Indo Pacific Strategy and China
American President Biden announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in Japan ahead of QUAD summit with partners during an official visit to Asia. Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi termed the IPEF 'divisive' and designed to shape the region into protectionist economic blocks. IPEF is another failed attempt by the US to contain the growth of the Chinese economy and decouple its East Asian trading partners. The strategy has been initiated due to China's successful Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), where the countries are building together a shared future for the region. This strategy and ambition by the US will only create division, further chaos, and instability in the area.
To know core elements of IPEF will help us understand Washington's intentions and map its objectives in the Indo-Pacific region. The primary purpose of IPEF is to limit the growth of the Chinese economy, weaken its alliances and divide the economy. IPEF has four pillars: trade; supply chains; clean energy and infrastructure; and tax and anti-corruption.
The US intends to achieve prosperity, sustainability, and development while promoting peace and mutual respect. IPEF is joined by Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Quad members, including Japan, Australia, India, and the USA.
This economic framework does not enjoy universal support of the US Congress as several Democrats and Republicans criticized the initiative by President Biden.
China makes a critical assessment and maintains that the US lacks the economic muscle and political influence to reconcile the regional states to its favor. This was reiterated by the Chinese State Councilor, who spoke to the 78th Session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and asserted the significance of Asia-Pacific as a whole region whose unity ought not to be disturbed and economy must not be diluted.
In a manner, China has negated the US notion of Indo-Pacific, which in essence disregards the actual geographic landscape of Asia and its linkages with the Pacific Ocean by narrowing it down to the union of the Indian and Pacific oceans. Political terminologies do not change geographic realities unless later takes precedence. The Asia Pacific is the wholesome terminology that covers the complete landmass of Asia and its associated seas, which can never be overpowered by the fragile terminology of 'Asia Pacific."
Asia is the largest continent and any initiative without universal participation is fragile. Although it talks about labor wages, business costs and post-pandemic challenges, can this be achieved by leaving three-quarters of Asia out of this alliance? This economic framework definitely seeks to undertake unilateral measures to decouple the global economy, create two parallel economic systems, sanction technology to regress growth, and manipulate the supply chains. With these objectives at heart, these are impractical and imperial steps to sabotage multilateralism in the world.
If we look at the region from the economic perspective, China has evolved very liberal trade relationship with ASEAN nations and signed Free Trade Agreements. The US has not been part of RCEP Free Trade Area which makes it vulnerable to trade. India was initially part of which but later withdrew on unspecified reasons but protection of its own goods could be one reason.
In these economic dynamics, China is more suitable, cost-effective and a reliable partner with transparent practices in the region.
In essence, the whole narrative of comprehensive framework and a broad scale response to China is weaker because China does not oppose any economic initiative but what it asserts is multilateralism, not discord and confrontation. If the US has been able to exhibit good will of economic growth in the region, it should not have ignored the second largest economy of the world, China.
（Muhammad Asif Noor, the writer is Founder Friends of BRI Forum）