The United States’ Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy puts forward a vision for the region in which states are free to make sovereign economic and strategic decisions without coercion, where liberal values and good governance principles are practiced, where freedom of the commons is respected, and where open trade and investment environments are maintained.
The core aim of the US Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy is to defend the post-World War II US-led liberal democratic order from being eroded in the region as a result of actions and policies of autocratic states. The US National Security Strategy of 2017 names China as the principal ‘revisionist’ actor in the region whose actions and policies have already challenged key aspects of the liberal order.
Although Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper does not specifically use the terms ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ it advocates a very similar vision for a rules-based order in the region based on complementary principles.
To promote the virtues of its authoritarian model as a superior alternative for developing nations, China has supported autocratic regimes around the world, including throughout the Indo-Pacific where its efforts are underwriting autocratic resilience and democratic stagnation.
Democracy promotion is an important and currently underappreciated counter-strategy to China’s autocracy promotion, a trend which undermines key elements of the common US and Australian vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.