US networking in the Indo-Pacific

Hussein Haridy
Thursday 2 Jun 2022

US President Joe Biden wrapped up his first Asian tour in Japan this week after his official visit to South Korea.


US President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo this week and held a second in-person Quad Summit meeting with newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the prime minister of Japan.

At the same time, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity was officially launched during the Biden visit to Tokyo. This is a US initiative with the aim of accompanying US-inspired and led alliances in the Indo-Pacific region within a strong and significant economic framework. It is an ambitious economic initiative that has 14 countries as members, and the US hopes that other South Asian countries as well as island states in the Pacific will join later on.

 The signatory countries include the US, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. US direct investment in these countries amounted to $969 billion in 2020, and trade with the Indo-Pacific is the source of nearly $900 billion in foreign direct investment in the US. 

According to the Japan-United States Joint Leaders Statement, called “Strengthening the Free and Open International Order,” released on 23 May after Biden’s meeting with Kishida, the two sides underscored the fact that the bilateral relations binding the two countries are “the cornerstone of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” 

The Japanese prime minister expressed his full support for the US Indo-Pacific strategy, and the two leaders lent their joint support to the “increasingly vibrant, multilayered, and interconnected architecture in the region.” They also reaffirmed the importance of the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) and highlighted the important work done by the Quad group and AUKUS, an alliance of Australia, the UK, and the US.

The statement has a separate section on China that some might call “China bashing” as it consists of a catalogue, from the point of view of Washington and Tokyo, of China’s “destabilising activities” in the Indo-Pacific region. 

This section is entitled “Regional Issues: Responding to an Increasingly Challenging Regional Security Environment” and notes “China’s ongoing increase in its nuclear capabilities” and the fact that it has been asked to contribute to arrangements that “reduce nuclear risks, increase transparency, and advance nuclear disarmament.” The implicit message here is probably related to the Chinese position vis-à-vis the North Korean nuclear programme.

The statement goes on to reiterate “the strong opposition” of the US and Japan to “China’s unlawful maritime claims, militarisation of reclaimed features and coercive activities in the South China Sea.”

It also expresses concerns about “the increasing activities of Russian military forces around Japan” and is “committed to remain attentive to cooperation between China and Russia in military affairs.” It is worth noting that the statement calls on China to condemn what it calls “Russian aggression” against Ukraine. It is noticeably emphatic as far as this point is concerned.

At their meeting, the two leaders reaffirmed their “commitment” to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. In the meantime, they sent a conciliatory message to North Korea expressing their support for what they termed a “calibrated approach” to North Korea and called on Pyongyang to engage “in serious and sustained dialogue” without preconditions while also calling on it to accept offers of international assistance to help it fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The security part of the US-Japanese Summit plainly demonstrated that the two countries intend to strengthen their security and military cooperation in the years to come under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security and that this will be backed, according to the US president, by a full range of capabilities “including nuclear”.

The two countries affirmed the critical importance of US “extended deterrence” and agreed to enhance bilateral discussions on this through the Security Consultative Committee and the Extended Deterrence Dialogue. Biden assured the Japanese that Article V of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the countries applies to the Senkaku Islands. The first paragraph of this Article states that “each party recognises that an armed attack against either party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”

The question of Taiwan was discussed at the summit, and both Washington and Tokyo reaffirmed their position, which opposes the use of force and calls for security and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Both leaders talked of the importance of the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait questions.

The Japanese prime minister spoke of his determination to reinforce Japanese defence capabilities, saying he would work to secure a “substantial increase” in Japan’s defence budget in order to carry this out. The two leaders were in agreement on the need to reinforce the deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-US alliance.

Biden’s first Asian tour was a success from the perspective of US national security interests, and it succeeded in highlighting the capacities of the alliance-building of the US administration in the Indo-Pacific region. It brings to an end the first stage in this US strategy that goes back to March 2021 when the administration held its first summit meeting since taking office, a virtual one with the leaders of the Quad group. The meeting that took place in Tokyo last week was the fourth under this administration in the span of 15 months.

The next phase in the US strategy of networking alliances will come at the next NATO summit in Madrid at the end of next month, which is supposed to approve the New Strategic Concept of the alliance for the next ten years. This should establish linkages between NATO, as a Euro-Atlantic based alliance, and the network of US-led alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. 

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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