A Free and Open Indo-Pacific – Review of US State Department Report
On the occasion of the 2019 Indo-Pacific Business Forum and the East Asia Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, the U.S. Department of State released a progress report on the implementation of whole-of-government strategy for the Indo-Pacific region. “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision” details two years of diplomatic, economic, governance, and security initiatives that show the United States’ continuing commitment to the Indo-Pacific and how we have strengthened people-to-people ties. Here is a brief review of the same-
The United States in its report illustrates their engagement and commitment in the Indo-Pacific region. The report highlights the substantial resources and support granted to the region from the US Congress and accounts for the specific steps taken along with the allies and partners.
Engaging Partners and Regional Institutions
The United States has been increasingly involved with its partners and allies at various levels to ensure a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific region. US vision for the region is guided by a rule-based framework. US favour the ASEAN ideology of equal stakes of all countries, irrespective of their size, in shaping the future of the region. Amidst the various initiatives, the technical assistance provided by the US is of great significance. It strengthens capacity in the energy sector, promotes shared approaches to cybersecurity and digital trade, creates opportunities for MSME’s, and motivates the women, youth innovators and entrepreneurs. Not only does the US supports the ASEAN Economic Community, but also the Friends of lower Mekong for an important donor coordination mechanism.
The US also works within the APEC to expedite digital trade, open service market, women’s economic participation and the ease of doing business. To facilitate their partners with comprehensive trade and investment policies, US SEGA (United State Support for Economic Growth in Asia) was launched in 2018. Along with this, they also support the Indian Ocean Rim Association on various maritime security and environment issues. US came up with a nimble way of minilateral agreements to deepen the ties with like-minded countries such as the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue between the US, Japan and Australia.
Multilateral Engagement & Bilateral Partnerships
The importance of the role of the South Asian nations in the inclusive Indo-Pacific region can be ascertained from the extensive bilateral relationship of the US with each country in the region. The US has ensured to align its approach in the Indo Pacific region with that of other countries like India’s Act East Policy, Japan’s Free and Open Indo Pacific concept and so on.
With the Republic of Korea, a memorandum of agreement is signed between USAID and Korea International Cooperation Agency to expand the development cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
The efforts are also made to strengthen ties with Taiwan which is inconsistent with the Taiwan Relations Act. As a result, the sale of defence equipment totalling more than $10 billion has been approved by the US Congress in 2019. Both the countries also co-hosted the Pacific Island Dialogue for the first time in October 2019.
To improve the energy and infrastructure, the Japan-USS Strategic Energy Partnership and the Japan-US Strategic Digital Economy Partnership, from Indo Pacific to the East Coast of Africa, is being emphasized upon by the US.
The strengthening of the Indo-Pacific region is incomplete without a strong US-India relation. The 2+2 dialogue, Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement, US-India-Australia-Japan Quadrilateral Consultations and the US-India Strategic partnership are some of the various platforms where US is working with India to address developmental challenges at the regional and global level.
ASEAN member states have been the fourth largest export market of the US while countries like Singapore and Thailand are the growing source of foreign direct investment in the US. The United States works in close cooperation with maritime as well as mainland Southeast Asia, engaging in strategic ties and dealing with maritime and regional challenges collectively. At the same time, the engagement with the Pacific Island nations has also increased tremendously at various levels.
The Pacific Pledge announced by the US administration is an important step in this direction by investing in projects and operations for a prosperous future of the region. Another important step in the region was the initial grant to the Asian Development Bank’s Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility by the US to support the infrastructure projects. The US intends to magnify their impact on developing access for Pacific Island nations to high-quality, resilient development of their economy and natural resources. As a result, it is broadening close cooperation with New Zealand and Australia in areas such as infrastructure development, joint operations countering illegal fishing to science and space collaborations.
The US vision of an inclusive Indo-Pacific region also gives significant importance to South Asian member states. Therefore, the country is focusing on enhanced bilateral engagements and helping Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives to deal with natural disasters, human trafficking and drug smuggling by effectively training their navies and coast guards. Also, training of senior military officers at American military education school and a hands-on investigative assistance is provided by the US to enhance the counter-terrorism ability of the South Asian countries. The country is extending its support to these nations at both internal and external levels for a strengthened and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.
Enhancing Economic Prosperity
The United States accepts the role of government in enabling free enterprise while empowering people and protecting individual rights. They seek to prevent the states from indulging in coercive economic practices and unsustainable debt burdens. Therefore they plan to improve the market access and competitiveness, promote free and fair business trade and enable the business to business ties. The US is working closely with the member countries to boost exports, reduce trade barriers and promote job opportunities through various regional and global arrangements.
In order to ensure a physically secure, economically sustainable and financially viable infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region the US provides foreign assistance, support for investment, innovation and transparent policies to spur the economic growth. Some of the major steps taken in this direction are the Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network, Transaction Advisory Fund, US International Development Finance Corporation, The Blue Dot Network and so on.
The growing need for Indo-Pacific energy security is mainly steered by US resources and technical expertise. It is important to incorporate the renewable energy resources, affordable and reliable energy, diverse sources and safe routes to cater to the 60% of global growth in energy demand by 2040. Asia Edge is an important initiative by the US in this direction along with various bilateral engagements on energy security with its partners.
Being home to some of the technologically sophisticated and most connected economies of the world, there is a need to protect the digital economy from cybersecurity threat to ensure interoperable cross-border data flow in the Indo-Pacific region. Thus, the US promotes a risk-based approach and launched the US-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership, the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership to provide open and secure information communication technology to its partners.
Championing Good Governance
The United States initiative in the region also protects the sovereignty of the nations by combating corruption, empowering civil societies and region’s citizens as well as building resilience to foreign influence to effectively address the challenge of governance. Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative with 200 programs is an important effort by the US to defend the rule of law, promote civil society and ensure good governance among its partners.
Ensuring Peace and Security
To protect the maritime domain and address the environmental security, the US shares information and builds the ability of security sector forces of its partners. To ensure that the US and its allies prolong interoperable capacities to deter adversaries and maintain maritime governance, US Coastal Security Guard plays a specialized role in the region.
Investing in Human Capital
The Indo Pacific region accounts for 58% of the World’s youth and over half of the world population. To participate in the global economy and create a condition for self-sufficiency, US companies not only practice corporate responsibility, sustainable economic growth but also engage with government to empower workers and communities with professional training and language skill development, investment in local infrastructure and improved level of playing field.
The various steps taken by the US, innumerable treaties and agreements signed with its allies and the significant shift of the resources demonstrates the support and priorities of the US in developing a stable and secure Indo-Pacific region.
Source: A Free and Open Indo-Pacific. A Free and Open Indo-Pacific https://www.state.gov/a-free-and-open-indo-pacific-advancing-a-shared-vision/