Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy aims to rein in China via alliances with S. Korea, Japan

Posted on : 2022-02-14 17:09 KST Modified on : 2022-02-14 17:09 KST
Washington appears to perceive the strain in relations between Seoul and Tokyo as a stumbling block in responding to China and North Korea
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference following a trilateral meeting of foreign ministers from South Korea, the US, and Japan in Hawaii on Saturday. (AP/Yonhap News)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference following a trilateral meeting of foreign ministers from South Korea, the US, and Japan in Hawaii on Saturday. (AP/Yonhap News)

The administration of US President Joe Biden has put forward a strategy for the Indo-Pacific with the chief aim of containing China’s rise.

In particular, the Biden administration’s foreign policy has stressed the importance of alliances, with a noticeable emphasis on the role of allies in the Quad framework and trilateral cooperation with South Korea and Japan.

A 12-page document titled “Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States” released by the White House on Friday referred to the US as “an Indo-Pacific power,” stressing that the US would “focus on every corner of the region, from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, to South Asia and Oceania, including the Pacific Islands.”

The document shared the Biden administration’s strategic perceptions and plan of action in connection with the “Indo-Pacific,” a concept which was established during the administration of predecessor Donald Trump with an eye toward reining in Beijing. The US Defense Department published an “Indo-Pacific Strategy Report” in June 2019, while Trump was in office.

Citing “mounting challenges, particularly from the [People’s Republic of China]” as a reason for focusing more on a region that is of growing strategic and economic importance to the US, the Biden administration referred to China as “combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power.”

The strategy further said the US plans to “manage competition with the PRC responsibly.”

“Our collective efforts over the next decade will determine whether the PRC succeeds in transforming the rules and norms that have benefitted the Indo-Pacific and the world,” it predicted.

Stressing that efforts to achieve the goal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” have to start with the US’ allies and partners, the strategy said the US was “deepening [its] five regional treaty alliances” with Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. It also mentioned the strengthening and modernization of its relationships with allies as “strategic means” and “strategic ways” of achieving goals.

Its reference to the five allies and partners as “our single greatest asymmetric strength” also signaled Washington’s intent to make active use of them in keeping China contained. As additional means of cooperation, the strategy referred to the Quad — a strategic security dialogue among the US, Japan, India, and Australia in response to China — and an “Indo-Pacific economic framework” that it plans to put forward early this year to target China in the economic realm.

This contrasts the strategy adopted by the Trump administration, which disregarded allies on important matters.

The strategy singled out relations between Seoul and Tokyo in its reference to plans for encouraging stronger relationships among partners and allies. While it included various “action plans” for achieving its strategic goals, it also stressed, “Nearly every major Indo-Pacific challenge requires close cooperation among the United States’ allies and partners, particularly Japan and the ROK.”

This reflects Washington’s perception that the strain in relations between Seoul and Tokyo is becoming a stumbling block in responding to China and North Korea.

While the strategy mentioned the administration’s willingness to pursue dialogue with North Korea, it also announced the US’ intent to strengthen its extended deterrence in response to the North’s nuclear armament.

In the strategy, the administration said it would “continue to seek serious and sustained dialogue, with the goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and addressing its ongoing human-rights violations and improving the lives and livelihoods of the North Korean people.”

At the same time, it noted that the US was “strengthening extended deterrence and coordination with the ROK and Japan to respond to DPRK provocations, remaining prepared to deter — and, if necessary, defeat — any aggression to the United States and our allies, while bolstering counter-proliferation efforts throughout the region.”

By Lee Bon-young, Washington correspondent

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