Indo-Pacific needs US-China cooperation, not conflict with the Quad
- The key to peace and prosperity in the old Asia-Pacific concert of nations was the inclusion rather than exclusion of China
- It is in everyone’s interest to build a new concert of Indo-Pacific powers based on the principle of great power multilateralism
I remember Susan Shirk, a prominent China expert in the US and the Clinton administration’s deputy assistant secretary for East Asia, arguing for “a full-fledged Asia-Pacific concert of powers”. One dimension of US foreign policy in the post-Cold-War era is a de facto concert of the Asia-Pacific.
China joined almost all Asia-Pacific regional institutions and forums. The US and its allies almost fully engaged China. The mutual engagement processes made the post-Cold-War Asia-Pacific peaceful and orderly for three decades. However, this peace is fragile and vulnerable.
Since 1989, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum has helped promote regional economic growth and integration. Meetings led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations let leaders from Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean countries meet annually in a Southeast Asian nation.
Asean has made a great difference geopolitically. It has organised Asean+ dialogue partnerships with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the US, as well as the Asia-Europe Meeting and East Asia Summit.
As China worked in the Asia-Pacific to forge better economic and commercial relations, it helped found the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and invited India and Pakistan to be new members of the grouping. Neither the US nor any of its allies are members.
The Trump administration killed the TPP with its withdrawal on January 24, 2017 and publicly embraced the Indo-Pacific concept for the first time at the 2017 Apec summit in Da Nang, Vietnam on November 10 of that year. Ironically, the Trump administration ended the notion of an Asia-Pacific concert.
Could an Indo-Pacific concert reverse the trend towards a great power conflict? How can we make a concert of Indo-Pacific powers come together? It is in everyone’s interest to build a concert of Indo-Pacific powers based on the principle of great power multilateralism.
China-US relations are key. Both sides can work together to create a peaceful Indo-Pacific. Deng Xiaoping argued in the 1980s that China needs a peaceful international environment to focus on economic development.
The normalisation of China-US relations in the late 1970s and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s embrace of glasnost and perestroika – openness and reform – in the late 1980s helped create favourable conditions for China’s reform and development. Today, China still needs peace in the Pacific and Indian oceans while the US, after its unprecedented election in 2020, also needs peace with China.
As a solution, it is time to seek out a new concert of Indo-Pacific powers led by China and the US, as well as the middle powers around the Indo-Pacific region.
Pang Zhongying has been teaching international relations and global issues at China’s leading universities for the past 20 years