The architect of the Indo-Pacific policy

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The architect of the Indo-Pacific policy

The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

There are several keywords the U.S. government repeatedly uses when explaining its Asian policy. First, the region is not referred to as Asia, but is called “Indo-Pacific.” In February, the document compiling the Biden administration’s Asia policy was published under the title “Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

The economic consultative body the U.S. had launched in Tokyo in May is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Expressions like a “rule-based international order” and “freedom of navigation” are also used often. They mean checking on China and defending democracy and market economy.

Unexpectedly, the “origin” of these terms and concepts is the late Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister. The beginning was his speech at the Indian Parliament in August 2007, titled the “Confluence of the Two Seas.” Citing a book with the same title written by a Mughal prince in 1655, Abe argued that the Pacific and Indian Oceans are the seas of freedom and prosperity and that boundaries should be broken down. The concept of “Indo-Pacific” was designed to include India, the world’s largest democracy, while China, belonging to the Asia-Pacific, is excluded.

It was during the Donald Trump administration that the U.S. government adopted the concept of Indo-Pacific in its policy. The Trump administration announced the concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in late 2017, 10 years after Abe delivered the address to India. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger admitted that the phrase was “borrowed” from Abe. The Biden administration, which focuses on erasing Trump’s policy, not only kept the Indo-Pacific strategy but also enhanced it. The QUAD, comprising America, Japan, India and Australia, was also inspired by Abe. It was initiated by Trump and developed into a summit in the Biden administration.

The background of the cooperation between Japan and the United States is China. They need to contain the rise and threat of China. The reality that America is limited to directly engaging in Asian affairs also played a part. In 2011, the Barack Obama administration declared a “Pivot to Asia” policy and decided to shift the central axis of foreign policy to Asia. But his objective was not achieved. The U.S. could not afford to pay attention to Asia as it was engaged in the Middle East and Europe. Japan also needed to protect its national interests after sensing the threat from China over the Senkaku Islands and a dispute over rare earth materials.

You can pursue your interests, but you can achieve nothing if you seek after your interests only. The Indo-Pacific concept was the fruit of a politician’s belief, will and strategy to maximize Japan’s national interest and enhance Japan as a global leader. Seeing Washington insiders grieve Abe’s death, I wonder if Korea has such a leader.
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