Pacific News Minute: President Trump Use of “Indo-Pacific” a Message for Beijing

Nov 9, 2017

Asia Pacific? Or Indo-Pacific?
Credit Wikimedia Commons

You hear the term “Asia Pacific” here on Hawaii Public Radio a lot. It’s the term most journalists and scholars use to describe our part of the world, and it’s in the name of the organization whose conference President Trump will attend later this week in Vietnam. But as he tours the region, the President has been using a different term – “the Indo-Pacific.” And, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, it’s meant to convey a message.

There’s no consensus on the origin of “Indo-Pacific.”

The Straits Times cites usage by then Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa in 2012. Or maybe it came from an Australian Defense ministry document. Politico reports that its been around in foreign policy circles for years, and was occasionally uttered by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

Lately, it’s been gaining circulation in Japan, in the headquarters of U.S. Pacific Command, and, this past month, there’s been a barrage of “Indo-Pacifics” from senior administration officials and now from the President himself.

Analysts say that the term describes a more expansive stretch of the world with India and the United States as strategic bookends. Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College told the Straits Times that there’s no mistaking the message.

“When you’re talking East or South East Asia, China dominates,” he said. “But when you widen the aperture, there is a countering force.”

U.S. officials swear it’s in no way meant to diminish China or to suggest containment, but the Chinese won’t  believe that and will have taken careful note of naval exercises earlier this week in the Sea of Japan, where the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group conducted drills with a Japanese destroyer and two warships from India.