The President of the United States made an important visit to Asia in late May. The current US administration aims to continue to implement the doctrine of the Pivot to Asia initiated during the first administration of Barack Obama. The policy of Joe Biden, vice-president in that administration, is a clear response to the growing threat posed to the countries of the anti-China alliance by Xi Jinping’s regime. Biden visited South Korea and Japan, where he participated in another summit of countries affiliated with the quadrilateral QUAD format.
There has been no doubt in recent decades as to the steadily growing economic and military position of the People’s Republic of China. According to the 2021 Global Firepower ranking, China’s armed forces are the third (after the United States and Russia) military power in the world, with an annual defense budget of $178.2 billion (USD). China has the largest army globally in terms of numbers – 2.25 million active soldiers and 3.25 million in total with its paramilitary formations. In the event of an emergency, the People’s Liberation Army of China can call up over 7 million people, it also has 216 million reservists.
China is also showing continuous economic progress. Since 2010, it has been the second-largest (after the US) and fastest-growing national economy in the world, with an average growth rate of 10% per year over the past several decades. Besides, this country is the global largest exporter and second-largest importer. The ever-increasing military and economic position of the regime in Beijing has given Xi Jinping an increasingly powerful platform to pursue his doctrine of the ‘Chinese dream’, manifested, among other things, in his growing territorial aspirations in the Indo-Pacific region. China’s rising interference is spreading throughout the entire world, but its most dangerous level can be observed in this area.
China’s aggression poses a threat to the allies and partners of the United States in the region: Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Taiwan. Australia has been exposed to such increased pressure, both economic and military, in recent weeks. It follows the agreement signed by the Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China, which may result in the creation of permanent bases for the Chinese army less than 2,000 kilometers from the Australian coast. According to The Guardian, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Kritenbrink, said the deal between Beijing and Honiara carries “potential regional security implications” for the United States and other allies. Kritenbrink also did not rule out military action by the US in the event of efforts to establish Chinese People’s Liberation Army military bases in the Solomon Islands. The American army has confirmed that US–Australian military exercises are planned to take place at the RAAF military base in the northern part of Western Australia this July.
The United States will also begin a high-level strategic dialogue with the Solomon Islands in September. The visit of Kurt Campbell, the top US White House official for Indo-Pacific affairs, to Fiji in April 2022, and the new Australian diplomatic minister Penny Wong following in his footsteps in late May this year should be seen as preparation for these negotiations. The September talks are expected to address common security concerns and improve cooperation on public health, finance, and other key issues. The Biden administration has also announced a plan to reopen its embassy in the Solomon Islands.
Other areas threatened by China are Taiwan, which is experiencing increasing tensions, border territories with Japan in the East China Sea, as well as areas in the South China Sea. China’s authoritarian turn under Xi Jinping and deteriorating relations with Washington have brought Formosa (Taiwan) closer to the sphere of influence of the United States. This has angered Beijing, prompting China to exert more pressure on Taiwan through numerous military exercises and provocations in border areas. Based on the implementation of the One China policy, Washington recognizes the existence of Xi Jinping’s regime as the legitimate government and recognizes its position that Taiwan is part of China. But the Americans have never accepted the claims of the Chinese Communist Party over Taiwan. The only approach that they will accept is the peaceful reunification of these areas according to the will of the people of Taiwan.
Recently, there has been an intensification of efforts to seize islands and atolls in the South China Sea. These are mainly areas belonging to neighboring countries under current international law – Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Vietnam, among others. They are highly strategic, as they are the gateway for most Chinese goods and the shortest export route to Europe. They are rich in natural resources and crucial for international trade. They have also been one of the flashpoints in China’s relations with its neighbors and the United States for more than a dozen years. Washington accuses Beijing of militarizing the basin and menacing other regional capitals to deprive them of access to their resources.
China recognizes almost the entirety of the South China Sea as its territory, and taking control of it is now one of Beijing’s main foreign policy goals. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recognized the illegality of all Beijing’s territorial pursuits and claims.
The Joe Biden administration’s response was the Indo-Pacific Strategy presented in February 2022.
The anticipated US actions include, among other things:
- investing in democratic institutions, a free press, and a vibrant civil society;
- improving fiscal transparency in the Indo-Pacific region to expose corruption and stimulate reform;
- ensuring that the region’s seas and skies are protected and used according to international law;
- establishing partnerships to build resistance in the Pacific Islands;
- building bridges between the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic;
- conducting integrated deterrence;
- expanding the presence and cooperation of the US Coast Guard against other international threats;
- fostering innovation to operate in rapidly evolving threat environments, including space, cyberspace, and critical and emerging technology areas;
- continuing partnership within AUKUS;
- maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
The White House strategy was also included in the Pentagon’s projected spending for fiscal year 2023. According to the budget proposal released by President Joe Biden on March 28, 2022, the Pentagon could have up to $773 billion available. The White House proposes $1.8 billion to fund the US Indo-Pacific strategy, including $400 million to counter the growing aspirations of the People’s Republic of China. To avoid dissolving the government, the US Congress must negotiate and pass this spending plan by September 30, 2022.
The United States is showing that, even in the times of the war in Ukraine, it is not losing sight of this threat, as evidenced by the recent actions of American diplomacy in Asia.
Joe Biden’s visit to the Pacific region began in South Korea on May 20, 2022, and lasted two days. During this time, the US President met with the recently sworn-in President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol. The conversation between the leaders of the two countries was no coincidence, as it was Yoon Suk-yeol who, in his election campaign, advocated a significant strengthening of bilateral relations between the United States and South Korea. The message promoted by the Korean politician is consistent with the voice of the majority of countries in the region, which resist China’s growing territorial and political aspirations. Indeed, the reason for the efforts to strengthen relations with Washington is not only the issue of the looming threat from North Korea but, above all, from the People’s Republic of China.
The talks between the two delegations resulted in a series of agreements, including cooperation in semiconductor manufacturing, batteries, civil nuclear power, space research development, cyberspace, and other emerging industries. The leaders of the two countries also aim to pursue South Korea’s economic diversification to make it as independent as possible from China, which remains the main South Korean trading partner.
The Biden administration is well-aware of the economic and defense potential of the Republic of Korea. A potential weakening of economic ties or complete severance of South Korea’s economic relations with China would translate into losses for Xi Jinping’s regime amounting to up to $150 billion annually. This is the value of Chinese exports to South Korea last year.
However, Korea is gradually severing its economic ties with the People’s Republic of China. As of April 2022, the value of its exports to China dropped by nearly $26 billion. In terms of military aspects, South Korea’s army is currently ranked sixth in the world, ahead of the UK and France, among others. Biden’s visit to South Korea is a clear response to China’s widening influence. It is also another partner strengthening the US position in the region, which gives a strong argument for the implementation of the Pax Americana doctrine in this region of the world.
After his visit to Korea, Joe Biden landed in Japan, where the group of key US partners in the region was joined by representatives of the QUAD countries. On Monday, May 23, in a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the US president firmly began his visit by assuring that, in the event of kinetic aggression by mainland China against Taiwan, the US will respond militarily. The words, spoken in the almost immediate vicinity of the People’s Republic of China, carry great significance and are a severe warning to the regime. They are a signal to Chinese communists that the United States is confident and ready to defend its hegemony in this region of the world.
As CNN reports, Biden’s comments quickly attracted Beijing’s attention, with China expressing “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to Biden’s comments, saying it would not allow any outside force to interfere in its ‘internal affairs’. Indeed, since the beginning of his term, Xi Jinping has been pursuing policies that are expected to lead not only to rapid economic and military development but also to ‘reclaim’ disputed territories for China.
During bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kushida, Joe Biden endorsed Japan’s plan to increase its defense capabilities, thus confirming cooperation between the United States and Japan in countering China’s growing influence in the Pacific. As the Republic of Korea, Japan is a leading military power in the region.
“The U.S–Japan alliance has long been a cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, and the United States remains fully committed to defending Japan,” Biden said at the start of talks with Kishida at the Akasaka Palace in central Tokyo.
In Tokyo, President Biden launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) with a dozen initial partners: Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Together, these countries account for 40% of the world’s GDP. Biden’s plan will focus on key pillars to establish high-standard commitments deepening the signatories’ economic engagement in the region. These include building new economic connections between the countries in the area, supporting small and medium companies, streamlining supply chains, making the economy more resilient to price changes, increasing the share of clean energy, decarbonizing the economy, making tax changes more effective, and preventing financial crimes.
During their quadrilateral meeting, the United States, Japan, Australia, and India presented an initiative to curb illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific. This is one of the latest efforts by QUAD members to counter Chinese activities in the region where China is responsible for 95% of illegal fishing.
QUAD leaders emphasized the need for free navigation in the East China Sea and the South China Sea and expressed opposition to the militarization of the disputed areas. However, many of the statements lacked a direct reference to China.
Strengthening ties with Pacific Island countries was also announced during the quadrilateral negotiations. This will involve bilateral and multilateral alliances. One reason for such declarations is the recent China’s agreement with the Solomon Islands.
The four allies ended Tuesday’s summit with a joint statement vowing an “unwavering commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region that is inclusive and resilient”.
Bilateral talks between the United States and India also took place on the sidelines of this summit. Joe Biden is well aware of the important role Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s country plays in the sustainability of the Indo-Pacific security arrangement. India, however, has not disavowed its links with the Russian Federation after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine three months ago. The two countries have long enjoyed friendly relations and close defense cooperation – over 50% of India’s military equipment comes from Russia. India buys the most weapons from Russia globally. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it has purchased more than $25 billion worth of military equipment from Russia over the past decade. Four times more than this country spent on US equipment.
During the meeting, Biden spoke first. The president highlighted the newly revealed economic plans of the anti-China coalition in Indo-Pacific waters, as well as ongoing efforts to support the production of the COVID-19 vaccine in India. Modi then presented his remarks, calling the Tokyo summit “very positive and productive.” He praised the US–India relationship as a “partnership of trust” and a force for global good.
Biden’s strategy in this relationship, however, is to build relations on the similarities between the two countries and their interests in the region. According to a senior US administration official, despite differences in the perception of human rights or relations with Russia, the United States is working hard to develop the cooperation of India with the Free World. Due to its economic and military potential, India could become one of the key countries involved in the showdown between the world’s two leading powers.
Tokyo was also a place of the meeting between Australia’s newly sworn-in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Joe Biden. Just three days before the start of the summit, the Labor Party won the election, and its leader became the new Prime Minister several hours before flying to Tokyo. The aim of the meeting between the leaders of the two countries was to reaffirm the strong alliance between the United States and Australia.
President Biden confirmed his continued support for the United States’ multilevel cooperation with Australia and his commitment to its further strengthening. The US President also praised Australia’s determined efforts to assist Ukraine attacked by the Russian Federation. The leaders of both countries also agreed that continued solidarity and assistance to Ukraine is a preventive measure to ensure that a similar event never happens in Indo-Pacific waters. From the official White House briefing made after the meeting, one can also learn that the politicians praised the progress of allied cooperation within AUKUS, and Albanese declared his full support for the US plan for an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
What is certain is that Joe Biden is working skillfully and confidently to strengthen the Indo-Pacific partnership. The US president spent his trip to Asia consolidating military and economic ties with leaders of the region’s leading democracies and discussing the potential intensification of joint military exercises with South Korea. Joe Biden also launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Only a united and economically and militarily strong QUAD member states and bilateral relations between the United States and its allies can contain the growing ambitions of the People’s Republic of China. The US President’s visit to Asia was another step in the implementation of the political doctrine of Pivot to Asia and the maintenance of Pax Americana in this region of the world.
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 Indo-Pacific Strategy, White House, whitehouse.gov, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/US-Indo-Pacific-Strategy.pdf.