Malaysia Dateline

US Indo Pacific Strategy: Malaysia and ASEAN are included in it

The Indo Pacific Strategy Report of the United States in June 2019 (US), which is concurrently with the Asean Outlook on Indo-Pacific, (AOIP), where the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, are connected as a contiguous maritime basin, should be understood-not in terms of what it included, in an exhaustive and comprehensive manner, among other Malaysia as an ally of US-but what it excluded and how the paper was timed for its release to coincide with the Asean Leaders Meetings in June 2019 too in Bangkok.

What is interesting that by releasing it without any overt mention of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), yet with shrill accusations of China’s “predatory economics” through out the US Indo Pacific paper, it is clear that the US does not consider China’s massive infrastructure project as a serious challenge to its global superiority.

Southeast Asia alone, for example, is in need of USD 1 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next five years potentially more. The US appears content to allow China to shoulder the major spending burden through out the Indo Pacific region.

To the degree the US needs to make any bid for such (infrastructure) projects, either singly or together with its allies, the US is content with the “Quads,” an initiative that is a combination of India, Japan, Australia and the US, to join the procurement process.

The “Quads,” which is an idea that has its roots in 2008, at the very tail end of the second Bush administration, is a tell tale signal of the tilt (of the Trump Administration) to the neoconservatives in the White House and the Department of Defense.

6The June 2019 release and announcement of the Indo Pacific Strategy, is also an attempt to shape the discourse of the second half of 2019, where ASEAN Leaders Summit will begin, only to the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2020, triggering a policy review frenzy, both at the Summit, as well as the Annual Ministerial Meeting in July 2019 and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in August 2019, leading up to the East Asian Summit held back to back with the second ASEAN Leaders Summit in November 2020. The Indo-Pacific Strategy is now a common lexicon in the region connecting the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

The Indo Pacific Strategy of the US also sought to highlight the importance of the National Security Review——short of defining what the Make America Great Again (Trump) Doctrine looks like—–other than the repetitive mention of the defense of American values both at home and abroad; indeed the perpetual promotion of these values.

The articulation of the importance of American interest in Indo Pacific is also unique in its exclusion of the Asia Pacific strategy, as defined by Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), whose very key agenda are the Bogor Declaration, and the Osaka Sectoral Liberalization, that have all but been forgotten since 2002.

The Indo Pacific Strategy made no mention of the threat of cyber espionage and security that can be posed by Huawei telephony and other big data companies in China, too. Economic behemoths such as Ali Baba and Ten Cent Holdings remain listed in the Wall Street, although there seems to be palpable attempt to de-list some 800 Chinese companies from Wall Street.

As things stand, the US continues to welcome the infusion of Chinese commercial interest into the US but not China’s attempt to domination of the whole of Indo Pacific region through their military or mercantilistic practices. Since the future will remain murky, for more decades to come, the Indo-Pacific arena may yet become a Pan Indo-Pacific arena too.