For the United States, the Development of an Indo-Pacific geostrategic concept was to provide an alternative model for Countries that were charmed by China’s multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a Senior Official from the US Department of State said in Jakarta on Monday.
The Indo-Pacific is an evolving concept for a regional order straddling the Indian and Pacific oceans interpretations of which vary depending on the interests of countries in the region. Observers have said the concept was aimed at containing China’s expansion through the BRI.
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said it was important for all Countries to have alternatives and not be told that there was only one option.
“When we hear ‘One Belt One Road’, it sounds interesting, but why does it have to be one? What about the multiplicity of alternatives?” he asked in a discussion held on Monday by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI).
The Indo-Pacific concept gained ground in recent years after being mentioned by many world leaders on different occasions, particularly by US President Donald Trump during his Asia tour in 2017, although the idea has been around since 2003.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the BRI in 2013 in a modern attempt to revive the ancient route connecting Asia and Europe known as the Silk Road. President Xi’s initiative also aims at building new links between China and Countries in the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Sri Lanka’s failure to meet its BRI-related debt obligations to China, which ended with the port in question being leased to a Chinese company for 99 years, has often been used by critics to point out how the program constituted a possible debt trap.
“I think most countries now realised there is an inherent risk of falling into a debt trap and there are predatory investment and trade practices that China does engage in,” Hale said.
President Xi rejected such criticisms at the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last Friday, saying that the implementation of the BRI would promote transparent and clean Governance. He also pledged to adopt accepted international standards for procurement and bidding.
Last month, Indonesia held a high-level dialogue on Indo-Pacific cooperation with representatives from the 18 members of the East Asia Summit (EAS), including the US and China, to have an open discussion about the evolving Indo-Pacific concept.
The meeting focused on the key elements and principles for the development of Indo-Pacific Cooperation.
Hale said the key elements from the US Indo-Pacific concept was to achieve maximum economic growth, particularly by using the private sector model of the US, which had made the biggest investment in Southeast Asia.
He claimed that the US private sector has invested more than US$900 billion into ASEAN.
“It’s far more than any other Government can do and certainly more than what you’ve seen from China, Republic of Korea, Japan and India put together.”
Good governance and security cooperation were other key elements of the US Indo-Pacific concept, he added.
However, the concept was still not an American driven concept but rather shaped by all Countries, he said, as the US also gathered ideas from all the potential partners in the Indo-Pacific region. During his visit to Indonesia, Hale met Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, as well as ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi.