US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo em-phasized that no one should underesti-mate the US commitment to a free andopen Indo-Pacific region, when theymet their Australian counterparts atStanford University on July 25. Not longafter that, Secretary Pompeo promisedat a conference before his trip to South-east Asia that the United States has itsown strategic thinking over the geo-economic future of this region. He thendelivered a delayed favor of $113 millionfor cybersecurity, the digital economy,energy and infrastructure in Asia.
It is the beginning of an attempt bythe US to add an economic dimensionto its appeals to maintain a “free andopen Indo-Pacific” since President Don-ald Trump’s visit to Asia last November.This time Pompeo explained “free” and “open” – “When we say free, it meanswe want all nations to be able to protect their sovereignty from coercion … when we say open, it means we want all na- tions to be able to enjoy open access toseas and airways.”
Former US president Barack Obamaused to call himself “the first Pacific president” not long after his inaugura-tion. He did so because of the belief that this area was going to be the economic center of the 21st century and wanted to shift American diplomatic focus and resources from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific.
Before Obama, George W. Bushalso attached high importance to Asiaby signing free trade agreements withSingapore, South Korea, and Australia.
Trump did not prioritize Asia inhis strategic plan since the day of his Trump did not prioritize Asia inhis strategic plan since the day of his inauguration. As the USwithdrew from TPP, itscredibility as an economic partner in the region was thrown into doubt.
Trump visited Asiaafter tours to the Middle East and Europe. As hearrived at the APEC sum-mit, Trump told allies, “Iam always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.” There is little agreement among analysts about the presi- dent’s deeds and words. Max Boot, a scholar on foreign affairs, com-plained on Foreign Policy website in an article head- lined, “Trump’s worst tripever, until his next one.” The article denounced Trump for “ceding power to China and undercut-ting the values that America has long cham-pioned” and labeled the trip as a “Farewell Tour”– “farewell to American power, farewell to American ideals, andfarewell to American credibility.”
Since the APEC summit, one never found new initiatives by the US. When this time Pompeo promised an infrastructure investment initiative, the framework wasn’t well constructed. Most allies were not prepared, and they didn’t know how to respond to America’s initiative, especially when it appeared to be at odds with China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Only Japan and Australia joined thetrilateral partnership. India, as one of America’s pivot partners in the Indo-Pacific strategy, is absent from this initiative.
What Pompeo presented this timemay still be seen as some kind of a de-layed favor to Asia. What disappointed the US allies is the size of the corpus of $113 million.
Pompeo’s regional diplomatic offensive is believed to focus on promoting private-sector investment through bilateral efforts. This is also what Trump first said in his APEC speech, where he emphasized that the US would no longer engage in big, multilateral trade agreements like TPP, and would prefer bilateral trade deals.
The US has been say- ing that China’s invest- ments in the region are State-led and State-run, which means there are lots of diplomatic strings attached.
Asia welcomes newplatform and new collabo-ration, while a shrinking US commitment is to the contrary. Just as what Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, “We welcome that with an open and inclusive attitude. We hope that they can make substantial financial contributions and take more concrete steps to truly contribute to the welfare of the people in this region.”■