Creating an Unstable Asia: the U.S. “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” Strategy

Creating an Unstable Asia: the U.S. “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” Strategy – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

MICHAEL D. SWAINE MARCH 02, 2018 FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Trump administration’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” will likely provoke China, alarm other Asian nations, and drive the region into a tense, zero-sum competition. Such a confrontational posture risks a pointless Cold War with Beijing.

A shorter version of this article, titled “A Counterproductive Cold War With China: Washington’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ Strategy Will Make Asia Less Open and Less Free,” was published in Foreign Affairs.

The author is indebted to Ryan DeVries and Alexis Dale-Huang for their assistance in the preparation of this essay, and to Stapleton Roy, Chas Freeman, Paul Heer, Peter Dutton, Ryan Haas, and Jeff Bader for their invaluable comments. The views expressed herein are the author’s alone, however.

In recent months, the Trump administration has been calling for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), a vision for Asia built around the concept of a strong coalition of like-minded regional democracies.

Extending from Japan in the east to India in the west, FOIP would aim to defend against the ways a rising China ostensibly threatens the rules-based international order, universal liberal values, and free access to the maritime global commons. In reality, however, FOIP is likely to have the opposite effect, provoking Beijing, alarming other Asian nations, and driving the region toward a highly tense, zero-sum competition.

By adopting an ideological and confrontational posture toward China, the Trump administration risks creating a pointless Cold War with Beijing. What Asia needs instead is a far more constructive regional approach grounded in a stable balance of power and in mutual compromise. 

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