From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : ASEAN
Mains level : Paper 2- Growing aggression of China in the Indo-Pacific and increasing coordination among Indo-Pacific nations to counter it.
The focus of this article is on the U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific and its relations with its allies there in countering China.
Instances of China’s aggression
- Galwan Valley is not an exception in Beijing’s recent behaviour in Asia.
- China has also engaged in a tense geopolitical confrontation with its other neighbours.
- Stand-offs with Vietnam and Malaysia in the South China Sea and threatening Australia with boycotts are a few examples.
Response to China
- Beijing’s aggressiveness is fueling debates about the underlying costs of reliance on China.
- China’s aggression is also increasing support for closer coordination between other Indo-Pacific partners.
- Indian, Japan, Malaysia, and Australia have all taken concrete steps to reduce their economic exposure to Beijing.
- India and Australia recently inked a new military logistics agreement in the “virtual summit”.
- A similar agreement between Delhi and Tokyo may follow.
- The Quadrilateral Dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States is growing stronger and even expanding.
- And recently Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued one of their strongest statements to date on the South China Sea.
- The ASEAN statement insisted that maritime disputes must be resolved in accordance with the UN Law of the Sea treaty.
Asian multilateralism: Born out of crises
- Recently the “Milk Tea Alliance”, reaction of people, born to forge solidarity between Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, and Southeast Asians online to deal with Chinese cyberbullying.
- The Chiang Mai Initiative — a financial swap mechanism between China, Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia — emerged in the aftermath of the late 1990s financial crisis.
- ASEAN, created in 1967, did not convene its first heads of state meeting until fall of Saigon in 1976 in the Vietnam War.
Role of the U.S.
- The COVID-19 crisis is remaking the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific.
- The ongoing crisis has made countries aware of seriousness of Chinese dominance.
- This situation has given the U.S. opportunity it has long sought: 1) More credible multilateral coordination among allies, 2) Pushback against online disinformation. 3) The desire to better integrate like-minded economies and supply chains.
- But the crisis is also raising renewed questions about the American leadership.
- The question now facing the U.S. is whether or not it can harness this new regional momentum.
- U.S. continues to make unforced errors that create distance with U.S. allies and partners.
- For example, its focus on cutting support for the WHO and asserting that COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan lab alienated Canberra.
- Similarly, the administration’s suspension of various worker visas will almost certainly have serious repercussions in India.
What should be the U.S. approach to Asia?
- The U.S. needs to make two major shifts.
- First, U.S. policy needs to start supporting, rather than attempting to commandeer, regional efforts to build a less China-centric future for the Indo-Pacific.
- While Chinese aggression provides powerful motivation for coordination, U.S. partners are seeking an agenda that is framed in broader terms than simply rallying to counter Beijing.
- If the U.S. wants to reduce reliance on Beijing and “re-couple” investments and supply chains among allied nations, it is going to have to make compromises.
- U.S. should work with Indo-Pacific partners on the issues that they prioritise and provided them with space for independent action.
- Second, Washington should avoid repeating Beijing’s mistakes of bullying.
- U.S. should offer a clear alternative in word and deed to China’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy.
- Moves such as demanding that a G-7 communiqué refer to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus” and blocking mask shipments to close allies are the kind of counterproductive bullying.
Options for Asian countries
- Beijing’s recent aggression is not an aberration but part of a growing pattern.
- As Beijing’s confidence in its growing material and military power solidifies, its neighbours will need to think carefully about the long-term decisions necessary to preserve an open regional order.
- Facing the unprecedented health and economic crises spawned by COVID-19, the U.S. and Asian partners will need to coordinate more closely.
- Asian countries should strengthen their own regional networks.
- This Asian network will challenge the views of those in both Washington and Beijing who would see the region only as a sparring ground.
For American and Asian leaders, the choice is stark: encourage and foster this trend, recognising that stronger regional coordination will require more compromises as well as tougher choices, or resist it and risk being left behind.