By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, July 10 (EFE).- The geopolitical term ‘Indo-Pacific,’ used by the United States and its allies, has been increasingly used over the longstanding ‘Asia-Pacific,’ preferred by China, in the diplomatic sphere to define the Asia region, mired in the battle for influence between the two superpowers.
This clash of terms and influence is also taking place within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which this week is holding a meeting of its foreign ministers and those of its external partners such as the US, China, India, Japan and Australia, and others.
ASEAN is one of the forums that includes the most countries in the world (it has 10 member states) and discusses issues such as the economy, geopolitics and security, while trying to maintain a neutral position between Beijing and Washington.
ONE REGION, TWO TERMS
Although the term Indo-Pacific has been increasingly used in ASEAN discussions and documents in recent years, such as in 2019’s “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” the bloc also continues to use Asia-Pacific.
Both concepts refer to more or less the same region between the Pacific and Indian oceans, but Indo-Pacific highlights the India and Oceanian connections, while Asia-Pacific places the emphasis on the continent, with China prominent.
“Different ASEAN countries tend to prefer one or the other. Official Indonesian documents now mostly use the term Indo-Pacific, reflecting the importance the Jokowi government has placed on the maritime domain,” said Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar from the Research Center for Politics, National Research and Innovation Agency in Indonesia.
“I think the terms can coexist. Indo-Pacific directly relates to the increasing salience of the Indian Ocean as well as India’s rise. If India and the Indian Ocean are not part of the activities, the the term Asia-Pacific would be more appropriate,” the expert told EFE.
The use of Asia-Pacific began to spread in the 1960s and prevailed in the following decades, being used in the formation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which aspires to create a free-trade area between 21 nations and regions.
The executive director of the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defense Dialogue (AP4D) think tank in Australia, Melissa Conley Tyler, said that “the term Indo-Pacific has a long history, dating back to the 19th century. It has come back into vogue since it was revived around 2005, particularly in US, Indian and Australian debates.”
“How we divide geography into regions is always a construct that sends certain messages,” she added.
ABE AND TRUMP
Japan’s late prime minister Shinzo Abe was one of the leaders who pioneered the use of Indo-Pacific in a speech to Indian parliament in 2007, but it was former US president Donald Trump who gave the term the biggest boost in 2017 by enshrining it in the diplomatic language of his country.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue group (Quad), formed in 2007 and consisting of US, Japan, Australia and India, is an example of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which is viewed with animosity by Beijing.
“Facts will prove that the so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy is in essence a strategy that creates divisions, incites confrontation and undermines peace,” China’s top diplomat Wang Yi said in May last year.
Mexico’s University of Guadalajara professor Arturo Santa-Cruz told EFE in this sense that “the popularization of the term Indo-Pacific has a clear geopolitical component, and in this sense it has been used by Washington to exclude Beijing of the vast geographical area covered by said concept.”
However, Santa-Cruz qualified that, although ASEAN “has been opting for the term Indo-Pacific,” it does not mean that it uses it with the same definition and meaning as Japan or the US.
Professor Anwar said that Indonesia uses Indo-Pacific with a “more neutral connotation” to refer to the regions of Southeast Asia, Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and that ASEAN has tried to convince Beijing that the concept is not anti-China.
While Asia-Pacific has resonated more in the economic sphere and Indo-Pacific in the geostrategic, experts agree that the two terms will coexist, although they may evolve differently. EFE