The Indo-Pacific and Asean centrality

The Indo-Pacific and Asean centrality

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu (centre, in black) with Asean heads of government arrive to attend the 'At Home' reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace after the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, in January. (Reuters photo)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu (centre, in black) with Asean heads of government arrive to attend the 'At Home' reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace after the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, in January. (Reuters photo)

Even though US President Donald Trump repeatedly alluded to it in his speeches at Asean-led summits in Danang and Manila late last year, and despite its reference in both the United States National Security Strategy and National Defence Strategy, the geographic notion of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP) straddling both the vast Pacific and Indian oceans has been given short shrift in many capitals. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested last March that the Indo-Pacific was only an "attention-grabbing idea", akin to "the sea foam in the Pacific and Indian Ocean" that "may get some attention but will soon dissipate". Asean leaders have paid some attention but have not had a collective and cohesive reaction to it. But now everyone in Asian security circles and beyond will take notice.

The bold and sudden renaming of the United States' "Pacific Command" into the "Indo-Pacific Command" will surely attract attention. The FOIP is now a living concept and a serious geostrategy to be reckoned with, peddled by a quadrilateral group of countries, led by Japan, in close partnership with Australia, India and the US. A new acronym in Asia's regional architecture and its contested regional order, the FOIP had its origins just over a decade ago when Japanese Prime Minister Abe invited India to join what was a trilateral strategic dialogue. The consequent "quad" is now seen as the FOIP's main driver, although the Indo-Pacific strategy is region-wide and multilateral, open to inclusion from other countries.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak teaches International Relations and directs the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

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Thitinan Pongsudhirak

An associate professor at Chulalongkorn University

An associate professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, with more than 25 years of university service. He earned his MA from The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and PhD from the London School of Economics where he was awarded the UK’s top dissertation prize in 2002.

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