The US has sensationally declassified a key secret strategic document, revealing its plans to counteract China’s unrelenting desire for control in the Indo-Pacific.
The US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, finalised by the Trump administration in 2018, has been released to the public decades earlier than anticipated.
The document, which vows to prevent China from “establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence”, provides reassurance to Australia that the US was committed to defending allies, following a torrid 2020 in terms of Sino-Australian relations.
Outgoing National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien explained the strategy’s goal was to ensure the US’s allies “can preserve and protect their sovereignty”.
Releasing the document he said informed its partners of the US’s ongoing “commitment to the vital region”.
“This confirms that US strategic policy in the Indo-Pacific was in substantial part informed and driven by allies and partners, especially Japan, Australia and India,” Head of the National Security College at the Australian National University Rory Medcalf explained for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Policy to stop China’s dominance in South China Sea
Australia has broached repeated accusations of coercion from Beijing, much to China’s annoyance and such a robust stance from the Morrison government has led to a severely strained relationship and economic sanctions as punishment.
“The framework’s warnings of China’s affronting assertiveness and the expansive authoritarianism of the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping have proven prescient,” Professor Medcalf said.
“They’ve been borne out by events, from the geopolitics of the pandemic and wolf warrior ‘diplomacy’ to the crushing of Hong Kong, intimidation of Taiwan, violent clashes with India and coercion against Australia.”
There was also light shed on a defence strategy to ensure China did not have dominance in the South China Sea, an area which has proved highly contentious in recent years due to several nation’s claims to the area and a number of disputed islands.
Such a strategy may explain a surge in US Navy missions in waters surrounding China, a move which has infuriated Beijing and prompted several warnings.
Prof Medcalf believes one possibility for its release is to put pressure on incoming president Joe Biden to continue to challenge China in the region.
Former Australian PM’s role in document
The document also provides a sense of coherence to Trump’s plans amid the US’s own downward spiral in terms of its relationship with China, fuelled by Trump’s unpredictable ramblings about China, particularly during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in which he repeatedly labelled Covid-19 the “China virus”.
It was a part of a foreign policy approach former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull called “erratic” on Wednesday.
Mr Turnbull, who is believed to have played a key role in the shaping of the strategic plan, said Australia had a mutual desire to “stand up against coercion”.
“We had a clear-eyed, realistic view of the tensions in this region [and] the need to maintain and strengthen our allies” he told ABC News Breakfast.
He said the released document showed a “thoughtful” approach to the Indo-Pacific region from the Trump administration.
‘Lies will be lies’: China responds to document
On Wednesday evening, China hit back at the document’s release, insisting it “maliciously distorts” China’s intentions and insisting China is a “builder of world peace”.
“It hypes up the so-called “China threat”. However, lies will always be lies and justice will prevail,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
“We hope the US side will discard the Cold War zero sum mentality.”
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