Thursday, December 2, 2021

Europe is a destination, but Biden is thinking about Asia

President Biden is gearing up for two international conferences in Europe this week, campaigning for Democrats and trying to come to an agreement on an agenda-setting expansion of social protection programs.

But he cleared part of his schedule on Tuesday and Wednesday to attend a virtual summit of Southeast Asian nations, a sign that the president is still keeping a close eye on the foreign policy challenges posed by a burgeoning China.

Like his predecessor Donald Trump, Biden voiced concern about China’s trade practices, its efforts to gain control of the South China Sea, and its increasingly aggressive behavior towards Taiwan.

However, Biden spends more time building alliances, unlike Trump, who missed the same summit for three years in a row.

“You can expect the United States to deepen our long-standing partnership,” Biden said during the first of two Assn meetings. countries of Southeast Asia or ASEAN. He described the organization as “a pillar for sustaining the resilience, prosperity and security of our common region,” and suggested that he was planning a trip to Asia.

Experts said Biden’s decision to simply attend the summit is an indicator of progress.

“The bar is relatively low,” said Ja-Yan Chong, assistant professor of political science at the National University of Singapore. “And part of the reason the bar is low is because there is still a holdover from the Trump era, when there was a lot of unpredictability and uncertainty.”

Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (back) speaks during the ASEAN summit, which took place virtually on Tuesday.

(Duong Wan Jang / VNA via AP)

ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Although most countries are small, they have a combined population of 650 million and their combined economies are the fifth largest in the world.

Biden’s participation in ASEAN came in the middle of a busy week. He is trying to strike a deal on legislation that, among other things, will increase funding for childcare and guarantee paid family leave for workers, and the White House is working with Democrats on ways to pay for extended benefits.

On Tuesday, he also campaigned for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee, in a closely watched run for Virginia’s governor, and is gearing up to fly to Europe on Thursday. He participates in the G-20 Forum in Rome and the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Read Also:  Biden gets COVID-19 booster shot

However, Biden believes that closer ties in Asia will provide his administration with strategic leverage with Beijing, making this week’s ASEAN summit an important part of his approach to the region.

“The Biden administration’s strategy is to contain China,” said Eik Freimann, a doctoral student in China at Oxford University. “They just don’t use that word.”

According to him, the president hopes to “create an alphabet soup of overlapping coalitions,” on the premise that “if you create enough of these coalitions, this is an impenetrable thicket.”

Biden has already taken steps to strengthen such alliances. In September, at the White House, he held his first face-to-face meeting with the leaders of the four major democracies with interests in Asia.

Although Biden and the leaders of Japan, India and Australia – a group known as Quad – did not mention China in the joint statement, it was clear what they thought of Beijing. After the meetings, the leaders said they reaffirmed their commitment to “our partnership and a region that is the cornerstone of our common security and prosperity – a free and open Indo-Pacific region that is also inclusive and sustainable.”

Less than two weeks before the Quad meeting, Biden announced a new security partnership with the UK and Australia, known as AUKUS. In addition to expanding cooperation on issues such as cybersecurity, the US plans to work with Australia on a new nuclear-powered submarine fleet that will allow its fleet to travel farther and more discreetly in a hotly fighting region.

A man slips through a barricade to enter an alley in Vung Tau, Vietnam.

A man climbs a barricade in an alley in Vung Tau, Vietnam on September 20. The city was divided by barricades and roadblocks during the coronavirus lockdown.

(Hau Dinh / Associated Press)

Joshua Kurlantsik, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations for Southeast Asia, suggested that the US has a chance because China has turned its back on other countries with its weight.

“China is pursuing this aggressive, kind of overt diplomacy,” he said. “It’s just totally unproductive and they undermine themselves.”

Daniel Russell, a former State Department official who now works at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said spreading the COVID-19 vaccine in America is one way to make progress in the region. Although China has been quicker to promote its vaccines to the Southeast Asian market, their effectiveness is raising skepticism and increasing interest in the US-developed versions.

“This is another example of how American technology looks best from a Southeast Asian perspective,” Russell said.

Nation World News Desk
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