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Donald Trump

Trump should resolve differences, not create divisions

Use of the term Indo-Pacific, not Asia-Pacific, by the US president puts the emphasis on India and gives the impression it’s all about countering the rise of China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 10:48pm

Sowing geopolitical confusion is a hallmark of US President Donald Trump’s administration. Its replacement of the decades-used term Asia-Pacific in favour of the phrase Indo-Pacific continues the trend. No explanation has been given for the change, although the emphasis on India gives rise to speculation that it is a strategy aimed at countering China. But nothing is to be gained by creating divisions and blocs; resolving differences and multilateralism is the sensible approach.

Trump repeatedly used the term during his five-nation Asian tour, amplifying its earlier voicing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

At the start in Japan, the US leader said he was celebrating his “first visit to the Indo-Pacific region” as president and later, in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, he pronounced he was honoured to be in the “heart of the Indo-Pacific”.

‘Indo-Pacific’: containment ploy or new label for region beyond China’s backyard?

It is a marked shift from the terminology used by predecessor Barack Obama, broadening the concept of the Asia-Pacific far beyond China and the economies of East Asia to also include the Indian Ocean. But it also neatly fits an idea long held by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to create a quadrilateral alliance of Japan, the United States, India and Australia to be a counterweight to China’s rise. He has been promoting a partnership to create an alternative to Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, its plan to grow global trade, and sided with India during its recent border stand-off with China.

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Tillerson spoke of expanding strategic relations with India during a visit last month and talked about partnering with democratic allies, including Japan and Australia, to counter what he called China’s challenge to the “rules-based international order”. Trump has not been so brazen; he hailed the Chinese leg of his trip a success and has been careful not to mention China by name when referring to trade disputes and the territorial rows in the South China Sea. While the US and Japan seem to agree on how to deal with China, India and Australia appear less certain. The US president’s “America First” policy, which led to him pulling his country out of Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, has created confusion about his regional intentions. India also remains wedded to its non-aligned roots while Australia is bound by close Chinese trade links.

Asia’s economies, with China the most dynamic, are driving global economic growth. The pledge at the Apec summit by its 21 members to promote inclusive growth and foster a shared future for the region was welcome; multilateralism is the way forward. Trump should be trying to resolve differences, not create divisions.