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The Securitization of Indo-Pacific Trade and Its New Geo-Economic Paradigms

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Abstract: The US administration is ramping up pressure on India, Japan and Australia to put up a trade and security cordon around China’s geopolitical advancement in Asia. This is part and parcel of the new US strategy for Chinese containment in the Indo-Pacific rim. This paper argues that the securitization of regional trade and investment is the key feature of the American “surround-and-enforce China” strategy, so to speak. Indeed, it appears that the US administration is planning to revive the so-called Asia-Pacific “Quad” security forum including also Japan, India and Australia. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) was established in 2007 upon Japanese initiative much to Chinese annoyance, but soon ceased after then-Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd withdrew his country to signal a closer relationship with China. Many things have changed in the past decade, so much so that the new Quad would go beyond maritime security cooperation also to coordinate alternatives for regional infrastructure financing to that offered by China. It should come as no surprise that Xi Jinping’s major-power diplomacy and trade expansion are leading conservative China-hardliner governments in the US, Japan, India and Australia back into the Quad. With the worst economic consequences of the Great Recession now tamed, the four democratic countries have more breathing space to come together and deal with China’s appetite for global influence. The sense of anti-China urgency is evident in the simultaneous anti-dumping policies that the Quad countries are revving up against China. Technically speaking, China’s legal position to neutralise the anti-dumping tactics of the liberal democratic Indo-Pacific bloc is rather weak, as the World Trade Organization law applied to the letter could be easily used against China’s industrial policy. Trump’s Asia strategy is thus taking shape. In essence, the master plan is that the US will be facilitating a coordinated anti-dumping barrage over China’s heavy industries in exchange for maritime security with a close range of key geo-economic partners. Japan’s precarious relationship with China is urging this development, and Australia is set to cross the Rubicon on China relations. This explains why the US administration is wooing India into a game-changing alliance against China. Trump’s surround-and-enforce China strategy supersedes and somehow sublimates his predecessor Barack Obama’s hedge-and-engage approach. To escape the perceived Thucydides trap, the US is thus accelerating toward an Asian balance of power within a new bipolar order that echoes Nicholas J Spykman‘s Rimland Theory. Spykman was famously prescient of the Eurasian struggles in the Cold War and of the resulting rise of China in the global stage, and memorably wrote, “Who controls the rimland rules Eurasia; who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world.” Ultimately, this paper questions whether the Sino-American trade and investment relationship is falling into Spykman’s paradigm or otherwise, and the possible geo-economic implications of new trade patterns for the Asian and Pacific middle powers using Australia’s trade securitisation dynamics as a case study.

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