November 15, 2021

Assessing the Biden Administration’s Policy Toward the Indo-Pacific

By Jacob Stokes

Well into the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency, assessments of his administration’s foreign policy have already begun to appear. Several commentators have attempted to identify a “Biden Doctrine” to little avail. However, none have yet examined Biden’s policy toward the world’s most critical region: the Indo-Pacific. The administration’s opening months have produced tangible wins and presented a generally coherent theory of success in regional affairs. But the next phases are likely to prove more difficult to tackle — and the potential for heightened aggression from China looms large.

The Biden Administration’s approach toward the Indo-Pacific region can be distilled into three key pillars. The first and most defined pillar is revitalising relationships with allies and close partners. Early outcomes in this area include holding summits with leaders from Japan and South Korea along with a brisk succession of trilateral engagements; elevating the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad); negotiating the Australia-United Kingdom-United States enhanced trilateral partnership (AUKUS), and refreshing defence ties with the Philippines. The Biden team has further sought to foster links between allies in Asia and Europe and build consensus about the challenge China poses. However, these efforts have encountered headwinds with Europe’s angst over the Afghanistan withdrawal and France’s fury over AUKUS.

Biden’s prioritization of allies and close partners could leave the rest of the region’s states unsure about their role and those of the region’s legacy multilateral institutions, such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit.

The allies and partners pillar often gets short-changed as simply mending fences following the discord during the Trump Administration. That description underestimates the full ambition, though. The Biden Administration aspires to reforge relationships for the strategic conditions of a new period in regional and global geopolitics. Alliances and partnerships must now account for, among other strategic trends, a post-Afghanistan United States, a world-transforming due to the rapid emergence of new technologies, and an increasingly rapacious China under Xi Jinping. Security pacts must also reflect an era where allied states are stronger than in earlier years and are therefore seeking concomitant autonomy, but where the need for truly cooperative security arrangements to uphold the rules-based international order is at its highest point since the end of the Cold War.

Read the full article at 9DashLine.

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