By He Jun
With US President Joe Biden’s visit to Asia scheduled for later this month, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Koji Tomita said on May 9 that Biden may officially launch a new US economic strategy to the Indo-Pacific region while commuting to Japan during his tour. The new economic strategy referred to here is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework proposed by the Biden administration on October 27 last year at the 16th East Asia Summit.
Biden had affirmed that he would define the “shared goals on trade facilitation, standards for the digital economy and technology, supply chain resilience, decarbonization and clean energy, infrastructure, standards workers and other areas of common interest”. The framework is extremely broad, covering multiple emerging and non-traditional economic sectors.
In the past, the United States has emphasized security and defense capacity building in its strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, with the establishment of security alliances such as the trilateral security pact between Australia, UK and USA (AUKUS), the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the Five Eyes Alliance. In addition, he conducted frequent military exercises with countries like the Philippines and Singapore. Comparatively, the American strategy in the economic field is relatively weaker. This is especially true given its 2017 withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Its economic strategy in the region seems to have faded since. While the new framework is used as a geo-economic tool to increase influence in the region to contain and weaken China’s influence, it is consistent with US Indo-Pacific and global strategies.
The Indo-Pacific economic framework includes Japan and South Korea in East Asia as US allies. They are part of Washington’s spheres of influence. India, a large country in South Asia with global ambitions, is also the greatest ally sought by the United States in Asia. For the United States, India is one of the important support bases in this strategy. The other key area for the United States in its efforts to achieve a grand strategic alliance is that of the ten ASEAN countries located in the Western Pacific. It is even possible to assert that the attitude and participation of the ASEAN countries in this plan will, to a large extent, determine the success or failure of the United States in promoting this Indo-Pacific economic strategy. .
Speaking at the CSDS-CSIS Transatlantic Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific on May 9, National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell said the most important message from Biden’s visit to Asia at the end of May be that this is an urgent task to be accomplished in the wake of the current crisis in Ukraine. He insisted that the greatest fundamental challenges of the 21st century lie in the Indo-Pacific region.
Campbell said that at the start of the Biden administration, the Indo-Pacific strategy focused primarily on cooperation with partners in the region. Now, US and European partners have also intensified contacts and dialogues on Indo-Pacific affairs. With the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. was expected to turn its attention to Europe, leaving little attention to the Indo-Pacific, but the opposite is true, Campbell said. . He noted that the Indo-Pacific region’s unprecedented commitment to Ukraine reflects the fact that some of these countries regard Ukraine as a “cautionary tale” and do not want similar military operations to take place in the region. region. This, in turn, prompts great strategic thinking.
Notably, Campbell said his most important responsibility as Indo-Pacific coordinator is to ensure that the framework is more synergistic between leaders from Asia, Europe and the United States, that they will consider the action plan for implementation. He hopes that the United States and Europe “will seize this opportunity, probably within the next two years, because we don’t know how long it will last.” Going forward, the United States intends to work with Europe on issues with global implications, not only on the Ukraine issue, but also on future Indo-Pacific strategies and tactics.
ANBOUND researchers point out that the war in Ukraine has broadened the US definition of Indo-Pacific economic strategy and framework, and is using the war to strengthen the window period for US-EU relations. Simultaneously, the United States is also bringing its European allies who geographically belong to the Atlantic partnership to support the Indo-Pacific strategy. With such an effort, the United States hopes to be able to unite as many allies and partner countries as possible, impose its influence and even dictate international political and economic affairs in the region. This should allow it to effectively contain China, its perceived main strategic competitor.
According to ANBOUND researchers, the framework is an attempt by the United States to establish more broad-based communication and cooperation with the Western Pacific region through economic collaboration. ASEAN countries should play a crucial role in such a mechanism. What is certain is that China and the United States will center their game on ASEAN as the United States promotes its Indo-Pacific economic strategy. We believe that going forward, the key to the larger game between China and the United States in the region lies with ASEAN. For China, ASEAN is not only geographically close, with some of these countries being neighbors, but it is also China’s largest global trading partner, with ever closer ties. If the United States does not include ASEAN in its Indo-Pacific strategy and economic framework, there will be a huge gap. The same is true for China. If China cannot maintain close economic ties and stable geopolitical relations with ASEAN, China will instead become a passive spectator in the global geopolitical game in the future.
*He Jun, Partner, Director of the Chinese Macroeconomic Research Team and Senior Researcher. His research area covers China’s macro-economy, energy industry and public policies.