DANANG, Vietnam (Reuters) - China does not feel targeted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s use of the term “Indo-Pacific” during his trip to Asia, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Saturday, but added China needs to understand the concept better.
“Indo-Pacific” has grown in usage across diplomatic and security circles in Australia, India and Japan in recent years, shorthand for a broader and democratic-led region in place of the “Asia-Pacific”, which to some places an authoritarian China too firmly at the centre.
Trump and his team have given it fresh currency in recent days, starting in Tokyo and Seoul, building on the rhetoric of his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who last month talked of the need to support a “free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific”.
Although he was addressing a meeting alongside the APEC summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in the Vietnamese city of Danang, Trump on Friday repeatedly referred to the Indo-Pacific region and mentioned the importance of India in his speech.
Asked about Trump’s remarks on the “Indo-Pacific”, Zhang Jun, Director General of the Department of International Economic Affairs of China’s Foreign Ministry, said there had not been a lot of discussion of the topic, but China needed to understand the idea of the “Indo-Pacific” better.
“Frankly speaking, based on my observation, there has not been much discussion around this topic during this meeting because, quite simply, this meeting in Danang is the APEC leaders’ meeting. All parties’ focus is mainly on the issue of Asia-Pacific development,” he told reporters in Danang.
“President Trump did not say it was targeting China, so there is no reason to believe it is targeting China,” he said.
“No matter what the strategy is, it should be open, inclusive, and embody equality, mutual benefit and respect, as opposed to serving the goals and interests of a small group countries. I want to emphasise that this is an APEC meeting. Our main focus is Asia-Pacific cooperation,” he added.
China has been busy promoting President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative, a massive infrastructure scheme to recreate the ancient Silk Road, linking Asia with Europe and beyond, which critics charge is more about spreading Chinese influence.
China says it is simply a development project for common prosperity that any country is welcome to join.
Speaking earlier in the day at the summit, Xi reiterated China’s commitment to further opening its economy and sharing the benefits of its development with the world, adding that Belt and Road was an opportunity for that.
“China is willing to take this as an opportunity to deepen policy communication with partners in the Asia-Pacific,” Xi said, in comments carried by state news agency Xinhua.
Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ros Russell