chinese fishing fleet, coast guard ships and navy from the disputed waters, China preferred war.

It showcased its second-strike strategic nuclear submarines three days in a row on CCTV primetime news. The rare unprecedented display aimed at giving the US the message that China had enough second-strike capabilities so that when China had sunk a US aircraft carrier the US would not retaliate with nuclear weapons.

The US told Japan not to use its navy and US Vice President Joe Biden succeeded in persuading China not to fight the first shot. In addition, the US made clear publicly that it would not fight for a few rocks (referring to the disputed Diaoyu islands (known as Senkaku in Japan)) so that tension was eased.

At that time the US had no chance to win in East Asia as its aircraft carriers could not go near China for fear of being sunk by China’s hundreds of DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles and all its bases in East Asia were within the range of China’s intermediate ballistic missiles.

The US was wise not to fight though according to world history of Thucydides Trap, the best way for an established dominant power to put an end of the rivalry of a rising power is war. However, no one wants to fight a war with no hope to win.

Again when the US sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to force China to accept the Hague arbitration award that deprives China of all its rights and interests in the South China Sea, China responded with large-scale military drills and combat patrol of the disputed waters with its bombers and fighter jets to give the US the signal that China will fight, but how can less than 200 warplanes from two carriers defeat the 600 warplanes China can deploy on the three air bases on its artificial islands? The US again had no chance to win though it had the chance of a war to remove a rival if possible.

US military was strong enough. The problem was that China had the geographic advantages especially with its seven artificial islands.

China’s quick decisions and quick actions in building the islands showed that it was well prepared to prevent US military attack.

The US is even more hopeless in a trade war. China mainly exports low-tech labor-intensive products to the US. With its Belt and Road initiative, it will build infrastructures in countries with lots of cheap labor and move its low-tech labor-intensive industries there when there are the necessary infrastructures; therefore, it utterly will not lose US market in a trade war with the US as it can make and export the products in those countries. The US, however, mainly exports high-tech and agricultural products to China. It cannot move the production elsewhere. Even if it can, it will have lost job opportunities for its people. Moreover, China is a market with great growth potential. Demand for high-end goods will grow drastically when Chinese people grow rich. Will the US be willing to lose its market share in China to Europe, Japan, South Korea, etc. that are compete fiercely with the US in Chinese market?

Moreover, with the trade war, China can drive US fast food, soft drinks, cars, airliners away from the Chinese market to recover large sections of domestic market monopolized by US products.

China can but the US cannot afford a trade war between them!

Why then Chinese President Xi Jinping refrains from fighting a trade war with the US? Xi pursues his ambitious goals of modernization for China’s prosperity and Chinese people’s happiness. Obviously he does not want a trade war that will hinder the realization of his goals. He has no goal to replace the US as world leader. He is wise to know that when China has grown strong enough and remain wise enough, others will regard it as world leader. There is absolutely no need to fight or grab for world leadership. In fact it is utterly impossible to obtain world leadership by fighting or grabbing. What the US fights and grabs for is world hegemony which China does not want.

The reality now is China is concentrating all its resources to achieve its grand modernization goal while the US is wasting its resources to maintain its nominal world leadership but actual world hegemony. Obviously, the future belongs to China instead of the US.

From this perspective we see what SCMP says in its report “The Beijing show over, Trump and Xi push their own world trade orders at Apec” yesterday is but rubbish.

China advocates globalization at Apec as it facilitates realization of Xi’s ambitious goals. Trump upholds isolation that he calls “America first” for America’s interest. It has nothing to do with China wants regional leadership of globalization. Each country promotes what is good for its own interests. That is the reality.

The Xi-Trump détente provides Xi with world environment for achieving his goals. It will also help Trump put US economy back to the course of satisfactory growth. However, there are too many people in Thucydides Trap in the US who want to divert resources to maintain US military superiority that the US is simply unable to maintain or to fight a losing trade war with China. The mess in US politics will cause it to lose world leadership/hegemony. China has nothing to do with that.

As for the term Indo-Pacific mentioned first by Tillerson and now by Trump. It certainly will please the Americans deeply in Thucydides Trap and reduce their opposition to Trump, but it is in fact a military initiative with nothing to harm China economically. In fact all the four, US, India, Japan and Australia have lots of economic interests in their relations with China.

China wants to use the term Asia-Pacific instead of Indo-Pacific as it wants to establish an Asian Union through its Belt and Road initiative and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

India was close to Russia for a long time. That was why Russia was willing to rent it Russia’s most advanced nuclear submarine. Now India has switched to the US due to US Indo-Pacific initiative and even allowed Americans to visit the Russian nuclear submarine. Russia is very much upset by that. What US Indo-Pacific initiative has obtained are even closer Russia-China relations to facilitate the establishment of Asian Union.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at