Whirlwind round of US diplomacy leaves China relations in unknown territory
- From hosting Asean leaders and visiting Asia, to the Quad meeting and Indo-Pacific economic strategy, Biden’s message is clear: the US is seeking to contain China
- Stung into action, Beijing is rolling out its own countermeasures, including a global security initiative
The May 12-13 meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was seen as a US move to counter China’s close relations with Asian states and expanded regional influence.
Beijing did not view the US-Asean summit positively and expressed its discontent over what it sees as US political and economic interference.
A central theme of Biden’s May 20-23 Asia trip was to tighten alliances in the Pacific, to counter China’s influence. The president carried a clear message, warning Beijing not to help blunt global sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine. In Japan, Biden signalled a more confrontational approach to China, including on Taiwan.
After Biden met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, they released a formal statement asking that China “contribute to arrangements that reduce nuclear risks, increase transparency, and advance nuclear disarmament”, among other requests for temperance.
Maritime cooperation also featured prominently in the joint statement. This came after Washington announced US$60 million in funding for a regional maritime programme with Asean, most of which will be led by the US Coast Guard, including the deployment of personnel and equipment, combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and help with equipment and staff training. This indicates the US Coast Guard will become more involved in the South China Sea’s security.
The four Quad leaders also committed to deepening infrastructure cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including addressing debt issues and extending more than US$50 billion in aid and investment over the next five years. Additionally, the meeting discussed more help for Pacific island nations, where China’s influence has recently grown.
This series of actions to counter China has, naturally, invited criticism from Beijing, and some recent foreign policy moves could be viewed as countermeasures.
This idea, proposed by President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia last month, aims to “build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture” and “reject the Cold War mentality, oppose unilateralism, and say no to group politics and bloc confrontation”.
Ultimately, it can be seen as Beijing’s strategy to draw together its various efforts to win global friends while resisting US attempts to target China through groups like the Quad and Aukus.
Blinken’s policy speech reflected Biden’s hardline message to China, one that the administration has held since the president’s inauguration.
Nong Hong, PhD, is executive director and senior fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies (US)