- Charmaine Misalucha-Willoughby
In 2017, US President Donald Trump announced a new Indo-Pacific security strategy of fortifying partnerships in the region. The strategy advocates a Free and Open Indo- Pacific (FOIP), the crux of which is the active participation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad, which includes the US alongside Japan, Australia, and India). As such, the strategy presupposes strategic convergence amongst the members of the Quad in terms of what “free and open” and “Indo-Pacific” mean. However, while the Quad values a rules-based international order, each member has in place different sets of mechanisms towards achieving that end. This is indicative of the members’ preference to be independent of a US-led umbrella. It is precisely the ambiguities surrounding the FOIP that pose two problems for Southeast Asia. First, the ambiguities surrounding the strategy engender an uneven reception by Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Second, a free and open Indo-Pacific likewise poses a problem for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The paper concludes by identifying strategies to strengthen the conceptualization of the FOIP and thereby make it resonate more with Southeast Asia. These include broadening the scope of the strategy and improving the US’ bilateral relations. In addition, the set of recommendations confronts the waning role of ASEAN and the need for new types of arrangements, not least of which are minilaterals, to address shifting regional realities.