- 15-nation partnership is expected to cover nearly one-third of the world’s economy, trade and population and to come into effect from early 2022
- Vice-minister of foreign affairs calls for efforts to defend the multilateral trade system and expressed interest in China joining CPTPP
Wendy Wu in Beijing
Published: 11:42am, 28 Apr, 2021
Japan expects the RCEP free-trade accord to boost its GDP 2.7 per cent and create 570,000 jobs. Photo: EPA
Japan’s parliament approved joining the world’s largest free-trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, on Wednesday as signatories aim for it to come into effect from the start of next year.
The approval by Japan’s upper house comes after the lower house gave the green light earlier this month and a day after China called for the deal to be ratified to shore up the economy in the Asia-Pacific.
The China-backed RCEP was signed in November last year and included the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. By eliminating tariffs on 91 per cent of goods, the RCEP will create a free-trade zone covering nearly one-third of the world’s economy, trade and population.
RCEP: 15 Asia-Pacific countries sign world’s largest free-trade deal
It will also be the first deal of its kind involving China, Japan and South Korea, and comes as the three countries struggle to negotiate a trilateral free-trade agreement.
Japan is the second-biggest regional economy outside Asean to give its formal support to the deal. China ratified the pact in March when the Ministry of Commerce said all members of the RCEP were planning to approve the deal by the end of the year for enforcement from 2022.
Japan’s government said in March that it expected the trade accord to boost the country’s GDP by 2.7 per cent and create 570,000 jobs.
Thailand and Singapore have also ratified the agreement. The deal will go into force 60 days after six of the Asean members and three non-Asean member states ratify it.
At a meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific on Tuesday, China’s vice-minister of foreign affairs Ma Zhaoxu called for efforts to stick to regional economic integration and defend the multilateral trade system.
“China took the lead in the ratification of the RCEP and is ready to push forward with all sides for the early entry into force and implementation,” he said.
Ma also underlined China’s interest in joining the Japan-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is more open and demands higher standards for trade, investment, competition and labour protection than the RCEP.
“We are willing to actively consider joining the CPTPP to inject a new push for the economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
Wang Huiyao, director of the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation, said the approval by Japan’s parliament sent a signal to the region, especially to Asean, on its support for economic integration despite increasingly complex geopolitical conditions.
“China will welcome the news. It’s a sign of support for regional economic integration. And the Japanese business community is still looking for a chance to cooperate with China, even though we don’t have a free-trade deal with Japan or a trilateral one with South Korea and Japan,” Wang said.
China is aiming to forge “high-standard” free-trade agreements with more partners in the next five years as well as closer cooperation along the industrial chain in the region, including in South Korea and Japan.
Wang Shouwen, China’s vice-minister of commerce, said in March that upon the enforcement of the RCEP, China would strive to speed up talks on the trilateral free-trade agreement.
Liu Yongjiang, an international relations professor at Tsinghua University, said enforcement of the RCEP would ease the way for China’s agricultural exports to Japan and reduce trade barriers to economic integration.
He also said the approval was a matter of procedure and much would depend on progress in the trilateral deal talks.
“Political tensions are expected to be a big restraint on forging the trilateral free-trade deal,” he said.
India was one of the founding RCEP members but skipped all negotiations from November 2019 because of concern that its trade deficit with China would grow.
In June last year, researchers at the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the RCEP, which took seven years to negotiate, would add 0.4 per cent to China’s real income by 2030, while the trade war with the United States would trim 1.1 per cent, should hostilities at the time persist.
However, a study conducted in 2019 by researchers at the University of Queensland and the Indonesian Ministry of Finance found the RCEP would add just 0.08 per cent to China’s economy by 2030. Over the same period, the trade war with the US would slice 0.32 per cent from its GDP.
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences were slightly more bullish on the prospects of the RCEP for China’s economy, estimating that over 10 years it would add 0.22 per cent to real GDP growth and 11.4 per cent to China’s total exports, should the schedule for trade liberalisation unfold as planned.
Source: SCMP “Japan approves world’s biggest free-trade deal after China’s call to boost Asian economy”
Note: This is SCMP’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean whether I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
BY JULIA MARNIN ON 4/20/21 AT 2:40 PM EDT
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin warned on Tuesday against the Japanese government’s investigation into cyberattacks made on about 200 Japanese companies and research organizations by a hacking group they said they believe is connected to the Chinese military, according to the Associated Press.
Wenbin warned Japan not to “throw mud,” and said that cyberattacks are a common issue faced by all countries to refute the Japanese government’s belief about China’s responsibility as Tokyo police investigate.
“Groundless speculation should not be allowed. China is firmly opposed to any country or institution using cyberattacks to throw mud at China or to serve the despicable political purposes with cybersecurity issues,” Wenbin said, according to AP. “China is willing to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with all parties to jointly address cybersecurity threats.”
On Friday, the White House issued a joint leaders’ statement with Japan that emphasized the need to strengthen cybersecurity and information security.
Source: Newsweek “Chinese Official Warns Japan Not to ‘Throw Mud,’ Blame China for Cyberattack on 200 Companies”
Note: This is Newsweek’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean whether I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
Fortunately for US President Biden that Japanese Prime Minister Suga has ensured Biden that Japan joins US Cold War camp against China so that though India has joined the Quad but not joined the Cold War camp in denouncing China openly, the US at least has one Cold War ally in Asia. Japan’s close ties with the US is what Reuters describes in its report “Biden and Japan’s Suga project unity against China’s assertiveness” on April 17, 2021.
That certainly upsets China according to the report, Chinese embassy in the US responds by stressing that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs and criticizing that US President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Suga’s remarks after their summit in the US have “completely gone beyond the scope of the normal development of bilateral relations”, harming the interests of third parties as well as peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
However, that is but normal diplomatic response. China will not counter with the setup of a similar Cold War camp against the US. It will only continue its efforts in carrying out its one-in-three strategy to prevent EU from joining US Cold War Camp. If EU is independent from the US and China gets most of Asian countries on its side except Japan, the US will be isolated though it has Japan as its Cold War ally.
Moreover, as Japan has great interests in the Chinese market and as the US is Japan’s major competitor there, the US-Japan alliance cannot be very firm.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuter’s report, full text may be viewed at https://www.reuters.com/world/china/biden-welcome-japans-suga-first-guest-key-ally-china-strategy-2021-04-16/.
Tuesday, 06 Apr 202112:16 PM MYT
BEIJING, April 6 (Bloomberg): China urged Japan to steer clear of “internal issues” including Hong Kong and Xinjiang as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga prepares to meet US President Joe Biden later this month.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi that he hoped Japan could treat China’s development from an “objective and rational” perspective, according to a statement on Tuesday from the government in Beijing.
Motegi reiterated Japan’s serious concern over a range of issues, including the situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as well as China’s passage of a law allowing its Coast Guard to fire on foreign ships, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement.
Suga will become the first foreign leader to meet Biden in person, underscoring the US’ focus on shoring up ties with allies in the region as it tries to pressure China over everything from human rights to trade to a probe into the origins of the coronavirus.
Suga has come under pressure from some in his own ruling party who want Japan to follow other major democracies in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang, particularly ahead of the White House summit on April 16 and the Group of Seven summit in the U.K. in June.
Japan has found it increasingly awkward to balance its relations with the US, its only military ally, and China, its biggest trading partner.
Japan has stepped up its rhetoric as the Biden administration signals a renewed focus on human rights in foreign policy, but it lacks a legal framework to impose sanctions.
The US, Canada, the EU and the UK have all imposed penalties on China over human rights abuses against the Uyghur ethnic group in the far west region of Xinjiang, spurring groups of lawmakers to call for Japan to follow suit. – Bloomberg
Source: The Star “China tells Japan to stay out of Hong Kong, Xinjiang Issues”
Note: This is The Star’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean whether I agree or disagree with the article’s views.
In my preceding post, we say that Russia and EU may drive US hegemony away from Europe if they switch from the traditional neighborship of fighting for land or control to the new neighborship characterized by economic complement, the facilitating of connection and mutual military protection. However, the traditional neighborship is well established between Russia and EU due to Tsar’s expansion and Soviet Union’s export of its communist system so that it is very difficult for the two sides to build trust.
It is, however, easier for China to develop the new neighborship in Asia to drive US hegemony away from Asia. China can do so as there have already been quite good mechanisms facilitating such neighborship.
In Southeast Asia, there are ASEAN with very successful free trade area with China and negotiations have been carrying out for expansion of the free trade area to South Korea and Japan. Anyway, China has already quite successful free trade area with South Korea whether the negotiation succeed or fail. China’s neighborship is perfect in China’s interests. China’s influence in North Korea makes South Korea and Japan hope that China will use its influence to cause North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.
In North and Central Asia, there is Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization with the potential of military alliance. In the Middle East Iran has joined Russia and China to form an iron triangle to counter the US. In South Asia, China has Pakistan as its iron brother and a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh for development of China-Bangladesh Economic Corridor. It has been building the ports of Kyaukpyo, Hambantota and Gwadar that are regarded as China’s pearl-shaped encirclement of India in the Indian Ocean. All the above mechanisms, organizations and relationship constitute or are the basis of new neighborship characterized by economic complement, the facilitating of connections or mutual military protection.
The establishment of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership at the end of last year may enable Asia to set up an Asian Union similar to EU. For integration of Asia to remove US hegemony, China only need to develop new neighborship with India, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Both Vietnam and the Philippines have maritime border disputes with China in the South China Sea, but they are both ASEAN members and may be influenced by ASEAN. Vietnam may, in addition, be affected by Russia so that it will not be too fierce in confronting with China.
Philippines, a US ally, but in spite of the alliance, it has been seeking better relations with China as it was greatly disappointed that the US failed to send its navy to help it in its Scarborough Standoff with China. If the US does not plan to send its navy to help it in its disputes with China, the Philippines will not dare to counter China seriously.
India is now easing its border tensions with China and Pakistan while joining Quad halfheartedly. That proves development of new neighborship is possible. Pakistan will give India a short access to the oil and gas in the Middle East while China may cooperate with India in India’s development of industry and water conservancy projects.
Japan is most difficult due to its invasion of China that inflicted great misery to Chinese people. According to traditional neighborship, China will certainly retaliate. However, China has to follow the new world trend and refrain from retaliation. If China is able to remove Japan’s fear of retaliation, it may develop new neighborship with Japan as Japan has great interest in Chinese market. When China has developed the new friendly neighborship with all Asian countries including US allies Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, no Asian country needs US military protection. By that time there will be no US hegemony in Asia.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Previous Failure to Encircle China due to Russia’s Involvement
Previously when Obama began to contain China’s rise with his pivot to Asia, he was trying hard to encircle China with its allies and partners. China is well aware of that. It made great efforts to win over US allies and partners to prevent them from helping the US contain China,
For the encirclement the then US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited almost all China’s neighbors including US dead enemy Vietnam to set up the encirclement. However, the US neglected Russia’s potential. Russia found that US encirclement of China threatened its security as it was similar to the encirclement of Russia. Breaking the encirclement would contribute to Russia’s security. Moreover, in order to win over Russia as an ally, China had rendered Russia substantial assistance in joining Russia’s vetos to help maintain Russia’s influence in the Middle East. Breaking the encirclement will facilitate Russia-China alliance in the face of US pressure on both of them. Russia would not join the encircoment itself and had told Vietnam and India the two countries within its sphere of influence not to join the encirclement. It had thus broken the northen and southeasten parts of the encirclement.
The breakthrough in easing tension between China and Vietnam with Russian help had indicated China’s willingness to cooperate with other South China Sea claimants in fishing and extracting oil and gas in the disputed waters. As a result, both Malaysia and Brunei refrain from joining the encirclement.
Due to China’s influence to ease tensions between South and North Koreas, South Korea refrained from joining the US encirclement.
At that time, Taiwan was building up economic ties with Mainland. Even in the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, there are lots of people who wanted to have a “one-China consensus” with the Mainland.
As a result, only Japan and the Philippines remained supportive to the encirclement but they were too few for the encirclement.
Encirclment of China with Quad Now
Now, in order to contain China’s rise, the US is trying to encircle China again with diplomacy but it has only two allies Japan and the Philippines and is thus entirely unable to encircle China geographically. However, the US exploited Trump’s legacy to apply its naval supremacy to control the Pacific and Indian Oceans to contain China at sea. For that purpose, it has tried hard to restore the Quad grouping of the US, Japan, Australia and India.
However, unlike China’s alliance with Russia that is not only military but also political and economic, the quad alliance of four countries is but military.
Japan Competes US in Chinese Market, but Joins Quad Merely for US Protection
One of Quad’s important member is Japan, but Japan joins Quad only for its national security in the face of a rising China. It always fears China’s possible retaliation of its invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s
Japan is important as it is the third largest economy in the world. It at first was not much interested in having free trade area agreement with China. Instead, it made great efforts to set up with the US the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to contain China. It was greatly disappointed when Trump withdrew from TPP for implementation of his isolationist “America first” policy.
As an alternative, Japan becomes an active member of China-initiated Reagional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and is striving to set up 3 + ASEAN free trade area in order to be benefited first of all by China’s huge market. In that market, Japan is America’s competitor. Its alliance with the US now is merely a military one to get US protection.
South Korea Refuses to Join the Encirclment
South Korea is also a major US ally but it is not willing to join the encirclement of China. Though a US ally, it did not join the US-lead Quad summit on March 14, 2021. If it had joined, it would have made the meeting “less anti-China.” Its Moon Jae-in administration has issued its principle of pursuing “openness, transparency and inclusiveness” in its diplomacy. The keyword here is “inclusiveness” that makes it unable to join the encirclement.
Quad Statement Even Fails to Mention China
Though aimed at countering China, the Quad summit entirely failed to mention that in its statement. As the joint statement of Japan and US is highly critical of China when US Secretaries of State and Defense visited Japan soon after the quad summit and as Australia openly showed its delight at the restoration of Quad against China, obviously it was India that opposed the open declaration of Quad’s anti-China position
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited India soon after the Quad summit in order to draw India closer to US side but failed to make India play its role in countering China. India is a vital part of Quad as a Indo-Pacific group becuase it is the only country in Indian Ocean. The US has attached great strategic importance to India. It has been providing and promised to provide India with advanced weapons and weapon technology in order to make India play its role in containing China in Indian Ocean.
A Large Hole in Encirclement as India Dare not Fight China
India wants US protection and weapon and weapon technology, but its prime minister Modi is very shrewd. In order to please the US so as to be able to get what India wants from the US, in mid June 2020, he sent Indian troops across the Line of Actual Control to fight Chinese border troops without fire arms and thus created tensions between India and China.
However, that was the utmost he can do to please the US. He does not want to have a real war with China as he knows well China’s iron brother Pakistan will certainly join China in fighting India, resulting in India fighting on both east and west fronts. The US being far away cannot send much troops and weapons to help it while Russia being China’s ally would refuse to help India fix Russian weapons damaged in the war.
Therefore, while discussing with the US on the restoration of Quad, India reached agreement with China to ease the tensions. On September 10, 2020 Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar met and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. They said they would ease the tensions
In a joint statement, the neighbours said the “current situation is not in the interest of either side”.
“They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions”.
Now, the troops of the two countries have indeed disengaged and ended the standoff.
In addition there is report on March 24, 2021 that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sent a letter to his Pakistani counterpart, saying he desires cordial relations with Pakistan. As a result, tensions between India and Pakistan have also eased.
Though in Indian officials’ talks with the US, they may have said much against China, India is by no means so stupid as to be US pawn to fight China for the US; therefore, there is a large hole in US encirclement of China.
No EU Consensus about How EU Should Interact with the Quad
European governments followed the developments of Quad intently, but so far there has been no consensus among them about how they should interact with the Quad.
US Secretary of State recently visited Europe in order to win over it as allies in countering China but without success. That will be discussed later.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Russia-China Rider-horse Alliance Failed
In the 1950s, there was a treaty alliance between Russia’s predecessor and China. The treaty had a term of 30 years, but the alliance broke and the two nations became enemies within a decade.
Perhaps it was an alliance described by Stephen Blank, a senior fellow for Russia at the Americ
an Foreign Policy Council. Blank points out, “every alliance has a horse and a rider.” In the 1950s, the Soviet Union regarded itself as the rider as it was much richer and stronger than China. However, China did not want to remain Soviet Union’s horse when it had grown stronger. It wanted to be the rider too. It began to strive to grab from the Soviet Union the leadership of their socialist camp. The fight for leadership broke the alliance in spite of a long-term treaty of alliance between them.
Marriage of Convenience
Some analysts regard the current Russia-China alliance as a “marriage of convenience”, a marriage based on mutual needs instead of affection. The needs are obvious as both countries are under US threat. However, in a marriage the two parties are equal. China has a much larger economy and its military is growing stronger than Russia, but China treats Russia as an equal partner. China is wise to pay attention to refraining from regarding itself as rider and Russia as horse. Its president Xi Jinping even wants Russian President Putin to be leader of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) they have jointly set up though China is much richer and stronger than Russia. Putin rejects China’s proposal and wants China to be the leader. As a result SCO is led by Russia and China jointly. Such mutual respect enables a marriage of convenience to remain strong and difficult to break by external pressure.
In addition, a marriage of convenience, though not as sound as a marriage based on mutual affection, may have some firm basis for the marriage, which usually is mutual interests. If the couple are both good and their interests are compatible and even facilitate each other as they grow closer due to the alliance, mutual affection may develop gradually. That is the case of Russia-China alliance. Long-term enmity may be turned into friendship due to mutual respect and trust built up through the alliance..
The US Has No Allies to Counter Russia-China alliance
While China has won over another world military power Russia to form an alliance that will assist each other to resist the US militarily, the US only has the allies it has obligations to protect but no allies to assist it in attacking China or Russia.
US former President Obama tried to form an Asian iron triangle of US, Japan and South Korea but failed as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had upset South Korea with his visit to Yasukuni Shrine. In fact, South Korea could not help the US in US war with China but Japan will be able to if it has further developed its military.
Obama’s pivot to Asia is mainly an alliance with Japan to contain China. Japan may become an ally comparable to China’s ally Russia. Japan is willing to take an active part to join force with the US due to its history of invading China and inflicting Chinese people with great misery. Together Obama and Abe had formed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to contain China economically. Obama’s successor Trump, however, withdrew from TPP in spite of Abe’s strong opposition. Trump, in addition, plans to start a trade war with Japan. As a result, Japan has been active in improving relations with China. It has made great efforts to establish with China Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and ASEAN + 3 Free Trade Area.
Trump is pushing Japan to China’s arms and will thus lose its only possible ally. Its European allies rely on its military protect and are unwilling to increase their military spending for their own defense, let alone help the US fighting China.
The US has no one to complain as its alliance with others is rider-horse alliance. It certainly cannot hope that its horses will protect it.
Can the US Be a Third Party that Disrupts the “Marriage” with an “Affair”?
The United States regards China as its only rival for world hegemony. As China is rising while the US is declining, normally, the US has to form alliance with some other countries to counter Russia-China alliance or instead make efforts to break Russia-China alliance. US President Donald Trump had tried to improve relations with Russia and thus drive a wedge between Russia and China but has encountered strong opposition at home.
Will Trump and his successor succeed in leverage Russia against China?
They could have exploited the conflicts of interests between Russia and China over China’s BRI.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
PUBLISHED MAR 19, 2021, 11:03 PM SGT
One week ago, the Quad nations met in their first leader-level summit and emerged with pledges to work together on vaccines, supply chains and technology.
China was not mentioned but it looms large both as a threat and an opportunity for all four – the US, Japan, India and Australia. How will the Quad engage China?
Quad summit underscores Biden administration’s focus on Asia
The discordant start to the first high-level US-China meeting on President Joe Biden’s watch – on Thursday (March 18) afternoon in Anchorage, Alaska – during which top diplomats from both sides lectured each other in public, will only serve to reinforce the underlying rationale of the Quad: China’s increasing assertiveness.
The March 12 summit of the Quad – bringing together the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the US – was notable for the announcement that it will catalyse the delivery of one billion vaccine doses to South-east Asia, combining the manufacturing, financial, logistical and other strengths that all four countries can deploy.
Quad grouping viewed in Japan as a means to neutralise China’s influence
Japan sees the Quad as an alignment of democracies to further push its Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision, which has shifted from a narrow maritime focus to a wider ambit that includes Covid-19 vaccines and climate change.
But the seeming convergence in the objectives of the Quad and FOIP belies a realisation that these issues carry national security implications.
Border row with China alters New Delhi’s strategic calculations
During the recent Quad summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the grouping’s agenda as a “force for global good”.
Yet, China remains unmistakably a strong factor for all four members of the grouping – Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
Bolstered Quad security partnership addresses Canberra’s concerns
The prospect of a strengthened security partnership with the United States, India and Japan prompted some unusually grandiose expressions of jubilation and delight in Australia.
In a triumphant address to a meeting of MPs from his ruling coalition, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the elevated status of the four-way partnership – the Quad – was a historic event that sent a message to the region about the merits and value of liberal democracy.
Beijing has concerns about Quad despite publicly dismissing it
A joint statement by the United States, India, Australia and Japan after their Quad summit last week made no mention of China, but Beijing is under no illusion that the four do not have their sights on keeping it in check.
In a statement just hours before the Quad nations held the first meeting of their leaders on March 12, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that countries should not “target or damage interests of a third party” and should not “pursue exclusive blocs”.
No EU consensus on approach towards Quad grouping
The first summit of the leaders of the so-called Quad – Australia, India, Japan and United States – was followed intently by European governments.
But although European decision-makers are encouraged by the Biden administration’s multilateral approach to Asian security questions, no consensus is emerging in European capitals about how Europe should interact with the Quad.
India’s vaccine manufacturing prowess drives new Quad initiative
India’s pharmaceutical capacity is at the centre of a Quad initiative to deliver one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of next year.
Officials from the four Quad members – Australia, India, Japan and the United States – are now working out the fine details of the so-called Quad Vaccine Partnership which could potentially cover the vaccination of nearly everyone in Asia besides those in its two most populous countries – China and India.
The Quad’s promise of peace… and conflict
It is highly significant that the leaders of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, which share such values as democracy and rule of law, have agreed to tackle various problems that the world is facing.
In the first summit talks held among the four countries, their leaders confirmed that they would promote the distribution of coronavirus vaccines to developing countries. They also agreed to cooperate in the field of maritime security, towards the realisation of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
Source: Strait Times “Is the Quad an anti-China club? How 4 nations plan to engage Beijing”
Note: This is Strait Times’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean whether I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
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.
ORIGINS OF THE INDO-PACIFIC
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.
ERASING THE ASIAN PEACE
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.
BALANCING ON THE CHEAP
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.
Now, like Cao Cao, the US is too strong for China to fight for superiority with while the EU is also well-established like Sun Quan’s State of Wu that China can use as its ally to counter US threat.. Like Jingzhou and Yizhou, the vast areas in North, Central, East, South and Southeast Asia and Africa can be used by China to set up under its leadership a community of developing countries in Asia and Africa. With that community, China will grow stronger than the US. As a result, the world will be divided into three: the US, EU and and the community of developing countries in Asia and Africa with China as its center..
Avoid Fight for Superiority but Seek Win-Win Cooperation with the US
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s efforts to please Trump with hospitality and economic concessions clearly indicate China’s desire for mutually beneficial cooperation with the US instead of fighting with the US for superiority.
China’s diplomacy to try to persuade the US to conduct win-win cooperation with China and its patience not to fire the first shot in the face of US provocation in Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea also clearly indicate China’s intention not to fight any war with the US whether trade, tech or hot war..
Alliance with EU
China has made great efforts to conclude its trade deal with EU in time before US new president Biden took office. Biden is now trying hard to draw Europe to US side to contain China but can the US open its market to EU as widely as China? After all, EU is America’s competitor in China’s vast market. US trade and tech wars with China will offer EU the best opportunity to win its competition with the US in China. Therefore, Biden will face lots of resistance at home from EU’s competitors in the US for losses of business opportunities, market shares and jobs to EU. The US is not good at setting up and maintaining friendly relations with its competitors as isolationism and protectionism have been deeply rooted in the US. China, however, has the tradition to pursue harmony, the competition between the US and EU may enable China to win over EU as its ally in countering US trade and tech war attacks.
China understands now that protectionism can only protect backward enterprises. It has to draw in foreign advanced enterprises to compete with Chinese ones in order to urge Chinese enterprises to conscientiously improve themselves to win competition. China knows science and technology are the major factors of the advanced productive force so that the development of advanced productive force requires innovation, creation and market now. China faithfully adhere to the Marxist basic general rule on meeting the requirement of the development of advanced productive force. It knows only by so doing can it successfully develop its economy.
Competition with foreign advanced enterprises will boost innovation and creation in Chinese enterprises to satisfy such requirement. Expansion of China’s vast market will enable advanced productive force to have market for its advanced products. China has full confidence in its scientists and engineers’ talent and diligence and the expansion of its market through encouraging consumption. Moreover, China’s huge market will be very attractive to EU business.
In addition to the trade deal, China supports globalization and fight against global warming along with EU and other counties. That will also facilitate its alliance with EU in countering US hegemony.
China is now conducting its Belt and Route initiative (BRI) in central and eastern Europe, which may make EU members jealous and give the US excuse to blame China for seeking dominance or at least geopolitical influence in Europe. Therefore in carrying out BRI projects, China shall stress that BRI infrastructure projects will facilitate connection between European countries and provide electricity and other facilities for not only Chinese but also EU members’ investment there. As BRI has not been very successful in Europe, it has not hinder China’s conclusion of its trade deal with Europe, but China has to be careful not to upset EU by its BRI projects.
BRI will be elaborated in my book “China Conundrum 3”.
Community of Developing Countries
North Asia, i.e. Russia and Central Asian countries were previously members of the Soviet Union. Russia is anxious to take those Central Asian countries into Russia-led Eurasian Union, an organization for something like the Soviet Union. As a result, there may be competition between China and Russia in setting up the Community of developing countries there. Moreover, Vietnam and India have long been within Russia’s sphere of influence; therefore, alliance with Russia is key to China’s establishment of the community. China has succeeded in forming together with Russia the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with members including Central Asia, India and Pakistan.
China’s Belt and Road initiative indicates its efforts to win over developing countries in North, Central, South and Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America for the establishment of the said community. China’s recent success in setting up the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) plus its SCO have made the said community a reality. It is important that RCEP has US major allies Japan and South Korea as its members.
Previously, former US President Obam took the initiative to set up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to counter China’s rise. China responded with the establishment of RCEP. RCEP was very difficult to set up especially because RCEP has to take in some important TPP members such as Japan, Australia and Singapore. China is lucky that Trump withdrew from TPP when TPP had already been signed but no yet ratified by US Congress. US withdrawl has turned major TPP members active in setting up RCEP and thus facilitated the establishment of RCEP.
China’s all the above-mentioned activities must be done out of the wisdom learnt from the three-in-one strategy in Chinese history; therefore, I believe that China is adopting the strategy of one in three for its national security under US threat.
China-Russian alliance will be elaborated in my book “China Conundrum 2”.
Article by Chan Kai Yee