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Biden turns his attention back to Asia after months focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine

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Biden’s bans on two determined US allies, South Korea and Japan, aim to strengthen partnerships in a moment of global instability. As Biden and his team have spent much of their time and resources on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, provocations from North Korea have intensified and China continues to bend its economic and military power.

It is against this background that Biden will launch his most intense efforts to engage Asian allies since taking office. The White House says it is prepared for all occasions, including a test that will take place while Biden is on the Korean Peninsula.

And in Tokyo, Biden will meet for bilateral talks with the country’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, before meeting with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India at a Quad partnership meeting that has been revived on his initiative.

Along the way, Biden is expected to reaffirm US support for its allies amid intensifying provocations from North Korea, also seeking new areas of economic co-operation, particularly in advanced technologies affected by supply chain disruptions. . And he is expected to unveil a new Indo-Pacific economic framework, although the plan has already been criticized for lack of specifics.

Biden said at a White House reception this week that his trip was aimed “at affirming the importance of our Indo-Pacific alliances” and “celebrating essential partnerships” in the region, including cultural ties.

The president is making his first visit to Asia later in his presidency than he could have wanted, according to officials, who say Covid restrictions and the withdrawal of other crises made it difficult to plan a trip. Biden is the third U.S. president in a row to try to refocus on foreign policy in Asia, although the events of the intervention have often stalled.

“Several administrations in a row in the United States have tried this effort to launch the most basic efforts, policies, frameworks in Asia, East Asia, Indo-Pacific and found themselves hampered, or misdirected or directed towards other pursuits, said Kurt Campbell. , senior director for Asia at Biden’s National Security Council earlier this month. “And it has been something that I think we are all deeply aware of in policy formulation and implementation.”

The war in Ukraine is approaching for the trip to Asia

After months of sweeping attention to Russia’s war in Ukraine – a conflict that has called for Cold War comparisons and revived alliances built over the last century – Biden’s debut visit to Asia is an opportunity to renew what he sees as the challenge of this century: Facing China’s growth through a system of renewing economic and military partnerships.

“We think this trip will fully demonstrate President Biden’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific and show in vivid colors that the United States can immediately lead the world in responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and at the same time charts a course for effective, principled American leadership and engagement in a region that will determine much of the future of the 21st century, “national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters a day before Biden’s departure for Asia.

Sullivan rejected the suggestion that the President and his team had been distracted by their initiatives in Asia by the crisis in Ukraine.

“We do not actually consider this as a tension between investing time, energy and attention in Europe and time, energy and attention in the Indo-Pacific. We consider this as a reciprocal booster,” he said. , there is a certain level of integration and a symbiosis in the strategy we are pursuing in Europe and the strategy we are pursuing in the Indo-Pacific and President Biden’s unique capacity to bring them both together, I think it will be a hallmark of his foreign policy presidency ”.

Although Biden turns his attention from Asia, the crisis in Ukraine remains the dominant focus of his administration’s foreign policy. Before leaving on Thursday, Biden will meet at the White House with the leaders of Finland and Sweden, who submitted urgent applications this week to join NATO following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In Asia expect a number of challenges

The renewed clash with Russia has in some ways obscured Biden’s main foreign policy objective: to engage China in strong competition while avoiding direct conflict.

Administration officials have acknowledged that senior foreign policy leaders within the administration, along with the President himself, have been preoccupied in recent months with maintaining a united Western front against Russia and providing military and economic assistance to Ukraine.

Although Russia’s war is going on, however, tensions have been built elsewhere.

North Korea, which Biden identified as his biggest foreign policy challenge at the start of his presidency, resumed provocative weapons tests before Yoon’s inauguration. The Biden administration has sought to resume diplomacy with Pyongyang, but has received little response.

Yoon, meanwhile, has vowed to strengthen South Korea’s line against the North after former President Moon Jane made efforts to cultivate diplomacy, including helping then-President Donald Trump organize a series of summits with Kim.

During Trump’s last visit to Seoul as president, he made a detour to the demilitarized zone, where he shook hands with Kim and crossed the demarcation line into North Korea. Previous presidents have also made visits to the highly fortified border area, but White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that a DMZ visit was not planned during Biden’s detention.

United West a warning to China

Despite the focus on Ukraine, officials say Biden remains determined to reorganize U.S. foreign policy toward the challenges of the coming decades. This includes, more urgently, building the kind of alliance structure in Asia that already exists among the transatlantic allies and has formed a largely united shield against Russia following its occupation of Ukraine.

US officials believe the power of coordinated sanctions and military aid to Ukraine between US and European allies has come as a surprise – not just to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but to his Beijing ally, President Xi Jinping. Surprising, too, was the willingness of countries in Asia, including Japan, to join the sanctions and help alleviate Europe’s dependence on Russian energy by providing natural gas supplies.

Biden and his team hope that the US alliance network’s response to an unprovoked invasion of a country sends a message to Xi that the consequences of such an action in Asia could be just as dire.

However, there is currently no Asian equivalent to NATO, which has provided the critical framework for the Western response to Russia’s aggression. And China has worked hard in recent years to cultivate countries in the region as it flexes its regional power.

Biden has taken several steps to counter those moves – reviving the Quad grouping of Japan, Australia, India and the United States; the sharing, for the first time, of the sensitive technology of US nuclear-armed submarines with Australia; and last week hosted a summit of Southeast Asian leaders at the White House to discuss trade and security.

However, it is not clear that those steps have done much to curb China’s ambitions. And some analysts have pointed to parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and fears for Taiwan’s future – an island self-governing democracy that Beijing claims as its own and has not ruled out a takeover.

“Even though governments across the region, our allies, are moving forward in Ukraine and articulating clearly how impressive and important it is that the US is leading this global coalition, if you look at some opinion polls, like in Taiwan or if you look at editorial, there is nervousness … if the US can cope with two major unforeseen situations, “said Michael J. Green, senior vice president for Asia and president of Japan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Can we deal with, you know, Ukraine and if Taiwan were to suddenly have a crisis, deal with it at the same time? Do we have the bandwidth? And this is a subtext that worries the administration a little bit,” Green said.

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