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The reasons the Trump administration declassified China policy document at the last minute

By Kenji Minemura, senior staff writer


The Trump Administration will release an internal report, “A Memorandum on the Strategic Framework in the Indo-Pacific,” that was compiled in February 2018. The document “engendered a paradigm shift in the U.S. policy toward Asia,” according to a source at the White House. 


Throughout the report there is a strong sense of alarm about China. It denounces China’s attempts to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its partners and nations friendly to it. The report warns that China is trying to dominate the 21st century global economy by undermining U.S. competitiveness. Following the compilation of the report, the Trump administration launched a trade war against China and started deciding on a number of hardline policies toward Beijing. 


The document, originally classified “secret,” will be released in the very last days of the administration. There are two reasons for this unusual timing.


The first reason is that China has recently been stepping up its aggression near Taiwan and the Senkakus. The post-election upheaval in the U.S. has created a power vacuum. Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, who oversaw the administration’s Asia policy, stepped down after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. It is hoped that the document’s release will deter the Chinese government from exploiting the situation to further expand its power before the Biden administration’s policies get on track.


The second reason concerns the new administration’s approach toward the Trump administration’s free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative. According to a statement released by the U.S. government, President-elect Biden used “secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” instead of FOIP, to describe the initiative during a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in November.


Although the Biden administration is expected to conduct its China policy in cooperation with its allies, as National Security Advisor-designate Jake Sullivan has stated, no further details have been disclosed about the policy itself. There have been few people named to fill senior posts related to Asia. With domestic sentiment toward China worsening, the outgoing administration may be using the document to apply pressure on the incoming government to maintain the current hardline policy toward China.

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