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[Research Reports] The Formulation Process of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)

Sanae Suzuki (Associate Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo)
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Research Group on 'The Indo-Pacific' FY2021-# 2

"Research Reports" are compiled by participants in research groups set up at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, and are designed to disseminate, in a timely fashion, the content of presentations made at research group meetings or analyses of current affairs. The "Research Reports" represent their authors' views. In addition to these "Research Reports", individual research groups will publish "Research Bulletins" covering the full range of the group's research themes.

1. Indonesia's diplomacy and the background to AOIP

For Indonesia, which led the efforts resulting in the announcement of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), the concept of "the Indo-Pacific" was a familiar one. In May 2013, the Indonesian foreign minister had announced the concept of an "Indo-Pacific Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation". Although ASEAN member states did not support this initiative, the draft treaty is said to have been grounded in the spirit of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and called for the easing of tensions between major powers and the maintenance of ASEAN centrality1. This basic line is reflected in Indonesia's proposals leading up to the AOIP.

The Jokowi administration, which came into power in 2014, positioned Indonesia as a maritime nation under the Global Maritime Axis or Global Maritime Fulcrum concepts, and declared its intention to promote international cooperation in the maritime domain, with the Indo-Pacific at the core. Indonesia tried to utilize the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for this purpose. From 2015 to 2017, Indonesia held the IORA presidency and sought to advance maritime cooperation there.2 In other words, Indonesia did not seem to have initially intended to use ASEAN to promote this new foreign policy.

It was the Trump administration's announcement of its own Indo-Pacific policy in November 2017 that prompted Indonesia to propose the Indo-Pacific concept as an ASEAN concept3. The US policy emphasized cooperation that excluded China in the face of intensifying confrontation4, including trade disputes, between the US and China. Wary of China but eager to emphasize its relations with China through economic cooperation such as infrastructure development, Indonesia was concerned that the United States' policy would link exclusion of China with the Indo-Pacific concept. In addition, the Jokowi administration viewed the institutionalization of the Japan-US-Australia-India Strategic Dialogue (Quad), which garnered attention as a framework for Indo-Pacific cooperation, as a move to downplay Indonesia5. India's emphasis in early 2018 on ASEAN's leadership to ensure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region is also thought to have encouraged Indonesia6.

2. From initial reluctance of ASEAN members to the announcement of the AOIP adoption

At an informal ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in February 2018, Indonesia proposed that ASEAN make public an Indo-Pacific vision. From an early stage of this proposal, the principles that would form the core of the AOIP framework were presented, e.g., embedding the principles of being open, transparent and inclusive7; making the East Asia Summit (EAS), in which both the US and China participate, the institutional basis for cooperation8; respecting cooperation and friendship as well as international law9; and cooperating in areas such as maritime affairs, greater connectivity and sustainable development10. The message this sent was one of using the EAS as a platform, emphasizing inclusiveness, and seeking cooperation in ways that include China, in contrast to the US' Indo-Pacific policy.

Indonesia circulated a concept paper incorporating these elements to fellow ASEAN member states in August 2018. However, the reaction of ASEAN countries was generally negative or indifferent11. The Philippines and Cambodia were reported to be the most negative12. There was also a dispute over the name of the initiative, with Indonesia proposing "ASEAN's Indo-Pacific Concept" and Malaysia suggesting "ASEAN Inter-Oceanic Concept"13. As this indicates, member states were at odds over how the United States and China would react to the announcement of an Indo-Pacific initiative. These differences in opinion reflect the circumstances of respective ASEAN countries that have different security relationships vis-à-vis the United States and China14. No agreement was reached at the summit held in November 2018, and the matter was deferred until the following year15.

At the beginning of 2019, member countries continued to discuss the Indonesian proposal at the urging of ASEAN Chair Thailand. Thailand seems to have proposed incorporating the principles of TAC16, while Indonesia stressed those aspects of the proposal aimed at promoting economic growth rather than those concerning security17. Thanks in part to these efforts, the member states approved Indonesia's concept paper in March18. To the very end, though, Cambodia at China's behest urged that the language "freedom of navigation and overflight" be removed, while Singapore persuaded the member states to maintain the wording19. Singapore, at the same time, called on member states to hold off on the AOIP announcement and engage in a little more discussion20. Furthermore, the Indonesian proposal had also included specific activities such as developing a master plan for Indo-Pacific connectivity, holding Indo-Pacific forums on sustainable development goals as well as on safe navigation and natural disaster preparedness, but these were removed21. In other words, the ASEAN countries could agree on announcing guidelines for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific (despite remaining at odds until the end) but not on how to implement them.

3. The AOIP and Japan

The AOIP released in June 2019 called for non-interference in internal affairs, openness, inclusiveness, respect for international law, emphasis on dialogue rather than competition, enhancement of maritime cooperation and connectivity, cooperation on SDGs and other economic matters, as well as cooperation within ASEAN-led frameworks such as the EAS. Acharya's analysis indicates that China's concerns were taken into consideration by not listing "freedom" as a principle, and those of the United States addressed by inserting "freedom of navigation"22. The AOIP received a flurry of support from countries outside the region followed by declarations of financial support for infrastructure development. Sharing the principles spelled out in its own Free and Open Indo-Pacific Policy (FOIP) and in the AOIP, Japan has agreed to pursue cooperation with ASEAN on high-quality infrastructure through enhanced connectivity.

However, ASEAN has not reached a consensus on how and what kind of cooperation should be pursued under the AOIP23. The process by which the AOIP was formulated even gives the impression that Indonesia strong-armed member states reluctant to announce the AOIP. Other member states may well regard the AOIP not so much as an ASEAN agreement as an Indonesian policy designed to encourage maritime and infrastructure cooperation. On the other hand, all ASEAN member states would welcome the AOIP as a catalyst for various kinds of support from non-ASEAN countries. In other words, certain pragmatism is present in the sense that any framework is acceptable that leads to substantial cooperation. However, member states are likely to have differing views on the details and methods of such cooperation.

While understanding such situation, Japan needs to utilize the AOIP to advance the cooperation it wants to realize under the FOIP. There is already a link between developing high-quality infrastructure and strengthening ASEAN connectivity. Infrastructure development is an area in which non-ASEAN countries are competing to support ASEAN countries. Japan should underscore the high quality of its subregional (Japan-ASEAN, Japan-Mekong, etc.) cooperation and the infrastructure development assistance it has heretofore provided to member states, and propose new projects to achieve further qualitative improvements. In doing so, it is important to focus on subregional cooperation and on bilateral cooperation with member countries while emphasizing the ASEAN framework. It is because Indo-Pacific cooperation is more likely to resemble a network of countries interacting and connecting with each other in a variety of ways rather than a collection of states bound together by a particular international regime. This will enable cooperation that accords with the differing circumstances of ASEAN member states. For example, one idea is to promote bilateral infrastructure cooperation with Indonesia, the original proponent of the AOIP, and present it as a model case of cooperation under the AOIP. Such flexible cooperation will also support the implementation of the AOIP, which remains for the moment an abstract set of principles and policies.

1 Tamotsu Fukuda (2014) "Initiative for an 'Indo-Pacific Treaty' with ASEAN: Japan's Diplomacy in the 'Indo-Pacific' Era" Interim Report for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Diplomatic and Security Research Program; Tamotsu Fukuda (2015) "ASEAN and the 'Indo-Pacific': Japan's Diplomacy in the 'Indo-Pacific' Era" Final Report for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Diplomatic and Security Research Program.

2 Shofwan Al-Banna Choiruzzad (2020) "The confluence of the two seas: the rise of the Indo-Pacific region and ASEAN Centrality. In: Ergenc, Ceren (ed) ASEAN as a method: re-centering processes and institutions in temporary Southeast Asian regionalism. Routledge.

3 Amitav Acharya (2019) "Why ASEAN's Indo-Pacific outlook matters", East Asia Forum. Accessed on 23 September 2021.

4 The Straits Times, 10 November 2017

5 New Straits Times, 7 March 2018; The Straits Times, 21 January 2018

6 The Straits Times, 8 January 2018

7 The Jakarta Post, 8 February 2018

8 The Jakarta Post, 26 March 2018

9 The Jakarta Post, 9 May 2018

10 The Jakarta Post, 10 September 2018

11 The Jakarta Post, 15 August 2018

12 Bangkok Post, 4 December 2018

13 The Jakarta Post, 6 November 2018

14 Choiruzzad (2020)

15 The Jakarta Post, 16 November 2018

16 The Jakarta Post, 13 March 2019

17 The Jakarta Post, 20 March 2019

18 The Jakarta Post, 13 June 2019

19 Bangkok Post, 2 July 2019

20 The Jakarta Post, 13 June 2019

21 Bangkok Post, 28 June 2019

22 Acharya (2019)

23 Nazia Hussain (2019) "ASEAN joins the Indo-Pacific conversation", East Asia Forum. Accessed on 23 September 2021.

(This is an English translation of a Japanese paper originally published on November 19, 2021.)