Beatriz Pascual Macías
Washington, Sept 7 (EFE).- US President Joe Biden has placed his most valuable pieces on the Asia-Pacific chessboard: his goal is to slow down the dizzying rise of China and to achieve this, he has woven a network of alliances to create small but influential coalitions, such as the new Aukus and the relaunched Quad.
Biden intends to consolidate his Asia strategy with a visit to India for the G20 summit on September 9-10, followed by a stop in Vietnam.
This will be his third trip to Asia since entering the White House in January 2021: the first was to South Korea and Japan in May 2022, while the second was to Cambodia last November for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and to Indonesia for the G20.
The US reorientation toward the Asia-Pacific has been years in the making. It began in 2012 with former Democratic President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” (2009-2017) and continued with Republican President Donald Trump’s insistence on a “free and open Indo-Pacific” (2017-2021).
Biden followed the strategy laid out by his predecessors. Still, unlike them, his words were quickly translated into action with the active participation of senior administration officials, including himself, in Asia’s most important forums.
The key to Biden’s strategy in Asia is a type of partnership that experts call “minilateral,” formed between three or four countries it is more flexible and has precise objectives, Jeffrey Hornung of the Rand think tank explained to EFE.
An example of these new “coalitions” is the tripartite Aukus pact (an acronym for Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), created in September 2021, which has already resulted in a project to equip Canberra with nuclear submarines.
The US leader has also managed to revive the Quad, the defense alliance of Japan, the United States, Australia, and India, created in 2007 and dormant for years.
Also, last month, Biden persuaded South Korea and Japan, old enemies, to sign a trilateral security pact with the US.
A STRATEGY OF DETERRENCE AGAINST CHINA As Sameer Lalwani, an Asia expert at the United States Institute of Peace, pointed out to EFE, “China is not always the headline in Biden’s Asia policies, but the content of the text is usually full of references and allusions to China.”
One of the main points of tension is Taiwan, whose sovereignty is claimed by China and which Washington promised to defend when it signed the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, albeit under a policy known as “strategic ambiguity” that doesn’t make clear whether the US would intervene if China attacked the island.
Another area of tension is the South China Sea, which contains some 11 billion barrels of oil and is disputed by China, Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
In the face of Beijing’s advances in the South China Sea, where the United States wants to maintain the “status quo,” Biden signed an agreement with the Philippines in April that gives its troops access to four bases there.
Also, the US and Vietnam are expected to sign a pact making them “strategic partners” and allowing Hanoi to improve its semiconductor production.
Vietnam benefits from strengthening its ties with the US to assert its independence from China, but that does not mean it is an ally of Washington. In fact, Hanoi is also a “strategic partner” of China and Russia, and when it comes to trade, it usually opts for China.
THE TASK AHEAD: TRADE Beyond geopolitics, Asian countries need access to the US market.
However, during Trump’s presidency, the US took a protectionist turn when it withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in 2017.
Biden pushed for creating the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in 2022, in which the United States and 12 countries in the region committed to promoting sustainable economic growth. Still, it falls far short of the TPP.
As the United States considers its next move on this crucial front, China continues to move forward and has become Southeast Asia’s largest trading partner. EFE