Arthur I. Cyr
President Joe Biden’s visit to Asia in May is timely, particularly in the context of broader international developments, in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere. China’s sustained military build-up requires a diplomatic and strategic response, and this is clearly a primary – but not the only – motivation for the trip.
The trip included Japan and South Korea, the two largest Asian economies outside of China. Both are close allies of the United States.
The Korean War of 1950-53 forged a powerful bond. South Korea’s evolution towards political democracy and economic power is extraordinary.
Biden spent three of the five days of the trip in Korea, including a May 21 wreath laying at the Seoul National Cemetery to honor the Korean War dead. Talks with incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol followed.
On May 24, high-level talks took place in Tokyo between leaders of “The Quad,” the quadrilateral security dialogue, reinstated in 2017 after earlier efforts failed. Quad leaders who met in Japan: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Biden.
China accuses quad countries of trying to replicate NATO. This analogy overlooks the great distances and associated challenges of the Asian theater. NATO connects largely contiguous nations of Europe, as well as North America.
In addition to geographical realities, important differences in the stories characterize the Quad. Nevertheless, the enormous growth of the Chinese military, especially the maritime dimension, constitutes a powerful incentive for this allied cooperation.
The Obama administration has declared Asia a priority concern for defense policy. This reflects the Chinese threat, and more generally the growing strategic importance of Asia.
Since the mid-1980s, the total volume of US trade with Asia has been greater than with Europe. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, international relations have become more flexible – and unpredictable.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization is an ambitious initiative to ensure policy coordination among Pacific nations. APEC was conceived by Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and enthusiastically welcomed by President George HW Bush and Secretary of State James Baker.
In recent decades, Australia has moved towards free markets and a much more explicit national commitment to tolerance, directly reflected in official policy towards indigenous peoples. The Obama administration’s decision to station a US Navy contingent in Australia underscores the strong bilateral ties between the two nations, which date back to World War II.
The 2006 APEC summit was held in Vietnam. The gathering highlighted that country’s economic growth and commitment to multilateralism. As with China, economic realities have forced an ideological shift.
Hanoi honored US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and our government with a parade, accompanied by American flags – a gesture as ironic as it was poignant.
There are military security aspects to APEC summits, just like with the Quad. At the 2008 summit in Peru, Americans and
The Russians discussed differences over Moscow’s invasion of Georgia, an important context given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Pacific region generally lacks the complex, established web of economic and military organizations that define relations with the Atlantic region. It is mainly for this reason that the APEC and the Quad are significant.
For decades, the division of the Cold War defined relations between nations. Today, economic incentives and related self-interest undermine ideological hostilities.
This unfolding reality may or may not change China’s strategy. Therefore, Biden’s direct statement of commitment to Taiwan is warranted.
Beijing has been warned. Asia-Pacific democracies are strong and united.
Arthur I. Cyr is the author of “After the Cold War” (Macmillan/Palgrave and NYU Press) and other books. Contact [email protected]