The US is finding time to play geopolitical word games with China in the midst of its war of words with North Korea.
Trump administration officials have started to refer to Asia as the “Indo-Pacific,” rather than the “Asia-Pacific” region, according to an article posted on Wednesday by news website Quartz.
“All of a sudden, ‘Indo-Pacific’ is appearing from across the administration,” said the piece by Nikhil Sonnad. “The White House schedule for the president’s ongoing trip to Asia used it four times, and didn’t use “Asia-Pacific” once. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, mentioned the “Indo-Pacific” over a dozen times in a speech on India given a couple weeks ago. National security advisor H.R. McMaster used it in a briefing given to the press about Trump’s Asia jaunt.”
It isn’t exactly the “Newspeak” of George Orwell’s novel “1984.” But Sonnad says it reflects a deliberate US effort to change how the world strategically views the region.
India’s President Narendra Modi made no secret of his desire to team with the US in countering China’s ambitions in Asia when he met with President Trump in Washington earlier this year.
The allusion to the Indian Ocean and using India as a pillar in an effort to “contain” China also fits with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s promotion of an “Indo-Pacific strategy.” Abe wants to draw the US, Japan, India, and possibly Australia, into a defensive alignment to offset China.
An unnamed White House official reportedly told PTI, an Indian wire service in Japan, over the weekend: “We talk about Indo-Pacific in part because that phrase captures the importance of India’s rise.”
What about China? That same White House official also said that the new term is “certainly not” meant to contain China. But Sonnad notes that using the term “Indo-Pacific” and emphasizing India, “makes China seem relatively less important.”
Whatever Washington says, Beijing is keeping a close eye on such word play.