PROTECTING A FREE AND OPEN INDO-PACIFIC REGION

National Interest on July 31, 2018, published an article on US policy in the Indo-Pacific region. According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo free and open means all nations will be able to protect their sovereignty from coercion and enjoy open access to seas and airways. Excerpts below:

Mike Pompeo [recently] announced a $25 million initial investment for a digital connectivity and cyber-security partnership to help develop internet infrastructure in the region.

Financially, that’s small potatoes compared to China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative. But China’s program focuses on linking Indo-Pacific countries to China. The U.S. program is about opening the Indo-Pacific to the world.

But perhaps the most important thing about Pompeo’s regional diplomatic offensive is its focus on promoting private-sector investment. China’s investments in the region are state-led and state-run. That means there are lots of diplomatic strings attached, as everyone in the region understands.

There’s only one country that wants to close the Indo-Pacific, and that’s China. It won’t succeed anytime soon, but China’s closure strategy has been successful in at least important patch at the heart of the region, the South China Sea. By militarizing the waters at the very center of the Indo-Pacific, China has thrown down a gauntlet in front of all of its maritime neighbors. China knows that its neighbors are too weak to actively resist, even if they have no interest in joining China.

The U.S. Navy regularly runs freedom of navigation operations(FonOps) in the South China Sea to remind the world that China does not own the global commons.

Those U.S. ships and planes need a stable base from which to operate and—in an emergency—at which to find refuge….The Navy and Air Force both need a safe harbor in the backyard of the Indo-Pacific, and they seem to have found it in Australia’s northern outpost of Darwin.

On May 30, the storied U.S. Pacific Command was officially renamed the Indo-Pacific Command…Pompeo defined the Indo-Pacific as a region stretching “from the United States west coast to the west coast of India.” Over at the Department of Defense, that just happens to be the exact territory covered by USINDOPACOM.

Though USINDOPACOM is headquartered in Hawaii and is responsible for major U.S. deployments in Japan and South Korea, the two maritime cornerstones of American power in the Indo-Pacific are Guam on the right and Diego Garcia on the left. Now Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, is falling into place as the keystone at the center of the arch.

The American arch around the South China Sea is a defensive posture. China’s military buildup, like its Belt and Road Initiative, is fundamentally about offense.

As Pompeo stressed in Washington, “where America goes, we seek partnership, not domination.” In eastern Europe, NATO has a program it calls the Partnership for Peace . [The American] Indo-Pacific initiative could become a civilian equivalent in Asia.

The United States has had an open-door policy in Asia for more than one hundred years. It has always been based on business first, and force only as a last resort. Pompeo’s Indo-Pacific initiative fits squarely in that time-honored tradition. The architecture of a free and open Indo-Pacific may be supported by the military arch, but its upper stories will be built by private enterprise, and its doors will be open to everyone—including China.

Comment: From a geopolitical standpoint the American initiative is welcome. There are now three cornerstones in the Indo-Pacific Partnership of Peace: Diego Garcia, Darwin and Guam.

It may be time to think about the Southeast Pacific where Chile’s rapid economic growth and stable politics has shifted trade and strategic orientation to the Asia-Pacific away from the Southern Cone of South America.

The geopolitical significance of the South Pacific is increasing.

Easter Island, known locally as Rapa Nui, is situated more than 3,218 kilometers (2,000 miles) west of mainland Chile. Its control from the mainland is possible through a substantial military presence in capital Hanga Roa.

Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888. After the constitutional reforms of 2007, it extended Special Status. The islands are mainly inhabited by Polynesians, who at times call for self-determination within the Pacific Islands Forum.

Another Chilean island possession is the Juan Fernández Islands, are populated predominantly from mainland Chile.

Chile has a long coast and its maritime geography includes 6,435 km of coastline, 4,300 km on the mainland and the remainder distributed along Chile’s Antarctic and Pacific Island territories.

The maritime territory, including its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, covers more than 4.5 million square kilometers.

Chile aspires to have expeditionary capabilities similar to those of other South Pacific maritime powers such as Australia. The maritime expansion in the Southeast Pacific should be welcomed by other regional maritime powers, such as Australia.

It is quite possible that Chile in the future could have to decide if it wants to join the Pacific Partnership of Peace. This would lead to greater cooperation with the United States and Australia.

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