After throwing Obama’s TPP out of the window, Asia experts in Washington were busy looking for alternatives to TPP which excluded China. Lo and behold, they found the term “Indo Pacific”! Trump dutifully brandished the term like a new toy before leaving for his longest tour to Asia. Indo Pacific became vogue in the media overnight. To spice up the alphabet soup, QUAD (comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia) was served up as a new strategy to slow, if not thwart, China’s rise as the predominant economic powerhouse in Asia Pacific.
There are two problems with that geostrategy. One, Trump is agnostic about multilateral trade arrangements, to put it mildly. Two, Australia, Japan and India, the other three co-conspirators in QUAD, have China as their largest trade partner. They aren’t about to jeopardize their trade relations with China by ganging up with America to antagonize Beijing. As one commentator put it : “Whatever their problems with China, America will not be the answer.”
China’s rise is inexorable. No one could disrupt, much less stop, China’s re-emergence without hurting itself more than it can hurt China. Moreover, China isn’t engaging in exclusive, zero-sum globalisation. As a major beneficiary of globalisation, China has stepped up to the plate to promote trade at a time when America is retreating from world trade behind the “America First” policy.
China isn’t “skilfully and relentlessly” easing America out of Asia. Over the last decade, Chinese leaders have repeatedly told American politicians that the Pacific is big enough to accommodate both China and America.
Most Asian states and many European nations have hitched on to the bandwagon of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the new frontier of trade and investment in the 21st century. The question facing nations, big and small, is NOT how to contain China’s rise, which will be futile and counterproductive. Rather, the question is how they can derive the most benefit from the new world economic order offered by BRI.