U.S. American President Donald Trump announced – during his first Asia tour in November 2017 – that it was now time to think about the Indo-Pacific strategy. This has de facto put an end to Washington's previous Asia-Pacific strategy adopted by Trump's predecessor in 2011: the U.S. "pivot to Asia". This shift increases the chances of recreating what has been known as the so-called 'Quad', that is, an alliance which comprises the US, India, Japan, and Australia.
What were the big ideas of 2017? Some, inevitably, are the product of technological developments: blockchain (a distributed ledger to ensure secure transactions) and deep learning by machines (a more sophisticated form of artificial intelligence) have been around for some time as applied concepts, but have only recently become a part of popular consciousness. Other notions that have gained salience are political in nature, such as 'fake news'. Some are purely linguistic.
Australian policy makers and strategists have recently embraced the so-called "Indo-Pacific" as a geopolitical construct to guide foreign and security policy (sometimes referred to as "Indo-Pacific strategy" - IPS). The concept was outlined in both the 2016 Defence White Paper and 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper and has prominently featured in the speeches of policy makers and the accompanying think tank/academic discourse.
The "Indo-Pacific" is the geopolitical referent for the Trump administration’s foreign policy toward Asia – East, Southeast and South – and the Pacific. Since it was first articulated in November 2017, the concept has taken on a more normative tinge and is now an integral part of the larger "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”. As much is implicit in the phrase as is explicit, however, and those assumptions are perhaps even more important.
While the term "Indo-Pacific" is still new in Japan’s foreign and security policy discourse, the "free and open Indo-Pacific strategy" has rapidly become an established concept under the government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The vision has a strong set of strategic rationale for Tokyo and there are few in the foreign and security policy community who directly oppose it. Yet, there remain a set of challenges as well.
Tokyo's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP) concept, Tokyo claims, has taken shape and is turning from a concept into a concrete strategy jointly implemented by Japan, the U.S., India and Australia. But not so fast. And that not only because U.S. President Trump could endorse and cheer the concept in a morning tweet and dismiss it as irrelevant in the evening, but also because coordinated and institutionalized security cooperation between the four countries in the Indo-Pacific region has yet a long way to go to be referred as such.
The "Indo-Pacific" is a strategic construct that arose at a time of a potential transition in the Asian security order.
For several years now, there has been a volcano of national aspirations waiting to breakdown the putrefying system of global governance and erupt out of control. The quest for peace through the creation of the United Nations (UN) is well past its use-by date. Religious violence has replaced nationalistic wars, the battlefield has shifted to shopping malls, streets and borders from strategic assets, citizens have substituted soldiers in death counts, economic violence has superseded physical violence.
US-China trade tensions rose sharply since early 2018. The first round of direct confrontation starts with the US Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and China retaliated with tariffs covering roughly same amounts of US imports ($3 billion). Threats to impose 25 percent tariffs on about $50 billion imports from China by the United States under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 started the second round, and China retaliated by releasing its own list of products that would be subject to proposed tariffs on imports from the US.
Unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls them earlier, India’s next general elections will begin on Monday, 8 April 2019. Working backwards, the Code of Conduct under the Election Commission of India – under which the government cannot announce new projects, programmes, concessions or financial grants to prevent it from influencing voters – should be in force from Friday, 8 March 2019. As he begins the final lap of his tenure as Prime Minister, Modi has just about nine months to deliver new economic reforms and policies.