ASPI Note: The U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy
February 16th, 2022 by Daniel Russel | 22/09
What happened: The White House on February 11 released its long-awaited Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), immediately following the Quad Foreign Minister’s meeting in Australia and against the backdrop of intense focus on the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- For months, Biden administration officials have been promising to release a strategy for U.S. engagement in the Indo-Pacific with an affirmative agenda that demonstrates that Washington’s approach and commitment to the region is about much more than just countering China.
- National Security Council staff consulted widely within the government, with Congress, think tanks, and foreign partners to gather input and refine the strategy.
- The IPS is a companion piece to two other yet-to-be released documents: a classified China Strategy and a broader National Security Strategy, which are expected to be finalized in the coming months. The confidential China Strategy document will be accompanied by unclassified explanatory briefings by top administration officials. The administration’s broader National Security Strategy, which also addresses China but in a global context, will have both classified and unclassified versions.
- The release of the IPS was timed to coincide with Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s travel to Australia for the Quad Ministerial, his stop in Fiji to meet with Pacific Island leaders, and his trilateral with Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii. While the trip was meant to demonstrate that the Biden administration was not too preoccupied with the Ukraine crisis to engage in the Pacific, the release of the IPS was overshadowed by a headline-grabbing press conference on Russia-Ukraine the same day by the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan.
- The IPS is straightforward about the challenges that China presents in the region, but the document is not about China; its theme is not what the U.S. will do to counter China, but what the U.S. will offer that countries in the Indo-Pacific need and want.
- Notable also is the strategy’s heavy focus on collectivism — what it calls a “latticework” of alliances and partnerships. These links can take the form of flexible like-minded coalitions such as the Quad, purpose-built groups such as the defense technology-sharing arrangement AUKUS, but also include work at institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), as well as with external partners such as the United Kingdom and the European Union.
- The IPS spells out an ambitious agenda in what amounts to a performance contract setting long-term goals and the processes to reach them, albeit without many specifics.
- While “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” has become a buzzword, the IPS fleshes out the concept by describing a resilient region with vibrant civil societies, strong democratic institutions, accountable governance, a free press, a secure and open internet, access to technology, and the ability to resist coercion and disinformation.
- In addressing climate change, the strategy includes a focus on clean energy and decarbonization as well as disaster relief and extreme weather resilience.
- A paragraph on Taiwan signals the administration sees maintenance of peace and security across the Taiwan Strait as a team effort involving partners, not just as a contest between Washington and Beijing. It reaffirms Washington’s “One China Policy” but frames Taiwan as a broader issue of regional stability and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
- Critics point to the lack of economic substance in the IPS, an area of critical importance to American allies and partners. It contains little more than a placeholder for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), announced by the President with fanfare but without specifics last October. The strategy mentions supply chains, the digital economy, quality infrastructure, decarbonization, Open RAN, and other areas repeatedly cited as priorities. But it is deafeningly silent on the region’s trade agreements, particularly the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to which China has recently applied for membership.
- The pledge to work with Congress to obtain new resources to fund greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific seems a stretch in light of the administration’s travails with Congress over funding the President’s domestic Build Back Better agenda.
- A full year into the administration, some will ask why so much of this strategy is written in the future tense — as lines of effort that the administration promises to begin and to pursue over the coming years.
What to Watch For:
- President Joe Biden has invited the Leaders of ASEAN — minus Myanmar — to Washington D.C. this spring, modeled on Barak Obama’s successful 2016 U.S.-ASEAN Sunnylands Summit.
- Biden also plans to visit Asia in May or June for an in-person Quad Leaders Meeting in Tokyo, with other stops in the region.
- Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo had originally promised to roll out details of the promised IPEF early in the new year; March now seems to be the administration’s working target for a launch as it continues to hammer out details internally and in consultation with Congress.
- Indo-Pacific Strategy: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/U.S.-Indo-Pacific-Strategy.pdf
- Indo-Pacific Fact Sheet: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/02/11/fa…