The Trump administration has declassified a report outlining its Indo-Pacific strategy, including “accelerating India’s rise”, preventing China from establishing “illiberal spheres of influence” and maintaining “US strategic precedence” in the region, according to a copy seen by Axios .
Why it matters: The strategy set out in the ten-page report, written in early 2018, has guided the U.S. approach to China, India, North Korea and other nations in the Indo-Pacific region for the past three years. Its release sheds light on the geopolitical and security challenges that the Biden administration will soon inherit.
China is the primary state actor of concern outlined in the document followed by North Korea. The strategy emphasizes countering China̵
- The strategy also outlines a major expansion of military, intelligence and diplomatic support for India as the primary regional counterweight to China – an approach that is likely to raise eyebrows in Beijing and Islamabad.
What they say: “The declassification of the framework today demonstrates, with transparency, America’s strategic commitments to the Indo – Pacific and to our allies and partners in the region,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien wrote in a note dated January 5, 2021 with the strategy paper.
To break it down: The Trump administration has cut close to several of its stated goals regarding China over the past three years, including:
- Building an “international consensus that China’s industrial policies and unfair trade practices harm the global trading system”
- Expanding U.S. counterintelligence and law enforcement to counter China’s intelligence activities in the United States and expanding intelligence sharing with allies to help them do the same.
- Development of military and asymmetric warfare strategies to assist Taiwan in its long-standing, tense relationship with China.
- Strengthening the National Security Report of Chinese Investment in Sensitive US Sectors
- Work with allies and partners to try to “prevent Chinese acquisition of military and strategic capabilities.”
But: Some targets faced headwinds.
- The strategy repeatedly calls for greater US engagement with countries in the region, particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In some cases, the United States actually withdrew from the region, including through Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and snubbing of ASEAN summits.
- The goal of showcasing the benefits of U.S. democratic values as a counterweight to China in the region also suffered a major blow with the recent armed uprising at the U.S. Capitol. These events led to the resignation of one of the strategy’s lead authors, former Deputy National Security Officer Matt Pottinger.
Note: India forms an important cornerstone of the aptly named Indo-Pacific Strategy.
- The document says enhanced US aid and intelligence sharing should help India in key areas of conflict with China, including cross-border disputes and water rights in the Himalayas. By 2020, India and China had their deadly military clashes along the border since 1967.
- But the relationship between the United States and India is complex. During the Cold War, India refused to place itself entirely in the Western camp instead of choosing leadership in the unadjusted movement. Meanwhile, the United States often tipped against Pakistan, India’s historic arch-rival in South Asia.
Background: The Trump administration launched a new official framework to see China and India as part of the same strategic region, the “Indo-Pacific,” beginning with its 2017 national security strategy.
- The U.S. Pacific Command was renamed the Indo-Pacific Command in 2018, in a move broadly considered a response to China’s rise.
Between the lines: Australia’s experience with China strongly influenced the preparation of the 2018 Indo-Pacific Strategy.
- “In many ways, they were at the forefront of understanding influence operations and interference in domestic systems,” a senior U.S. official told me. “They were pioneers and we have to give Australia a great honor.”
- The official praised former Australian senior information adviser John Garnaut and said a 2017 report on Chinese influence operations by New Zealand scholar Anne-Marie Brady had also influenced the US strategy.
Go deeper: The Foreign Ministry releases plan to counter China.