Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

The Trump Administration's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific": Issues for Congress *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

The Trump Administration's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific": Issues for Congress *

Article excerpt


President Donald Trump called for a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP) in his remarks to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, in November 2017.3 Congress has a substantial role in overseeing the FOIP initiative and setting resource levels for its policies. As it considers this role, Congress may consider broad U.S. strategy-including the level of priority placed on the Indo-Pacific region within the overall U.S. strategy; the proper strategy for managing China's rise as a global power; and the long-term role the United States seeks to play in the Indo-Pacific region (See map below) It has the opportunity to consider questions about resources and policies, and whether existing levels of appropriation for U.S. military activities, State Department operations, foreign assistance, public diplomacy, and other policy tools are proper for pursuing a FOIP strategy. It may also consider whether the initiative is properly balanced among security, economic, and diplomatic initiatives, and whether regional allies and partners are sufficiently incentivized to play a role in supporting U.S. goals and interests.

The report outlines the development of the FOIP initiative through policy statements and speeches before discussing some of the critique of the initiative. The report also considers the response of key regional states- including India, Japan, Australia, and China-before identifying issues for Congress, relevant policy documents, and legislation related to the strategy.


Through a series of statements and reports, the Trump Administration has outlined a goal to promote a "free and open Indo-Pacific" region (FOIP) which also seeks to integrate U.S. strategy toward East Asia and South Asia, two regions that have often been addressed in relative isolation. The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) defines the Indo-Pacific as stretching from "the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States."4 Others have defined the Indo-Pacific region more broadly to include the western reaches of the Indian Ocean littoral as well.5 The Administration's FOIP concept remains relatively amorphous, but in recent months Administration officials have begun to make policy announcements that further develop the strategic concept.

The free and open Indo-Pacific concept adopts many elements of previous administrations' policies. It also responds to a number of challenges deriving from China's continuing economic growth and military modernization, and from its increasingly assertive and outward-reaching economic and security policies.

The Administration's NSS, argues that, "a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region." It further states, although the United States seeks to continue to cooperate with China, China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.... China presents its ambitions as mutually beneficial, but Chinese dominance risks diminishing the sovereignty of many states in the Indo-Pacific.

For some analysts, the Trump Administration's FOIP initiative echoes the Obama Administration's policy of "strategic rebalancing" to the Asia-Pacific. That initiative sought to promote rules-based political, economic and security regimes for Asia, and under which the United States joined the regional East Asia Summit (EAS) grouping, concluded agreements with Australia and the Philippines to allow U.S. troop rotations, pledged to shift U.S. naval posture to give greater weight to the Asia-Pacific, and concluded the 12-nation TPP (though it did not ratify the pact).6 The Trump Administration has continued many of these initiatives, with the notable exception of its decision to withdraw the United States from the TPP.

The Trump Administration has pursued other initiatives in the IndoPacific region, including diplomacy with North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and the imposition of broad-based tariffs against Chinese goods and on steel, aluminum, and autos, which affect others in the region, particularly Japan and South Korea. …

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