New Delhi, INDIA – President Donald Trump has been in office for a little under 10 months. In this time, he hasn’t been solely focused on revamping domestic policies, but also on remaking America’s foreign policy. American policy for the vast region between India and Australia, for decades, has been referred to as the “Asia-Pacific”.
Now however, as Trump embarked on his 12-day Asia tour, a ‘new’ term is starting to gain mainstream and more importantly, official status: Indo-Pacific.
Axios sat down with Richard McGregor, a longtime Asia correspondent and former Financial Times bureau chief to read between the lines. McGregor noted that such a switch indicates a new language for America’s role in Asia. It attempts to bring India permanently into the US web of alliances and its a precursor to a new partnership in the region between the US, India, Japan and Australia.
The usage of the term is already becoming popular. National Security Adviser, H. R. McMaster, used it repeatedly while previewing Trump’s trip to Asia in front of reporters. Trump himself used the term publicly while remarking at a cabinet meeting last week. During his visit to India, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, used it at least 15 times.
Although the term itself is not recent, its prescribed application shows a clear plan and strategy. North Korea in the short-term and China in the long-term pose threats to American interests. A revised strategy in dealing with such actors is most basic step in reorganizing and re-prioritizing relations. “A free and open Indo-Pacific speaks to that vision, that we want to see the continued stability. we want to reaffirm our commitment to the continued stability of this region, allowing for freedom of navigation, allow fort he marketplace and free markets, really, to drive the prosperity of this region”, a White House official said.
The Trump administration’s efforts are a clear indicator and a clear message for the US and India to strengthen ties even more as a way to balance China. “The United States supports India’s emergence as a leading power and will continue to contribute to Indian capabilities to provide security throughout the region,” Tillerson noted during a joint press-conference with Swaraj, the minister for external affairs.
Interestingly, Tillerson also touched upon India’s diplomatic ties with North Korea as the US continues and escalates its efforts to isolate Pyongyang. Swaraj responded by stating that although relations with Pyongyang exist (to the extent of a presence of embassies in either capitals), such basic access must be maintained to keep channel of communication open. India has already moved to ban trade of goods, except food and medicine, to join the US in its efforts.
What makes for good news is the strengthening of Indo-US relations and an official acknowledgement from the US, with respect to India’s capability in play a definitive goal in its region. The US must naturally see India as a partner in the region. That is pivotal for a stable and prosperous ‘Indo-Pacific’.