Taiwan News | 25 February 2018
The ’Indo-Pacific Strategy’ emerges as a counter to China’s ’One Belt, One Road’
by Duncan DeAeth
Taipei: A key strategic adviser to the Japanese Prime Minister, Sonoura Kentaro, recently spoke at a conference in Washington D.C. on the proposed “Indo-Pacific Strategy” of the quadrilateral alliance comprising Japan, India, Australia, and the United States.
Sonoura also spoke about China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative (BRI), and stated that in order to persuade Japan’s support and participation in the project, China would first have to meet certain preconditions to ensure there was mutual benefit for both Japan, and key partner nations.
Sonoura’s address was part of the symposium entitled “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” hosted by the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank, on Feb. 22.
Recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested that Japan may be interested in the BRI project.
When asked about Abe’s comments, Sonoura emphasized that certain preconditions would need to be met by China, specifically mentioning the liberalization of the Chinese market, to ensure that the Japanese economy would benefit from the country’s participation.
Sonoura also seems to have proposed a counter offer to China, suggesting Beijing should consider how it might become a partner in the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” to help ensure mutual economic prosperity, and regional stability.
Many of the ASEAN nations involved with territorial disputes in the South China Sea are also expected to join as partners with the “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” according to the report from China Times.
Many commentators see the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” as a U.S. centered alternative to China’s BRI project in Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean. As an island nation, Japan relies on the freedom of navigation and crucial shipping routes through the region, and is therefore eager to establish stronger economic ties with the ASEAN nations, as well as India.
As some reports note, India was one of the first nations to publicly decline a role as partner in the BRI, in part because of territorial disputes with China, and due to infrastructure projects of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For India, an alternative economic partnership with the United States is an easy choice.
Of the four “quad” nations, it appears that Australia’s commitment to the partnership may be the least stable, as the Australian economy is precariously balanced between its relationships with China on the one hand and the United States on the other.
The Sydney Morning Herald, reporting after the meeting between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and U.S. President Donald Trump on Feb. 23, suggests that Washington has set a “test” for Turnbull and Australia, likely hoping to affirm Australia’s role as an ally that will help ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Over the past week, both Sonoura, speaking on behalf of the Japanese government and Turnbull, speaking on behalf of Australia, expressed hope that the Trump administration could be persuaded to rejoin a modified TPP economic trade partnership. However in his response to Turnbull, Trump insisted that the TPP was still unfavorable to the interests of the United States, but he did not rule out the possibility of continuing negotiations.
In the meantime, the Trump administration seems keen on stabilizing the quadrilateral partnership to effectively implement the “Indo-Pacific Strategy" and it seems, to provide a counter balance to the sweeping "One Belt, One Road" Initiative being carried out by China.