Trump declared the US "Indo-Pacific strategy" in a high-profile manner during his first visit to Asia Pacific at the end of 2017 after he took office. Since the beginning of this year, the US has promoted and developed the "Indo-Pacific strategy" through various methods to curb China's development.
The exclusive alliance expands constantly
The US Secretary of Defense James Mattis hosted a ceremony at the Pearl Harbor in Hawaii to rename the headquarter of the United States Pacific Command to the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) on May 30, 2018.
The name change does not have substantive meaning since it won’t result in any major alteration to the geographic scope and force structure of the former Pacific Command. However, the change has not only clarified the spokesperson and executive body of the US “Indo-Pacific strategy”, but also demonstrated the US’ determination to move forward the strategy.
The scope of the "Indo-Pacific strategy" has expanded significantly in this context. Since the US, Japan, India and Australia have already become allies, it became the most conspicuous display of the US in curbing China with more diverse and intensified measures.
Japan who proposed the "Indo-Pacific strategy" at first was to maintain the momentum of strengthening relationship with the US while striving to improve the relationship with China.
During his visit to China on April 27, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed China as a "key partner" at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD). However, he also showed a positive attitude towards the vision of the "Indo-Pacific strategy".
Australia has gained huge economic benefits from China on one hand, and has been extremely active in the "Indo-Pacific strategy" on the other hand.
In addition, the US has emphasized ASEAN’s "central position" in the "Indo-Pacific region" and showed a clear attempt to bring ASEAN into the "Indo-Pacificstrategy". Among the 10 member states of ASEAN, Vietnam and Indonesia have expressed clear support for the "Indo-Pacific strategy".
Vietnam depends on extra territorial power like the US to balance against the growing influence of China. More recently, Vietnam is strengthening its tie with the US. The US Navy aircraft carrier Carl Vinson (CVN-70) with 5,000 officers and soldiers docked in Da Nang, Vietnam for a four-day visit on March 5 this year. This was the first time for a large US ship to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the symbolic meaning of the visit was self-evident.
As early as 2013, Indonesia expressed its interest in the "Indo-Pacific" which was only an academic concept at that time. It even proposed that the parties to the East Asia Summit signed an “Indo-Pacific Treaty”. As an archipelago country across the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, Indonesia has demonstrated an obvious attempt to strengthen its status in the region and the international community by promoting the concept of "Indo-Pacific".
New Zealand in the South Pacific also hopes to enhance its status and influence in the South Pacific region by joining the island chain strategy in the "Indo-Pacific strategy".
For the first time this year, New Zealand has written the "China threat theory" into its national defense policy. In early July, it announced that it would spend $1.6 billion to order four advanced anti-submarine patrol aircraft from the US to improve its maritime surveillance. This is the country’s largest military purchase in decades, exposing its impulse to respond to the “Indo-Pacific strategy”.
While the US is expanding the scope of the India-Pacific alliance, it has clearly showed the exclusion of China.
The Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) is a biennial multi-national joint military exercise led by the US and participated by the Indian Ocean and Pacific Rim countries. In May of this year, the US side withdrew China’s participation in the "RIMPAC 2018", revealing the fact that the US is establishing an exclusive military alliance in this region.
Targeted military system is constructed steadily
The US has strengthened its military presence around China since the beginning of this year.
The first F-35A fighter squadron of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) at the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, Japan announced its capabilities to fight at the beginning of July. Japan’s first destroyer equipped with the Aegis Combat system was launched in Yokohama on July 30.
The Aegis Combat system is highly sensitive as it enables the US and Japan to share target information in the battlefield during wartime in high capacity, thus allowing the two to coordinate operations with high standard.
As of today, there are 28,500 US troops in the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the US is moving its headquarter in the ROK from Seoul to the Camp Humphreys, 70 kilometers south of Seoul. Since the relationship between the US and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been apparently eased, then, what is the US military’s next task in the ROK?
Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said bluntly: "The US troops in the ROK and the ROK troops have considered carrying out missions in a wider region. They may have displayed growing interest in actions aimed at demonstrating support for common interests and values outside the peninsula, including the South China Sea and parts of the Indo-Pacific region."
While the US Department of Defense announced the withdrawal of its invitation to China to participate in the RIMPAC on May 23, it announced the invitation to Vietnam for the first time. By "rejecting" one country on one hand and "pulling" another country on the other hand, the US has proved its clear attempt to separate China-Vietnam relationship by harnessing the South China Sea dispute and make use of Vietnam to contain China on frontier.
The "2019 National Defense Budget" was issued by the US Department of Defense on June 19. The budget systematically illustrated the "Indo-Pacific strategy" and formulated an "integrated strategy" aiming at China, including support for joint military exercises with Japan, Australia and India to strengthen security cooperation, so as to counter China's growing influence in Asia, Southeast Asia and other regions. In particular, words such as "to strengthen Taiwan's defense capabilities, including arms sales to Taiwan" deserve special attention.
The US has strengthened its relationship with Taiwan since the Trump administration took office. After the US canceled its invitation to China to the 2018 Pacific Rim military exercise, the Taiwan military asked if it could join the exercise but received no response from the US.
However, what will happen in the future needs to be observed continuously as the US people in political and military circles who incite Taiwan to join the military exercise have not given up their efforts.
Support economic plan is gradually taking shape
A military strategy without economic structure support is weak if not "rootless". The Trump administration’s "Indo-Pacific strategy" certainly needs the support of the economic structure. Just as the Trump administration wages trade wars all around the world, the economic plan has come along to support the "Indo-Pacific strategy".
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the guideline for infrastructure cooperation among the US, Japan and Australia in the India-Pacific region on July 31. Afterwards, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the overseas private investment companies of the financial institutions under the US government, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia and some other institutions stated that "the framework for consultation and cooperation is underway" in a joint statement.
Undoubtedly, the US, Japan and Australia have taken actions in Southeast Asia with the purpose to hedge the attraction and influence of China’s "Belt and Road" initiative on Southeast Asian countries, and serve its "Indo-Pacific strategy" to contain China.
However, almost at the same time as the US, Japan and Australia take moves, Single Draft Negotiating Text (SDNT) of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea was reached at the China-ASEAN 10+1 Foreign Ministers meeting on August 2, which would undoubtedly become an important focus of cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries.
On top of that, China has made years of efforts to help the regional countries realize that stirring up troubles at their doorstep is definitely not something beneficial. Though you cannot choose your neighbors, distant relatives are not as close as neighbors. The extent to which the US, Japan, and Australia can reach their attempts remains a question.
To sum up, the US has transformed the concept of the "Indo-Pacific" to the "Indo-Pacific strategy", using political suppression, diplomatic isolation, military exercise and arms sales to create military alliances and military situation in favor of itself, using various means such as providing economic structure support for the "Indo-Pacific strategy" to make it a reality.
The US "Indo-Pacific strategy" and its geopolitical influence require China to treat it seriously and keep high vigilance.
Disclaimer: The author is Wu Minwen with the IT and Communications College of the PLA National University of Defense Technology. The article was published on the China Youth Daily and translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn. Chinamil.com.cn does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. If the article carries photographs or images, we do not vouch for their authenticity.