The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is a free trade agreement (FTA) led by China, was provisionally concluded on Nov. 4. In response, the United States Department of State released a report stressing the need for more involvement in the Indo-Pacific region. Although the United States Department of Defense released a report on the same region in June this year, the latest report is the first report of the State Department that covers the region.
In that report, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that U.S. involvement in the Indo-Pacific region has always been one of the top priorities of the Donald Trump administration and the two regions are very closely related with their bilateral trade volume amounting to US$1.9 trillion.
In addition, the report said that the United States is further strengthening its partnerships with countries sharing the same vision, such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. When it comes to India, which is yet to join the RCEP, the term of strategic partnership was mentioned. According to the report, the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy is in step with Japan’s and Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategies, India’s Act East Policy and South Korea’s New Southern Policy.
The State Department remarked in the report that the United States and its allies are coping with North Korea’s nuclear proliferation activities and carrying out U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions, the United States is increasing its support for its partners in the region against malicious cyber activities of North Korea, China and Russia, and the nine-dash line China drew in the South China Sea is ill-founded and illegal.
The report can be regarded as an effort to keep China in check, which is the very purpose of the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy, with China expected to lead trade in the Indo-Pacific region based on the conclusion of the RCEP.