US Strategic Policy for Indo Pacific Region – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • April 27, 2021
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Effect of policies of developed countries

In News: With just a week to go before its end, the Trump administration had declassified a sensitive document on the U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific from 2018. 

  • The 10-page document, declassified in part by US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, outlines objectives and strategies with regard to China, North Korea, India and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. 
  • Framed more than two years before the India-China military standoff along the Line of Actual Control, the strategy makes more than 20 mentions of India – seeing it as pre-eminent in South Asia… taking on the leading role in maintaining Indian Ocean security. And in this regard the document says the United States will build a stronger foundation for defence cooperation, expand defence trade and ability to transfer defence technology to enhance India’s status as a Major Defence Partner, increase cooperation on shared regional security concerns and encourage India’s engagement beyond the Indian Ocean Region. 
  • On the other hand, China is the primary state actor of concern outlined in the document. As per the Framework, Beijing is increasingly pressuring Indo-Pacific nations to subordinate their freedom and sovereignty to a “common destiny” envisioned by the Chinese Communist Party.

India and U.S. 

In the document, treaty allies — such as South Korea — are front and centered, and India is clubbed with other smaller South Asian powers under the “Expanding Partnerships in the Indian Ocean Region” header. However, in the 2018 SFIP – and more consistent with the 2017 National Security Strategy – India’s role is magnified, no doubt to the delight of the commentariat in New Delhi, if not the Narendra Modi government.

Interestingly, as an action point, it notes the need to provide India with support through “diplomatic, military and intelligence channels to help address continental challenges such as the border dispute with China…” This claim is consistent with what has been known for a while in Indian strategic circles – and with statements made by outgoing U.S. ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, on January 5, incidentally the same day O’Brien declassified the SFIP.

However, all the talk of maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific” (which the SFIP links with the U.S. position globally) will likely raise a few eyebrows in New Delhi. As the Modi government untiringly reminds its audiences, India’s preference is for a “multipolar Asia in a multipolar world.” This dissonance becomes even more glaring when one considers the fact that the SFIP talks about aligning U.S Indo-Pacific strategy with India’s. Modi has repeatedly made it clear that his vision for the region is “inclusive” as is not “directed at anyone.” It is unlikely he’d sign up for a project to maintain U.S. regional primacy.

How the US sees China

The US sees China as a strategic competitor bent on circumventing international rules and norms and a key security concern across the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing wants to establish “new, illiberal spheres of influence”, according to the document.

According to the US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, one of the main national security challenges for the US in the region is maintaining its primacy and promoting a “liberal economic order while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence”.

Under President Donald Trump, the US adopted a confrontational approach to China on both trade and security issues and called out Beijing for not doing enough to contain the initial spread of the Coronavirus in early 2020. The incoming Biden administration hasn’t fully spelled out its China policy though most experts believe president-elect Joe Biden will be less confrontational even as he counters challenges from Beijing.

The strategy document states that China “seeks to dominate cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence and bio-genetics”, and use them in the “service of authoritarianism”.

China’s dominance in these technologies poses “profound challenges to free societies”, and China’s proliferation of “digital surveillance, information controls, and influence operations will damage US efforts to promote our values and national interests in the Indo-Pacific region” and even in the Western hemisphere, the document adds.

The strategy also envisages China taking “increasingly assertive steps to compel unification with Taiwan”.

In a specific section on China, the document points to US efforts to counter China in the trade and military spheres, including Beijing’s industrial policies and “unfair trading practices” that distort global markets, and its use of military force against the Washington and its allies or partners.

On the military front, the US’s objective is deterring China “from using military force against the United States and US allies or partners”, and developing capabilities and concepts to “defeat Chinese actions across the spectrum of conflict”.

In order to counter China’s intelligence activities, the US will equip its allies and partners to counter “China’s clandestine activities in their countries” and expand American intelligence and law enforcement activities that counter “Chinese influence operations”.

The US will also help allies and partners develop high standards in counterintelligence, counter-proliferation, cyber-security and industrial security.

While seeking to maintain American industry’s innovation edge vis-a-vis China, the US will work with allies and like-minded countries to “prevent Chinese acquisition of military and strategic capabilities; broaden the scope of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to cover venture capital and other forms of investment by China; and adopt domestic policies that promote growth in key technologies”.

In order to promote US values across the Indo-Pacific to counterbalance Chinese models of government, the US will develop “public and private messaging and promote initiatives that show the benefits of democracy and liberty…including economic, technologic, and societal benefits”, and coordinate efforts to “protect and promote internationally recognized rights and freedoms”.

The US will also enhance its engagement in the Indo-Pacific while “educating governments, businesses, universities, Chinese overseas students, news media, and general citizenries about China’s coercive behaviour and influence operations around the globe”, and invest in capabilities that “promote uncensored communication between Chinese people”.

On Russia

The document identifies Russia (which it termed a “Revitalized Malign Actor”) as one of the four key challenges in the United States — China, North Korea, and “transnational challenges” being the other three. It notes: “Despite slow economic growth due to Western sanctions and decreasing oil prices, Russia continues to modernize its military and prioritize strategic capabilities – including its nuclear forces, A2/AD systems, and expanded training for long-range aviation – in an attempt to re-establish its presence in the Indo-Pacific region,” going on devote a laundry-list of complaints about Russian behavior.

And yet, the document clearly states: “Russia will remain a marginal player relative to the United States, China, and India.” So, Russia is a threat in a public document but not one in a classified one? 

Connecting the Dots:

  1. US’s Indo-Pacific strategy
  2. Strong India, in cooperation with like-minded countries, would act as a counterbalance to China. Comment.

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