President Joe Biden began his first diplomatic mission to Asia since taking office on Thursday, hoping to demonstrate that the United States remained focused on fighting China even as his administration staged a war against Russia. in Europe.
With his quirky strategy of pivoting foreign policy attention to Asia effectively inflated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden has now moved on to the argument that there can be no compromise. between Europe and Asia and that only the United States can bring together the democracies of East and West to oppose autocracy and aggression in both spheres.
For Biden, finding his balance between the two imperatives will require geopolitical maneuvering that would challenge any president. Competing demands on his time and attention were on display Thursday as he crowded into a last-minute White House meeting with the leaders of Sweden and Finland to hail their decisions to join NATO before heading to Joint Base Andrews to board Air Force One. for the long flight to South Korea. And days before that, Biden had hosted Southeast Asian nations at the White House to detail new investments in clean energy and maritime assets, part of an effort to prevent China from dominating. the Indo-Pacific.
“What the administration is trying to do is credibly add to their assertion that America is back as a world leader and the idea that the world is not two theatres” , said Evan S. Medeiros, a researcher at Georgetown University who served as an Asia adviser to President Barack Obama during the design of the first pivot to Asia. “It’s, ‘Hey, I’m not going to forget you; it is not a choice between Europe and Asia.
The war in Ukraine will no doubt follow Biden through stops in Seoul and Tokyo, hovering above his talks with the leaders of South Korea, Japan, Australia, India and India. others. At the same time, administration officials fear that North Korea could use the president’s trip to re-enter the global agenda with a face-to-face test of a nuclear weapon or an intercontinental ballistic missile, reminding all dangers beyond Ukraine.
“We are preparing for all eventualities, including the possibility of such a provocation occurring while we are in Korea or Japan,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters this week before Biden does not leave Washington. Sullivan has consulted with his counterpart in China in recent days to raise, among other things, the prospect of a North Korean provocation.
Biden’s trip is also meant to reassure allies in the region who have been rocked by President Donald Trump’s unorthodox approach to Asia. Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact brokered by the United States intended to counter China’s growing economic influence. He has repeatedly questioned US troop commitments in South Korea and the mutual defense agreement with Japan, while engaging in what he called a ‘love affair’ with Kim Jong One from North Korea.
Bruce Klingner, a longtime CIA Asia analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said South Korea and Japan were increasingly worried about North Korea’s capabilities and Trump’s threats to pull out. of the region. “Biden should provide unequivocal assurances of America’s dedication to the defense of our allies and affirm America’s extensive deterrence guarantee of nuclear, conventional and missile defense forces,” he said.
A few recent studies have concluded that although US political influence in the region increased again with Trump’s departure, the US continued to lose economic influence due to the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“The biggest criticism of the administration in Asia right now is that it has no economic strategy and is ceding ground to China,” said Michael J. Green, the Center’s new CEO. US studies in Australia and former advisor for Asia. to President George W. Bush.
To address this, Biden plans to unveil a new Indo-Pacific economic framework, which is a pale shadow of a full-scale trade pact, but will set out various mutual priorities such as digital trade and supply chain security. . US officials hope it will be joined by many countries still members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Green called it an important first step, but one that behind the scenes the Japanese, Australians and others find insufficient at the moment – although they are unlikely to say so publicly. “A big part of their interest is to show that the United States is back and China is not going to write the economic rules,” Green said.
Matthew P. Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that unless the Biden administration provides greater access to the U.S. market, nations in the region will seek direct funding to developing infrastructure and the digital economy. “I think a lot of partners will look at this list and say, this is a good list of issues. I’m happy to be involved,” said Goodman. “But, you know, are we going to see any tangible benefits from our participation in this framework?”
In crafting the economic framework, Biden administration officials focused in part on labor and environmental standards. But without the benefits of lower trade barriers, other countries may be reluctant to make costly commitments.
“The bottom line is that the United States doesn’t come to the table with market access,” said Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Asia-Pacific studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And that’s the trade piece. This is what the region is looking for.
During stops in Seoul and Tokyo, Biden will meet two new partners who are both seen as more aligned with U.S. priorities and likely to have good chemistry with the president, according to Green and other analysts and officials. The first, President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea, was sworn in on May 10 and has taken a tougher approach to China and North Korea than his predecessor, while the second, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, was elected in October and enjoys a level of popularity likely to keep him in office throughout Biden’s term, unlike the frequent revolving door governments in Tokyo.
“Inevitably, North Korea is going to come to the fore on the agenda of a Biden-Yoon summit,” said Scott A. Snyder, director of U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The mere fact that this speculation exists compels both leaders to talk about extended deterrence, how it works, and to try to deepen our shared security and defense commitment.”
While in Tokyo, Biden will also meet other leaders of the so-called Quad – the United States, Japan, Australia and India – his second time sitting with his counterparts in a bloc intended to resist the Chinese hegemony in the region.
With the Australian election scheduled for Saturday, it was still unclear who would attend the meeting on Tuesday.
But perhaps the most complicated factor is how Biden approaches Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been reluctant to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for fear of undermining security ties with Moscow. Additionally, Biden’s promise to fight autocracies around the world will be tested with Modi, who has marginalized and slandered Muslim minorities.
But the president’s aides said he could pressure the international campaign to thwart Russian aggression while navigating the diplomatic complexities of the Asia-Pacific region and reaffirming America’s role in that part of the world. .
“He remains focused on the success of our efforts in these missions,” Sullivan said, “but he also intends to seize this moment, this pivotal moment, to assert bold and confident American leadership in another vital region of the world. world.”
Peter Baker and Zolan [email protected] The New York Times Company
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