The Trump administration has declassified a report outlining its Indo-Pacific strategy, including “accelerating India’s rise”, blocking China from establishing “illiberal spheres of influence” and maintaining the “US strategic advantage” in the region, according to a review of Axios.
Why it matters: The ten-page strategy, written in early 2018, has guided the American approach to China, India, North Korea and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region for the past three years. Its release sheds light on the geopolitical and security challenges that will soon be inherited by the Biden administration.
China is a major state player of concern referred to in the document, followed by North Korea. The strategy emphasizes countering China̵
- The strategy also outlines a major expansion of military, intelligence and diplomatic support for India as China’s main regional counterweight, an approach likely to raise eyebrows in Beijing and Islamabad.
What are they saying: “The declassification of the Framework today demonstrates with transparency America’s strategic commitments to the Indo-Pacific and to our allies and partners in the region,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien wrote in a note on January 5, 2021, and included the strategy paper.
Breaking: The Trump administration has carefully considered several of its declared goals toward China over the past three years, including:
- Building an “international consensus that China’s industrial policy and unfair trade practices harm the global trading system”
- Expand US counterintelligence and law enforcement to counter China’s intelligence activities in the United States, and expand intelligence sharing with allies to help them do the same.
- Develop military and asymmetric military strategies to assist Taiwan in its long-standing tense relationship with China.
- Strengthen national security reviews of Chinese investment in sensitive US sectors
- Work with allies and partners to try to “prevent China from acquiring military and strategic capabilities.”
Yes, but: Some targets collided with headwinds.
- The strategy has repeatedly called for greater US engagement with countries in the region, in particular the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In some cases, the United States has indeed withdrawn from the region, including through Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the weakening of ASEAN summits.
- The goal of showing the benefits of American democratic values as a counterweight to China in the region has also been dealt a severe blow by the recent armed uprising in the US Capitol. These events led to the resignation of one of the main authors of the strategy, former National Security Deputy Matt Pottinger.
To note: India forms an important cornerstone of the so-called Indo-Pacific strategy.
- The document states that increased US assistance and intelligence sharing should help India in key areas of conflict with China, including border disputes and water rights in the Himalayas. In 2020, India and China waged their deadliest military border battle since 1967.
- But US-India relations are complicated. During the Cold War, India flatly refused to place itself in the Western camp instead of preferring leadership in the non-aligned movement. Meanwhile, the United States has often leaned toward Pakistan, India’s historic first rival in South Asia.
Background: The Trump administration has introduced a new formal framework for looking at China and India as part of the same strategic region, the Indo-Pacific, beginning with its 2017 National Security Strategy.
- The US Pacific Command was renamed the Indo-Pacific Command in 2018, as a move widely seen as a response to China’s rise.
Between the lines: Australia’s experience with China has strongly influenced the preparation of the Indo-Pacific Strategy for 2018.
- “In many ways, they are ahead of the curve in understanding influence operations and interference in internal systems,” a senior US official told me. “They were pioneers and we have a lot of credit for Australia.”
- The official praised former Australian senior intelligence adviser John Garnot and said a 2017 report on Chinese operations to influence New Zealand-based scientist Anne-Marie Brady had also influenced US strategy.
Go deeper: The State Department has published a plan to counter China.