As US President Donald Trump and some of America’s democratic allies talk up a vision of “Indo-Pacific” cooperation, China is determined to ensure that the future belongs to “Asia”.
The increasing use of the phrase “Indo-Pacific” by Trump and his team during their marathon Asian jaunt this week, instead of the “Asia-Pacific” term that has long been common in business and diplomacy, is being greeted with thinly-veiled sneers in Beijing.
“Trump choosing to use the term and actually making it happen are two totally different things,” Diao Daming, an American studies expert at Renmin University in Beijing, told a forum on Friday.
“The region is leading global development and Trump wants America to be first, so he could not ignore its existence. He had to say something to the region, so we have ‘Indo-Pacific’. But as yet it’s just a concept and we don’t know what it means.”
Beyond the wordplay lies both concern and scepticism in Beijing at the US attempts to complicate China’s strategic domain, particularly by encouraging rival power India to work more closely militarily with Japan. Tokyo recently backed New Delhi during India’s border stand-off with China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not dignify “Indo-Pacific” by name in a statement this week, but noted that “this concept has been mentioned many times”.
“We hope that the Asia-Pacific region can become a stable, prosperous and orderly region….where we are capable of managing differences and have the wisdom to resolve the disputes,” she said.
“Indo-Pacific” has grown in usage across diplomatic and security circles in Australia, India and Japan in recent years, shorthand for a broader and Democratic-led region in place of the “Asia-Pacific”, which to some places an authoritarian China too firmly at the centre.
Trump and his team have given it fresh currency in recent days, starting in Seoul and Tokyo, building on the rhetoric of his secretary of state Rex Tillerson.
Describing the Indian and Pacific Oceans as a “single strategic arena”, Tillerson described India and the United States as “bookends” within that region.
“In concrete terms, it will lead to great coordination between the Indian, Japanese and American militaries including maritime domain awareness, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious warfare, and humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and search and rescue,” he said.