ASEAN as the main competitive base in the US-China Indo-Pacific strategies
ASEAN as the main competitive base in the US-China Indo-Pacific strategies

ASEAN as the main competitive base in the US-China Indo-Pacific strategies

With US President Joe Biden’s visit to Asia scheduled for later this month, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States Koji Tomita stated on May 9 that the latter could officially launch a new US economic strategy for the Indo-Pacific region when he commutes in Japan during his trip. The new economic strategy referred to here is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which was proposed by the Biden administration on 27 October last year at the 16th East Asia Summit.

Biden had argued that it would define the “shared objectives of trade facilitation, digital economy and technology standards, supply chain resilience, decarbonisation and clean energy, infrastructure, labor standards and other areas of common interest”. The framework is extremely broad and covers several new and non-traditional economic sectors.

Previously was United States focused on security and defense capability building in its strategy in the Indo-Pacific region with the establishment of security alliances such as the Trilateral Security Pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS), the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), and the Five Eyes Alliance. In addition, it conducted frequent military exercises with countries such as the Philippines and Singapore. By comparison, the US economic strategy is relatively weaker. This is especially true given its 2017 withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Its economic strategy in the region seems to have disappeared since then. If the new framework is used as a geoeconomic tool to increase its influence in the region in order to limit and weaken China’s influence, it is in line with US indo-Pacific and global strategies.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework includes Japan and South Korea in East Asia as US allies. They are part of Washington’s spheres of influence. India, a major South Asian country with global ambitions, is also the largest ally the United States is seeking in Asia. For the United States, India is one of the key support bases in this strategy. The second key area for the United States in their push to achieve a major strategic alliance is the ten ASEAN countries in the Western Pacific. It is even possible to argue that the attitude and participation of the ASEAN countries in this plan will largely determine the success or failure of the United States in promoting this Indo-Pacific economic strategy.

Speaking at the CSDS-CSIS Transatlantic Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific on May 9, Kurt Campbell, coordinator of the Indo-Pacific National Security Council, stated that the key message from Biden’s visit to Asia at the end of May will be: that this is an urgent task to be carried out in the wake of the current crisis in Ukraine. He insisted that the major fundamental challenges of the twenty-first century lie in the Indo-Pacific region.

Campbell said that at the beginning of the Biden administration, the Indo-Pacific strategy focused mainly on working with partners in the region. Now the US and European partners have also intensified contacts and dialogues on Indo-Pacific affairs. With the crisis in Ukraine, it was widely expected that the United States would turn its attention to Europe, leaving some attention to the Indo-Pacific, but the opposite is true, Campbell said. He noted that the unprecedented broad involvement of the Indo-Pacific region in Ukraine reflects the fact that some of these countries see Ukraine as a “warning narrative” and do not want similar military operations to take place in the region. This, in turn, provides some strategic thinking.

In particular, Campbell stated that his main responsibility as Indo-Pacific Coordinator is to ensure that the framework is more synergistic among leaders in Asia, Europe and the US that they will consider the implementation plan for implementation. He hopes the United States and Europe will “seize this opportunity, probably over the next few years, because we do not know how long it will last”. Now the United States intends to work with Europe on issues with global implications, not only on the Ukraine issue, but also on future Indo-Pacific strategies and tactics.

Researchers at ANBOUND point out that the war in Ukraine has expanded the United States’ definition of the Indo-Pacific strategy and economic framework, and that it is using the war to strengthen the window period for American-European relations. At the same time, the United States is also leading its European allies, which are geographically part of the Atlantic Partnership, to support the Indo-Pacific strategy. With such an effort, the United States hopes it will be able to unite as many allies and partner countries as possible, impose its influence and even dictate the international political and economic affairs of the region. This should allow it to effectively curb China, its perceived major strategic competitor.

According to ANBOUND researchers, the framework is an attempt by the United States to establish more diverse communication and cooperation with the western Pacific region through economic cooperation. ASEAN countries are expected to play a crucial role under such a mechanism. What is certain is that China and the United States will center their games around ASEAN as the United States promotes its Indo-Pacific economic strategy. We believe that the key to the broader game between China and the United States in the region in the future lies in ASEAN. For China, not only is ASEAN geographically close, with some of these countries being neighbors, but it is also China’s largest global trading partner with ever closer ties. If the US does not include ASEAN in its Indo-Pacific strategy and economic framework, there will be a big gap. The same goes for China. If China is unable to maintain close economic ties and stable geopolitical relations with ASEAN, in the future China will rather become a passive spectator in the global geopolitical game.

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