Economically, the United States is deliberating on a digital trade agreement
encompassing Indo-Pacific economies. This is believed to be a precursor to the US joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump abandoned.
Washington’s shift was exemplified by the appointment of Kurt Campbell
as the White House’s Indo-Pacific policy director, a newly established post within the administration which signifies the region’s priority.
There has been a steady clamour in the past year over various military initiatives aimed at raising the US’ influence in Asia, the latest being a permanent naval task force
aimed at countering China in the Pacific. Other initiatives include redirecting resources from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific, patching frayed alliance networks
, spending billions
to upgrade military hardware and streamlining tactical and operational approaches.
Biden has also reduced the US overemphasis on the Middle East, withdrawing forces from Afghanistan
, something Obama and Trump failed to accomplish.
Foreseeing “ extreme competition
” with China, Biden seems focused on preventing the US having to fight on two fronts. He has struck a more conciliatory tone with Russia while remaining tough on China. The talks between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin
in Geneva, in June, were more productive
and calmer than those between Chinese and American representatives in Alaska
In a sign of distinctly thawing ties with Moscow, Biden has extended the New START
nuclear pact, waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2
pipeline and called for pursuing a “stable, predictable relationship” with Russia. Washington and Moscow have reached a rare agreement on aid to Syria and held a dialogue on strategic stability.
While the US wants to concentrate on countering Beijing and see Russia cede to China its role as America’s arch-rival, Washington could still face impediments refocusing on Asia.
Even so, the US has moved to restore its alliances by dispatching high-ranking officials to Asia on a regular basis. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin toured Asia in March
, followed by US climate envoy John Kerry’s trip in April
. Austin and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman
have recently returned from tours of East Asia.
Vice-President Kamala Harris is heading to Singapore and Vietnam this month, while Blinken is holding talks
with ministers from Southeast Asian countries. Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga
in April and held talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in
the following month.
While Seoul still tries to strike a balance between the world’s two superpowers, Tokyo seems clearly in the US camp, a stance marked by its official linking of Taiwan’s security with its own
in a recently published defence white paper.
The US has been promoting the Quad security grouping for several years, but Washington’s alliance efforts go beyond regional boundaries.
It has held galvanising exchanges with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at diplomatic and military levels, as shown by the Philippines’ decision to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement
and US-Indonesia joint military drills
Washington has also welcomed greater participation from its European allies as Britain
have increased their presence in Asia. Asean and the Quad are likely to be key points in the latest US pivot. It will differ from Obama’s approach, which was more cooperative and sought compromise with China.
Seeing the prospect of being regionally besieged, China has accused the US of “ ganging up
” with its allies to contain Beijing while simultaneously pursuing its own agenda with Asean
and maintaining close diplomatic and military ties with Russia.
Beijing has raised the ante by abandoning its cooperative approach, taking cooperation on climate change
off the table during the Tianjin summit unless Washington halted its anti-China behaviour.
Even with all the harsh words, the US and China appear to understand that tensions boiling over into military conflict would have grave implications for the whole world. Biden is considering establishing a hotline with China akin to the “ red phone
” between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Chances of confrontation seem to be growing as China struggles to guarantee the realisation of its centennial goals and become the dominant world power, which would intrinsically challenge US global leadership.
Danil Bochkov is an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council