Timeline of Significant Indo-Pacific Policies
By: Tracy Liu
Prior to the 2010s, international leaders and experts referred to Asia-Pacific as a description of Asia’s entirety and the western Pacific Ocean, resulting in the region's boundaries being defined by the discourse and its context. The term did not make its way into the geopolitical discussion and was mostly used in marine biology, oceanography, and biodiversity purposes. However, Japan, Australia, the U.S., and India began to adopt the term Indo-Pacific and included the term in the geopolitical context in the 2010s. “Indo-Pacific” gradually replaced “Asia-Pacific” in government documents and official dialogues as states incorporated India and the Indian Ocean into the region and responded to China’s rising economic, political, and military power. The following timeline tracks the major events and policy decisions that pushed Indo-Pacific, a term once used mostly in biology, into the heart of American and Chinese foreign policy.
(more perspectives from the U.S. and Chinese governments will be provided and updated in the near future)
August 27 2002
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives a speech to the Indian Parliament, drawing India closer to Japan along with the U.S. and Australia under the cooperative partnership of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). The speech titled “Confluence of the Two Seas” refers to the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, initiates the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific and marks the beginning of the significance of the Indo-Pacific region. During Abe’s visit to India, he and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sign two Joint Statements known as “The Roadmap for New Dimensions to the Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan” and the “Enhancement of Cooperation on Environmental Protection and Energy Security.” These statements would further strengthen the India-Japan allyship by recognizing the shared interests for a peaceful and prosperous Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region.
China POV: The Economic Daily reports Abe’s “Confluence of Two Seas” speech completely ignores how East Asia has become a region with increasing economic interdependence over the past decades. Moreover, Abe’s concept contradicts the common sense of the geographical extent of Asia by incorporating the U.S. and the entirety of the Pacific Ocean.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches the Act East Policy — a diplomatic initiative to foster economic infrastructure as well as strategic and cultural relations within the Asia-Pacific region. The policy, a direct response to China’s rise in military capabilities, coercive actions, and economic power, is a recast of its 1991 Look East Policy. Act East slightly differs from Look East as the former focuses on the link between India’s Northeast region and the ASEAN countries. Furthermore, the 2014 Indian policy calls for cooperation with Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision and South Korea’s New Southern Policy. Japan’s FOIP vision promotes peace, cooperation, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific through free and open connectivity and collaboration of countries in the region. South Korea’s New Southern Policy seeks to enhance its ties with ASEAN countries through peace and close cooperation. The Act East policy would go on to cultivate infrastructure development in various countries like Japan, South Korea, Australia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
China POV: The Global Times reports how India’s “Act East” policy engages in more proactive military cooperation with the U.S. and Japan than its “Look East” policy. India’s deepened ties with the U.S., Japan, and Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar and Thailand represent a rising economic and geopolitical competitor to China in the Indo-Pacific.
Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announces the Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative to promote civil society, rule of law, and transparent and accountable governance across the Indo-Pacific region. The initiative includes over 200 programs and focuses on anti-corruption and prosperity that mirrors the U.S. vision to maintain a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”. The U.S. policy includes working with Japan and ASEAN to counter transnational crime and promote the development of infrastructure, energy and the digital economy along the Mekong river. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) would also partner with the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (WGDP) to support women’s economic empowerment in Papua New Guinea, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
China POV: Xi attends the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and emphasizes China’s commitment to its cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries. By focusing on economic integration, trade and investment facilitation and sustainable development in the region, he encourages APEC countries to follow the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development for inclusive and green development.
Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. revives the QUAD as the QUAD 2.0 in response to China’s rise in geopolitical ambitions, military capabilities, and economic power. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden release a joint statement known as “The Spirit of the QUAD”. The statement reaffirms the QUAD’s shared vision for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific as well as their commitments to counter threats in the region. Moreover, the QUAD announces to increase equitable access and the production of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Indo-Pacific as a response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. By coordinating with the World Health Organization and the COVAX Facility, the QUAD has delivered almost five million doses of COVID vaccines to Cambodia and 200,000 doses to Thailand.
China POV: Xinhua News reports that the QUAD’s shared vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific is an attempt to create division and incite confrontation in China’s neighboring countries such as Taiwan and India. The QUAD excluded China from its membership and summits despite China’s geographical location in the Indo-Pacific and its openness to cooperating with regional countries, resulting in China believing that the QUAD’s purpose is to “encircle China”.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announces the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which combines the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”. The plan aims to promote economic and military development and invest in transportation infrastructure throughout Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. Through BRI expansion, China hopes to “build a global community of shared future” where the world prospers through peace, development and cooperation. One of the BRI’s agendas includes infrastructure connectivity where BRI countries will cooperate with China to build railways, roads, shipping and pipeline infrastructure. These initiatives would ultimately help reduce transportation costs of goods and services as well as creating mutual benefits and developments for China and BRI countries like Indonesia, Somalia, and India.
The State Council of the People’s Republic of China issues a white paper, an informational report on a specific topic, detailing its policies for Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation. The white paper promotes peace and stability in Asia-Pacific through economic integration, partnership development, multi-national cooperation, institutional establishment, military exchanges, and proper conflict resolution. Additionally, it expresses China’s willingness and commitment to work with the U.S. and other countries such as Myanmar and Japan to build a solid economic foundation for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and follow principles of mutual respect and beneficial cooperation. Take for example China’s implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that aims to reduce the global developmental gap and increase regional economic integration. (English version of China’s white paper on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation)
The U.S. releases the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (IPSR) that solidifies its interest and commitment to peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific through “preparedness, partnerships, and the promotion of a networked region”. The report also acknowledges China’s increasing military capabilities and coercive actions in Taiwan and the South China Sea in addition to Russia’s increasing military and strategic forces in the Sea of Japan and Southeast Asia. The report states the U.S. Department of Defense’s efforts to strengthen alliances, increase resilience, and promote trilateral multilateral intra-Asian security partnerships i.e. the South Korea-Japan-U.S. trilateral partnership.
China POV: The Global Times reports the U.S. IPSR focuses on restraining China’s economic and geopolitical presence in Asia-Pacific. As China continues its economic and trade relations with the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), it has already cooperated with countries like Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu to combat climate change, share environmental protection experiences, and deepen infrastructure development. Particularly, China held South-South cooperation training sessions for PICs to build green and low-carbon development since 2019.
February 2022: The White House publishes the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy where the U.S. pursues five objectives in the Indo-Pacific region: to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific; build connections within and beyond the region; drive Indo-Pacific prosperity; bolster Indo-Pacific security and build regional resilience to 21st Century transnational threats. This Strategy differs from the previous U.S. Indo-Pacific policy in that it greatly emphasizes the U.S.’s commitment to cooperation and partnership with regional countries, particularly with small nations such as Sri Lank and Maldives. This Strategy also hints at the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework which aims to establish higher labor and environmental standards in Indo-Pacific.
China POV: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi comments on how the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy is bound to be a failed strategy due to its erasure of achievements and development fostered by regional countries’ joint efforts. He also emphasizes that East Asian affairs should be governed by the people living in the region as China — an important member of the region — is committed to peace, stability, mutual benefit, and inclusion of East Asian development.