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What to Expect From Biden's Trip to Asia

May 20, 2022, 02.42 PM

Coalition against Russia

While the region's coalition is less robust than Europe's, Biden will encourage further resolve among partners to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tokyo, the strongest U.S. ally in the region, has placed financial sanctions and export controls on Moscow, announced a phase-out of Russian energy and offered humanitarian assistance and nonlethal military aid to Ukraine. It also recently signed a defense cooperation pact with Britain that would allow the two G-7 countries to quickly deploy their armed forces for training and joint exercises.

South Korea's government, under former President Moon Jae-in, provided humanitarian assistance and supported international sanctions against Russia, but unlike Japan and Australia, did not impose sanctions. Newly elected President Yoon campaigned on strengthening the alliance with the US, which may provide an opening for Biden to secure greater support on the Ukraine issue.

In addition to sanctions, Morrison's government has provided military and humanitarian assistance to Kyiv. Patton noted that either Morrison or Albanese, if elected, would remain faithful to Australia's alliance with Washington and would not likely change policy on Ukraine.

India remains the region's weakest link concerning Russia. Recent statements by officials, however, signaled the Biden administration's understanding that it cannot push too hard and jeopardize India's critical role in the rivalry against China and wider co-operation in the Indo-Pacific, said Aparna Pande, director of Hudson Institute's Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia.

Pande told VOA that India recently halted negotiations to acquire 10 Kamov Ka-31 helicopters following uncertainties in Russian arms supplies, which may create an opening for Quad countries to persuade New Delhi to take a firmer stance on Ukraine.

Indo-Pacific Economic Framework

In Tokyo, Biden is scheduled to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the centerpiece of his administration's economic policy in the region. The IPEF will be Washington's first attempt to create a large-scale multilateral, Asia-focused economic strategy since the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the regional free trade agreement the Obama administration launched in 2016, and that former President Trump withdrew from in 2017.

There are scant details about the framework, other than that it would include standards to ease trade under various "modules" such as fair and resilient trade; supply chain resilience; infrastructure, clean energy, and decarbonization; and tax and anti-corruption.

One thing is clear, the IPEF does not include the free-trade components that regional countries desire, such as tariff cuts and other market-access tools Washington has used to encourage partners to accept policies that may not benefit their short-term economic interests.

With Trump-era protectionist sentiments still running high, the administration and Democrats in Congress appear unenthusiastic about the political cost of opening American market access. Observers say this is the main reason the US lacks a robust economic and trade strategy to counter China's increasing influence in the region.

To attract nations beyond those already aligned with American standards and rules on trade, the US is adopting a pick-and-choose approach for IPEF, giving countries the flexibility of signing only on the modules they are interested in. South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia are among those who have signaled interest.

North Korea

Biden is not scheduled to visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone, but denuclearization of the peninsula and North Korea's Covid-19 crisis is set to be high on the agenda.


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