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Encircling China and Praising India: The US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific

The feeling from Rory Medcalf of the Australian National University was one of breathless wonder. “The US government,” he wrote in The Strategist, “has just classified one of its most secretive national security documents – its 2018 strategic framework for the Indo-Pacific, which was formally classified SECRET and not for release to foreign nationals.”

Washington’s errand boys and girls in Canberra tend to get excited by this sort of thing. Rather than seeing it as a blueprint for imminent conflict with China, a more benign reading is given: how to handle “strategic rivalry with China.” Looming in the text of the National Security Council’s US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific (SFIP) is a generous doffing of the cap to Australia’s reckless, self-harming approach towards China. As an unnamed senior US official (of course) toldAxios, the Australians “were pioneers and we have to give a lot of credit to Australia.” Australian senior intelligence advisor John Garnaut is given high praise for his guiding hand. When war breaks out between Beijing and Washington, we know a few people to thank.

The SFIP, declassified on January 5, is very much a case of business as usual and unlikely to shift views in the forthcoming Biden presidency. The timing of the release suggests that the Trump administration would like to box its predecessor on certain matters, notably on China.

In a statement from National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, the SFIP “provided overarching strategic guidance for implementing the 2017 National Security Strategy within the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.” The National Security Strategy, in turn, recognised “that the most consequential challenge to the interests of the United States, and those of our allies and partners, is the growing rivalry between free and repressive visions of the future.” Beijing is cast in the role of repressive force in “pressuring Indo-Pacific nations to subordinate their freedom and sovereignty to a ‘common destiny’ envisioned by the Chinese Communist Party.”

The imperium’s interests, according to the SFIP, must be guarded (“strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific region”); a “liberal economic order” must be promoted while China is to be prevented “from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence.” North Korea is deemed of high importance in terms of whether it threatens the US and its allies, “accounting for both the acute present danger and the potential for future changes in the level and type of threat posed” by Pyongyang. The US is also to retain “global economic leadership while promoting fair and reciprocal trade.”

One of the “top interests” of the US in the Indo-Pacific is identified in pure power terms: retaining “economic, diplomatic, and military access to the most populous region in the world and more than one-third of the global economy.” Washington is keen to preserve “primacy in the region while protecting American core values and liberties at home.” But there is the spoiling presence of China, aspirational superpower, and keen for its bit of geopolitical pie. “Strategic competition between the United States and China will persist, owing to the divergent nature and goals of our political and economic systems.”

China is ever the cheeky opportunist, seeking to “circumvent international rules norms to gain an advantage.” Beijing “aims to dissolve US alliances and partnerships in the region” exploiting “vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.” With this in mind, US defence strategy should be “capable of, but not limited to: (1) denying China sustained air and sea dominance inside the ‘first island chain’ in conflict; (2) defending the first-island-chain nations, including Taiwan; and (3) dominating all domains outside the first island-chain.”

The document also acknowledges an untidy region of shifting power balances and increased defence spending, which will “continue to drive security competition across the Indo-Pacific.” Japan and India are singled out for special mention in that regard. A measure of angst is registered: “Loss of US pre-eminence in the Indo-Pacific would weaken our ability to achieve US interests globally.”

The authors of the SFIP are unashamed about the fistful of principles that will maintain US power, the sort that masquerades in popular language as the “liberal rules-based order.” Desirable objectives include the US being the “preferred partner” of “most nations” in the region; and that these powers “uphold the principles that have enabled US and regional prosperity and stability, including sovereignty, freedom of navigation and overflight, standards of trade and investment, respect for individual rights and rule of law, and transparency in military activities.” No wobbling will be permitted; allies will have to get in line.

India, “in cooperation with like-minded countries,” figures as a shining hope. Its rise is deemed essential, serving as “a net provider of security and Major Defense Partner.” What is envisaged is a strategic partnership “underpinned by a strong Indian military able to effectively collaborate with the United States and our partners in the region to address shared interests.”

For its spiky anti-China message, the nature of the economic relationship with Beijing is hard to ignore, provided it is conducted on US terms. The strategy is, to that end, most Trumpian in character, emphasising the need to “prevent China’s industrial policies and unfair trading practices from distorting global markets and harming US competitiveness.”

In what has become a tradition of the Trump administration, the Framework document does not tally with messages from other equivalent national security assessments. The officials of empire are not speaking with a coherent voice. The 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report by the Department of Defense, for instance, makes good mention of Russia as a “revitalized malign actor.” (Pentagon pundits can never seem to give the bear, or their paranoia, a rest.) Despite tardy economic growth occasioned by Western sanctions and a fall in oil prices, Moscow “continues to modernize its military and prioritize strategic capabilities – including its nuclear forces, A2/AD systems, and expanded training for long-range aviation – in an attempt to re-establish its presence in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The authors of the Framework document are, in sharp contrast, barely troubled by Moscow and, surprisingly, sober on the issue. “Russia will remain a marginal player in the Indo-Pacific region relative to the United States, China and India.” Abhijnan Rej of The Diplomat could not help but find this inconsistency odd. “So Russia is a threat in a public document but not one in a classified one?”

As for India, the 2019 IPSR does much to avoid exaggeration and elevation. “Within South Asia, we are working to operationalize our Major Defense Partnership with India, while pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal.” The Pentagon notes an increase in the “scope, complexity and frequency of our military exercises” with India. But for all that, New Delhi hardly remains a jewel of defence strategy relative to such traditional allies as South Korea and Japan.

The SFIP, in contrast, makes a bold stab at linking the goals of maintaining US regional supremacy with New Delhi’s own objectives. This is bound to cause discomfort in the planning rooms, given Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rhetoric on regional multipolarity. An article of faith in Indian policy on the matter is ensuring that no single power dominates the region. Another potential concern is the prospect that India is being thrown into the US-China scrap.

Medcalf concludes his assessment of the framework document with his own call for what promises to be future conflict. “America,” he insists, “cannot effectively compete with China if it allows Beijing hegemony over this vast region, the economic and strategic centre of gravity in a connected world.” The conflict mongers will be eagerly rubbing their hands.

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26 comments

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  1. Joseph Carli

    We must keep in mind that all these “Washington advisers” were themselves once just faggs keeping the toilet seats warm for their seniors in their exclusive private colleges and universities…”Give me the child till seven . . . “…one would quietly suspect that The Dragon, awakening from a long sleep, would be having a cautious look around and surveying its realm before taking ill-considered steps into the wild..

    Pity that The Pentagon Eagle does not have the nous to do likewise.

  2. Karen Kyle

    Firstly, the declassification of the said document does not reveal anything particularly new. Except for the US stating their intention to go to the aid of Tiawan should China make good it’s threats to invade. It is odd that Binoy didn’t mention this. The rest was plain from observable external circumstances.

    To imply that North Korea is not a threat, just as China is not a threat is very odd.

    China and North Korea are both objectively threats. In the case of China, not because of it’s size and blossoming economic power, but because of it’s carefully nurtured paranoia and the fact that it is objectively a totalitarian oppressive power.

    China does not recognise or respect the Rule of Law, nor will China abide by it. China does not respect human rights issues and has the worst human rights record on the planet.

    In fact China does not respect any ideology except it’s own. In fact China breaks nearly every rule in the book…re South China Sea….Hong Kong, and now they are threatening Tiawan air and sea space in an attempt to fatally weaken and wear out Taiwan’s capacities before they invade.
    weaken Tiawan.
    Tiawan does not want to belong to China, just as Hong Kong does not want to be part of China.
    Binoy must have forgotton that, along with the border dispute with India.

  3. Karen Kyle

    Nor does Binoy mention the “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy” which is strange……an enirely new form of Diplomacy.
    China accuses the West of using trade and investment as a political weapon which is exactly what they do themselves. Economic blackmail. The hell with the CCP.

    There is a lot that Bonoy has forgotten.

  4. Joseph Carli

    ” Tiawan does not want to belong to China, just as Hong Kong does not want to be part of China.”….Just as, I suspect, many Southern USA states no longer want to be part of THAT union…nor..if we have a peruse of Scotish and Welsh opinion, do those States desire to be part of the greater UK..and perhaps we can throw in WA secede ambitions to the mix…but hey…carry on, KK…your “three bags full sirrr!” doffing of the cap is going as per expected.

  5. Matters Not

    KK – to be fair – every writer is (and must be) selective in the facts presented because there’s just so many from which to choose. Indeed, there’s almost an unlimited number and that includes those (facts) which might be considered relevant by some and perhaps all.

    In that sense, there’s no truth just different perspectives brought to bear. Some, of course, better than others. Binoy knows and understands that and we should too.

  6. Karen Kyle

    Binoy does not present a balance. And it would take two or three sentences…..or one paragraph to do that.

    Instead he uses thinly veiled contempt and dismissal as part of his armory. And your assertion that there is no truth…..just different perspectives I do not agree. We live in a world of real politic……not some theoretical universe where we can move hard facts around at will and make of them whatever we like.

  7. Joseph Carli

    Personally, I believe that the “Belt and Road” initiative would bring a long peace and prosperity to sth east Asia and the western Pacific regions…Dan Andrews has to be congratulated in having the foresight to embrace the benefits of such a proposal…It also will bring trade stability to central Asia and the eastern reaches of Europe…With the transport link right through the centre of Asia to Europe, about the only ones that wouldn’t benefit from it would be the western capitalist market controllers….Which, I suspect is the objective to boost India’s military as a flanking agressor to China’s continued developement along that route…

    Hell!..Peter Dutton and his blackshirt goons worry me more than the CCP.

  8. Karen Kyle

    Joseph Carli……irrelevant. Neither Scotland or Wales want to break from the Union because they want Democracy and the UK won’t let them have it. I presume the US is the same, although some are of the opinion that Abe Lincoln should have just let the Southern States go……but it was about the abolition of slavery remember? WA….who knows…..maybe they just want to keep all the mineral wealth for themselves.

  9. Michael Taylor

    I’m with MN. Authors can write what they like. But if they were to include something to please all their readers then the articles would be ten times as long.

  10. Michael Taylor

    Binoy does not present a balance. And it would take two or three sentences…..or one paragraph to do that.

    Karen, perhaps you could do that for us.

  11. Karen Kyle

    Obviously a writer can’t say something to please every reader.That is ridiculous. But they can certainly write a more balanced article. It is done in the press and within academia every day, and Binoy knows how to do it.

  12. Michael Taylor

    Why is that ridiculous? It seems rather obvious to me.

  13. Michael Taylor

    Karen, before I finally run of patience with you over this year-long criticism of Dr Binoy there are two options.

    1) I inform Dr Binoy he cannot write for us again because Karen Kyle doesn’t like him, or 2) Perhaps you should read his articles.

    But I will add that my patience with you is running very thin.

  14. Florence Howarth

    Karen if I wrote an article about socialism, in its many forms, I am certainly not going to balance it in your eyes, writing about capitalism. Why should I? During my life, especially when younger, if I had a need for balance, I would seek separate articles. Like maybe Karl Marx and Adam Smith. You have two options. Not read the article or point out what you disagree with, saying why the author is wrong. Attacking the author tells us nothing.

  15. Michael Taylor

    Exactly, Florence. And thank you.

  16. paul walter

    The Chinese have indeed been wily opportunists stealing a march, while the West has been distracted by its own inanities.

    Far more important, Kyle Jenner’s new spikes or some sportspersons latest $500,000,000 contract.

  17. Steve Davis

    I cannot understand the paranoia regarding China, particularly with regard to its relationship with Taiwan.

    On 25 October 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the UN General Assembly, which “decides to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.” Multiple attempts by the Republic of China (Taiwan) to rejoin the UN, no longer to represent all of China but just the people of the territories it governs, have not made it past committee, largely due to diplomatic maneuvering by the PRC, which claims Resolution 2758 has settled the matter.
    The PRC refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes the ROC, but does not object to nations conducting economic, cultural, and other such exchanges with Taiwan that do not imply diplomatic relation.

    Now we have to ask ourselves how the US would respond if it had a similar problem.

    The answer is clear. Instead of allowing economic development in the claimed territory as China has done, The US would use its economic might to impose sanctions on all who deal with the “rogue” entity, and it would starve the entity into submission.

    The endless claims of “Chinese aggression” are largely baseless.

  18. Karen Kyle

    The claims of Chinese aggression are not baseless……and let us not forget that the International Community through the UN was anxious to help China develop economically and they did.

    First it was the Soviet Union with Aid, technical expertise etc. Then the developed countries made a huge contribution by educating millions of Chinese students in Western Universities over five odd decades.
    Then the World Bank, the WTO and the open market, including Hong Kong as a financial centre and source of American dollars.

    China had plenty of help including the offshoring of Western Manufacturing, much to our regret and the wholesale stealing of technology which includes stealing from the Russians. Oh…..and intellectual property theft and counterfieting almost everything under the sun including gold bullion.

    The CCP claims all the credit for the Chinese economic miracle and they insist the Chinese people should be grateful to them. The CCP gives no credit at all to the millions of hard working and diligent Chinese citizens over decades. Chinese citizens get the credit for nothing. And Chinese Billionares…….likely to have their fortune removed and put

    in to the pockets of the CCP…..not the State mind you. Individual CCP members and their families. Where is Jack Ma?

    Thou Shalt have no other God before Me, the mantra of the CCP.

  19. Karen Kyle

    Florence……..nope…..telling highly selective bits of a story and ignoring the context entirely is just a propaganda strategy.

  20. Michael Taylor

    “Propaganda strategy”.

    Oh for god’s sake. Get real.

  21. Joseph Carli

    Where have these conspiracy crazies sprung from !!??…is that “Soviet Baby-Eating Brigade” visiting now??

  22. Joseph Carli

    I’m beginning to think “Karen Kyle” is a brand-name of a conspiracy community blog and all there are given leave to comment under that name…it’s too crazy to be just one individual !

  23. Karen Kyle

    Joseph…..odd that you bring conspiracy theories and the Soviet Baby eating brigade into the argument. No-one mentioned such stuff.
    are you feeling OK?

  24. Joseph Carli

    Karen…I certainly am feeling OK…but I’m curious to know just WHAT YOU are feeling..and if it is what I suspect, I’d suggest you..and “Marcia” next door, give it a rest!

  25. Karen Kyle

    I don’t know Marcia….nor do I agree with her….about anything.

    IMN did a first rate job f exposing her. She is a faker.

  26. Brozza

    ……”how to handle “strategic rivalry with China.”
    The same as with Russia. Surround it with U$ missile sites in neighbouring countries and continue with the non-stop threats.
    The only reason N.Korea has nuclear weapons is because the U$ has never stopped threatening to invade/destroy it since 1953, after the U$ dropped more bombs on Korea than it dropped during the entire pacific campaign of WW2.
    U$ diplomacy in action.

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