The Trump administration has said that China’s strategic intentions and trajectory in the Indo-Pacific are destabilising and counterproductive, reiterating its pledge to maintain the region free and open. Randall Schriver, Assistant Secretary of Defence, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, during a Congressional hearing told lawmakers that the US will continue to pursue a constructive, result-oriented relationship with China, but it will not accept policies or actions that threaten to undermine the international rules-based order.
“Our approach to the region and our strategy to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region accounts for our relationship with China. “China should and does have a voice in shaping the international system, as do all countries. However, in recent years, we have grown concerned by China’s strategic intentions and trajectory, including some activities in the region that we view as destabilising and counterproductive in the South China Sea, for example,” he said yesterday.
“We will stand up for and defend that order, and we will encourage others to do the same; and although we are committed to cooperating with China where our interests align, we will compete, vigorously, where our interests diverge,” he said. Schriver said America’s vision for the Indo-Pacific region excludes none as it seeks to partner with all nations that respect national sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade and the rule of law.
“Although we accept that states will make some decisions that are not in our interests, we recognise that for the Indo-Pacific region to flourish, each nation in the region must be free to determine its own course within a system of values that ensures opportunity for even the smallest countries to thrive, free from the dictates of the strong,” he said.
“Our aim is for all nations to live in prosperity, security, and liberty, free from coercion and able to choose their own path,” the senior Pentagon official said. Testifying before the same subcommittee, Alex Wong, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said “free” and “open” used to describe the Indo-Pacific region were chosen with care, because they embody the principles the US sought to embed in the region.
The term “free” means first, on the international plane, that we want the nations of the Indo-Pacific to be free from the coercion of outside powers, he said.
Nations should be able to pursue their own paths in a sovereign manner free from the weight of spheres of influence, he added. “Free means, at the national level, we want the societies of Indo-Pacific nations to become progressively more free—free in terms of good governance, in terms of fundamental freedoms, and in terms of transparency and anti-corruption,” Wong said.
“Open” first and foremost, means open sea lines of communication and open airways, the State Department official said. These open sea lines of communication, particularly those in the South China Sea, are the lifeblood of the region, he noted. “Secondly, we mean more open connectivity in the form of quality, best-value energy, transport, and digital infrastructure that’s driven by private capital investment. Third, we mean more open investment environments and free, fair, and reciprocal trade,” Wong said.
“A better investment environment and an equal and open playing field for trade benefit US businesses and workers. But they also benefit indigenous innovators and indigenous entrepreneurs who will be more empowered to drive economic growth in their home countries,” he added.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the waterway. The US periodically deploys its naval ships and fighter planes to assert freedom of navigation.