The Evolving Indo-Pacific Construct: Responses from ASEAN and its Major Stakeholders
Time & LocationSession 1
Wed 09:00–10:30 Room 1.502
- Rahul Mishra University of Malaya
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- European Responses to the Indo-Pacific Construct: Actors, Policies and Role Change Sebastian Bersick Ruhr-Universität Bochum
The conceptual power of the evolving Indo-Pacific construct is deeply rooted in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which allows Beijing to enact the new role as a “transcontinental great power” (Duggan et al. forthcoming). The construction of the Indo-Pacific has to be understood as a counter-reaction of the Trump administration to China’s rise and Beijing’s increasing economic and military assertiveness. It builds upon and links up with earlier initiatives like the Quad and recent ones like Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP). So far, Europe has not played a role in the process of the social construction of the Indo-Pacific as a region that largely encircles mainland China geographically. Yet, this is changing. Why is this so and which factors can explain the related role changes?
Contrary to the largely confrontational US approach the EU and its member states respond to the BRI conceptually by formulating the Europe-Asia connectivity strategy (EC 2018) that puts emphasis on common norms and rules. In addition, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that brings together 51 state actors, the EU and the ASEAN Secretariat started to promote ASEM Connectivity. It thus seems that the European response to the reasons that cause the evolution of the Indo-Pacific construct is the continuation of its multilateral engagement strategy vis-à-vis China and the Asian region. But this reading of the EU’s overall approach to Asia as a cooperative one would be misleading as it cannot explain a recent and ongoing China-critical turn. Major European state and non-state actors are beginning to perceive China as a threat and are reformulating their respective China strategies accordingly (BDI (Germany) 2019; EC 2019; DICoD (France) 2019).
Using France, Germany and the UK as case studies, a role theoretical approach is used to explain and critically assess European responses to the Indo-Pacific construct. Furthermore, the concept of national role conceptions and its domestic as well as external contestation will be applied in order to analyse the on-going revisions of European policies regarding China and the implication of the former for the regional policy space.
- New Ways of U.S. Strategy in the Pacific Region Rahul Mishra University of Malaya
Since the expansion of the United States reached the Pacific shores, the country plays a dominant role in the Asia-Pacific region. The turbulent history of the 20th century resulted in the U.S. becoming a true Pacific power with bases and springboards all over the region. Its current status in that part of the world is reinforced with military, economic, and political presence. The balance of forces are, however, shifting, with the relative decline of the U.S. and ascendancy of China. Foreign policy experts have been addressing this issue for decades, and since the 2012 introduction of the ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy, a new approach to the region elevated to the level of official policy. However, the Trump Administration changed the course of events: since inauguration, the new American administration decided to embark on a “completely new approach” to foreign policy. There is an inherent contradiction in the foreign policy of the Trump era: they wish to strengthen “old alliances” vis-à-vis revisionist powers, while at the same time, want to broker deals on a bilateral, rather than on a multilateral basis. This results in abrupt shifts and new courses in foreign policy which is especially apparent in the Pacific region: abandoning trade partnerships, while initiating trade wars; making bilateral overtures to smaller states, while not paying attention to regional integrations, etc. From those sometimes contradictory steps, there emerge a possible coherent image of how the United States wants to safeguard its predominant role in the region, and what possible future directions can be expected in this highly volatile international setting.
The term Indo-Pacific, which refers to a strategically significant area stretching from the littoral of east coast of Africa to the East Asian waters covering Middle East, the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean along the way, has become one of the most debated and speculated terms in contemporary strategic and foreign policy discourse.
First brought into eminence at the highest policy circles by Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, in his speech at the Indian parliament in 2007, Indo-Pacific attempts to combine the strategic thrust of Indian and the Pacific Oceans involving leading maritime powers but leaving China out. In Abe’s terms, it is a vision for the “Confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia”.
While an official articulation of the term first appeared in Australia’s Defence White Paper, 2013, India, Japan, Indonesia, and the United States have been pitching for the Indo-Pacific as a zone of rule-based order. With the US government actively brining in Indo-Pacific as the key idea for re-engaging with Asia and maintaining the strategic equilibrium in its favour, the term has gained salience.
However, the emergence of Indo-Pacific has created some uncertainties in the Southeast Asian region leading ASEAN and its member countries to reassess their strategic and foreign policy choices. Competing visions for Indo-Pacific have turned out to be a major aspect in that context. For instance, Indonesia, which claims to have proposed a comprehensive Indo- Pacific, proposes to make it inclusive treaty-based construct similar to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
A major reason for ASEAN’s apprehension about Indo-Pacific is that it does not include China as a stakeholder in Indo-Pacific. On the contrary, China has been identified by proponents of Indo-Pacific as a threat to the rules- based order. Both China and Russia are opposed to the Indo-Pacific. While ASEAN and most of its members support a rules-based order, they have been trying their best to avoid a situation where they have to choose between China and the US.
This panel attempts to comprehensively analyze the strategic objectives of Indo-Pacific, ongoing debates about its promises and likely pitfalls, and responses from ASEAN and its major stakeholders including China.