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Declassified U.S. Strategy in Indo-Pacific: Denying China Sustained Air and Sea Dominance

Less than a week before the end Trump’s first term, on January 13, the Trump administration just declassified a national security document—its 2018 strategic framework for the Indo-Pacific. It includes but is not limited to preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence; enabling Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defense strategy and capabilities’; and strengthening the capabilities and will of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Australia to contribute to the countering of China’s aggression.

According to ABC Australia, the document was previously classified “secret” and “not for foreign nationals.” It was officially declassified 30 years earlier than would normally be the case. This approach was unusual and it is believed that Trump was trying to put pressure on the next administration to avoid a major alteration of the China’s policy.

The document is 10 pages long with a number of redactions. It listed measures to enable the U.S. to maintain diplomatic preeminence in the Indo-Pacific region. It stressed that China and North Korea pose grave threats to the security of the region. U.S. strategy is to align with those of Australia, India and Japan to create a quadrilateral security framework to counter China’s growing economic aggression while enabling Taiwan to gain the defense capabilities to engage China on its own terms.

In the sections about China, it emphasized that the objective is to “prevent China’s industrial policies and unfair trading practices from distorting global markets and harming U.S. competitiveness; and to build an international consensus that China’s industrial policies and unfair trading practices are damaging the global trading system. It laid out actions including working closely with allies and like-minded countries to prevent Chinese acquisition of military and strategic capabilities; broaden the scope of the Committee on foreign Investment in the United States to cover venture capital and other forms of investment by China; and adopt domestic policies that promote growth in key technologies.”

Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at ANU, said, “This is a highly significant document. It is extraordinary that it has been released decades early. … This strategic framework is very forthright on China — not quite confrontational but very firm.”
1. Radio Free Asia, January 13, 2021

2. ABC Australia, January 12, 2021

3. The White House, January 12, 2021