Silk Road Headlines_21st December, 2018

Among the news items and analyses from this week, an interesting article sheds some light on how ‘interested’ third parties, such as Australia, have been re-calibrating their foreign policy in a global governance context characterized by ever-increasing fluidity [Australia’s diplomatic course between China and the United States]. Especially in the Asia-Pacific, longstanding alliance systems are being put to the test by the US’ increasingly withdrawn approach, which stands in stark contrast with China’s dynamic global outreach. In this light, it should not come as a surprise that Australia, despite the domestic turmoil of the past year, has been carefully seeking a balance between tough talk on Beijing’s challenge to US hegemony in Asia and the more pragmatic message that regional military modernization poses no real threat.

While Canberra is by no means explicitly detaching itself from Washington, it is nevertheless possible to detect increasing self-reliance vis-à-vis its Western ally. For example, while in early 2018 Washington rescinded an invitation to China to participate in RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Exercise) in response to bomber landing drills in the South China Sea, Australia didn’t dis-invite Beijing from participating in Exercise Kakadu for the first time. This, along with other similar instances, seems to confirm the trend that few US allies are willing to follow the Trump administration into its self-made corner of global isolationism and Cold War rhetoric, especially when China comes into the picture.

The search for a balance between steadfast commitment to the US and openness to China’s burgeoning connectivity plans is also evident in Japan [Tokyo’s Indo-Pacific vision could definitely do with sharper teeth]. Since 2017, Japan’s strategic vision towards the Indo-Pacific region, the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ (FOIPS), has drawn international attention. On the one hand, the FOIPS stresses how it is imperative for Tokyo to ensure Washington’s strategic commitment to the region. On the other hand, however, the strategy is remarkable in its explicit reference to non-exclusivity, leaving Japan’s options open for cooperation with China in the future, which is of particular interest considering the recent thaw in Sino-Japanese relations.

Francesco S. Montesano