On 5 April 2019, Walter Douglas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the US Department of State in Washington, D.C., presented the Donald Trump Administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FIOP) strategy which comprises three pillars – economic, security, and governance. FOIP, he said, builds on the security-oriented Asia-Pacific Rebalancing under the then Barack Obama Administration, and adds the Indian Ocean region as an extended geographical focus, especially India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka in addition to Northeast and Southeast Asia sub-regions.
The Trump Administration continues to be heavily invested in focusing military capabilities and resources to the Indo-Pacific region, building on the previous Rebalancing strategy. But it is the economic and governance pillars that truly distinguishes FOIP from its previous incarnation, DAS Douglas said. There is a recognition that Southeast Asia in particular has a significant, outstanding infrastructure developmental requirement, the capital demands for which only the private sector can possibly fulfil.
As such, while the US Government would not direct and dictate private sectors in their investments in Southeast Asia like how some other countries would have done with state-owned enterprises, it would seek to create an environment in those prospective host countries conducive for these corporate players to invest in. The whole idea is to promote the development of good governance in these countries such that a transparent, rules-based investment climate makes it attractive and appealing to the corporate sector.
Good governance, DAS Douglas pointed out, would therefore lead to sustainable development. He also shared that at the recent High Level Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific Cooperation hosted by Indonesia, there were some notable convergences in the ideas on the Indo-Pacific put forth by ASEAN, Australia, Japan, and the US. Still, DAS Douglas emphasised that FOIP is inclusive, and not targeted against anyone in particular.