US President Joe Biden and his team are determined to confront Beijing in the Indo-Pacific. This is evidenced by the activity that Washington has developed in recent days. On Friday, the first ever talks between the leaders of the regional four – the United States, India, Japan and Australia – took place via video communication. And next week, the first overseas tour of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will take place. The program includes visits to Japan, South Korea and India. At the same time, after the trip, on March 18, high-level American-Chinese talks will be held in Alaska, which will show which side has great opportunities for informal leadership in Asia.
“The quartet previously held regular meetings at the working level and at the level of foreign ministers. Friday’s talks are the first meeting at the level of leaders, ”said Jen Psaki, spokesman for the White House, when announcing the meeting in video format. She added that the negotiators – US President Joe Biden, and Prime Ministers of Japan, India and Australia Yoshihide Suga, Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison – will discuss “a wide range of issues,” including coronavirus, economic cooperation and climate change. And an unnamed senior source in the US administration added another topic in a conversation with reporters – “China’s role in the global arena”, as well as the associated threats to the free trade system.
A free and open Indo-Pacific region is vital for the future of each of the four countries, ”- said during the meeting, addressing his colleagues, Joe Biden.
He also assured: “The United States is committed to working with you, our partners, and all of our allies in the region to achieve stability.” Messrs. Suga, Modi and Morrison supported this tonality. In particular, the Japanese prime minister expressed hope that the quartet would “make a significant contribution to the preservation of peace and stability, as well as to the further prosperity of the region.” He especially noted the efforts to overcome the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
Very soon, the discussion of the topics raised at the video summit will continue – Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are going on their first foreign tour at the same time. The head of the Pentagon will fly to Hawaii on Saturday, where the headquarters of the Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces is located. And the joint mission starts on March 15 in Tokyo. There, among other things, security talks will be held in the “two plus two” format. From the Japanese side, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi will take part in them.
“We welcome the fact that Japan will become the country of the first overseas visit for both heads of departments. This is a manifestation of the United States’ attention to the Japan-US alliance, Mr. Motegi said Friday. “We see a lot of value in discussing the international environment as the security situation in the region becomes increasingly tense.” The Nikkei newspaper, citing its sources, reports that one of the main topics of the negotiations in Tokyo will be opposition to the growing activity of Beijing near the disputed Japanese islands of Senkaku (Chinese name – Diaoyu Dao) in the East China Sea.
Shortly before the talks in the South Korean capital, Washington and Seoul reached a breakthrough in resolving an issue that became the main irritant in relations between traditional allies during the presidency of the 45th US President Donald Trump. Following the visit to the American capital of the South Korean delegation headed by the special representative of the country’s Foreign Ministry, Jong Eun Bo, which ended this week, new conditions for the stay of the American contingent on the Korean Peninsula were agreed. The details were not disclosed, however, according to the South Korean side, they will be made public before the visit of Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin.
In 2018, Donald Trump demanded that Seoul increase almost fivefold – to $ 4.7 billion – the cost of staying in the country for the 28,000 US contingent. In March last year, the parties tentatively agreed on the terms of a new deal, providing for an increase in Seoul’s expenses by 13%, but the final agreement was never reached due to Washington’s tough stance. Having earned a reputation in Seoul as “the most hostile American president” towards South Korea, Mr. Trump ultimately abandoned the deal, finding Seoul’s concessions insufficient. Recall that the American contingent has been in South Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean War. The conditions of his stay in the country are regulated by the agreement on assistance in mutual defense signed back in January 1950.
Lloyd Austin – now without Anthony Blinken – will also visit India, which is not an ally of the United States, but has conflicting relations with China. One of the topics will be the containment of Beijing, whose behavior the Indian side sees as increasingly aggressive and contrary to the principle of “security and growth for all in the region” (SAGAR).
The parties will discuss strengthening military partnerships and promoting cooperation to ensure a free, prosperous and open Indo-Pacific region, ”the Pentagon said in a statement.
It is noteworthy that immediately after the completion of the foreign mission of the Secretary of State and Defense Minister, the Biden administration intends to hold talks with two representatives of the highest Chinese leadership, during which each side will lay out its cards on the table confirming its ambitions to become a regional leader. Anthony Blinken and President’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will meet on March 18 in Anchorage, Alaska, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as well as with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the country.
As Vladimir Batyuk, Chief Researcher of the Institute of the USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explained to Kommersant, the activity of the new White House team in the Indo-Pacific region is not accidental. “In early March, Washington published a document called Interim Strategic National Security Guidelines, setting out the views of the Biden administration on key issues in American politics. It speaks of China as the only rival capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to challenge a stable and open international system, “Mr. Batyuk told Kommersant.
Given that the new strategy relies on “democratic alliances to act as a united front to hold countries like China accountable,” Secretary Blinken and Defense Secretary Austin traveled to the Indo-Pacific to create an anti-China cordon sanitaire.
At the same time, the talks scheduled for next week with the Chinese side in Alaska do not look illogical. According to Vladimir Batyuk, “Washington expects that after renewing and strengthening relations with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, the United States will be able to better conduct a dialogue with Beijing from a position of strength.”