After the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and NATO’s continued expansion to the east, the US’s efforts to create a new crisis in the Indo-Pacific continue. When US President Joe Biden took office, he described the Indo-Pacific as his top foreign policy priority. After Russia launched the Ukraine Operation, the US accelerated its strategic pursuit in the Indo-Pacific region. US President Biden stated that a new era has begun in US-ASEAN relations at the Washington summit between the US and the leaders of ASEAN countries. After the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Biden administration hoped to continue to focus on its long-term fight against China, which it saw as the main rival in the Indo-Pacific, and to take a tougher stance against Russia. But the US did not get what is expected from the ASEAN leaders at the end of the Washington summit. Because there was no decision to directly condemn Russia. Following the ASEAN summit, US President Joe Biden embarked on trips to South Korea and Japan to strengthen the strategy in the Indo-Pacific. “This trip is going to put on full display President Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and that it will show in living color that the United States can at once lead the free world in responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and at the same time chart a course for effective, principled American leadership and engagement in a region that will define much of the future of the 21st century” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said at a press briefing. He showed that the trip had the aim of creating a front. It shows that NATO’s eastward expansion to include Ukraine, Sweden, and Finland will further elevate its containment strategy against China in the Indo-Pacific. In particular, scenarios were produced by the western media that China would invade Taiwan and Taiwan would turn into Ukraine. For example, the similarities between the Ukraine-Russia bond and China-Taiwan were revealed in the Foreign Affairs Magazine. Rand Cooperation noted that the Russia-Ukraine conflict parallels a potential invasion of Taiwan. There noted that the conflict in Ukraine motivates Taiwan to better secure its future. The critical question here is whether this strategy will be successful beyond the high profile of the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Because it seems that the US did not find what was expected from the ASEAN summit, the developments in the region and the reality give signs that the US strategy will not be successful.
Quad summit to be held in Tokyo on May 24
US President Joe Biden launched a new economic framework for the Indo-Pacific during his stay in Tokyo this week. Washington sought to increase its economic presence in the region to counter China’s influence. Biden’s trip focused on tackling China’s rising economic, diplomatic and military power in the Indo-Pacific. Biden’s visit to East Asia culminated this effort by bringing together the country leaders of the Quad, an informal geopolitical group that includes the United States, India, Australia and Japan. Especially while the states that the US defines as their allies in the region have cooperation in the field of security, they have established serious partnerships with China in trade and economy. Biden’s Pacific trip focused on disrupting that status quo. The speeding up of the US’s attempt in the region was met with a response from the Chinese side. Wu Jianghao, China’s deputy foreign minister, stated that China does not accept any behaviour that undermines its legitimate interests and disrupts regional peace and cooperation. At the same time, China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, has been conducting a mission cruise in the Sea of Japan since early May. With the start of US President Joe Biden’s trips to South Korea and Japan, the Chinese navy showed that it was ready in the region by holding military exercises in the South China Sea. US President Biden’s statement that if China attacks Taiwan, the US will respond militarily, China has reacted sharply. China accused the US of playing with fire and stated that this fire would burn the US. Frankly, when China’s military power in the Indo-Pacific is examined, it is evident that China’s number of warships and submarines 400 pieces has already exceeded the number of warships and submarines 288 pieces of the US. Considering the new warships that China will add to its navy, it is seen that the situation for the US is not heart-warming from a military point of view. In addition, China has a significant area of influence in the region economically as well as militarily and is in an advantageous position compared to the US. In addition, Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s 10-day South Pacific visit to countries such as Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, which the US ignores in the Pacific, is another vital response.
Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) vs Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) entered into force on January 1 2022. Known as the world’s most significant free trade agreement, RCEP has 15 members, including South Korea, China, Japan and ASEAN countries. The RCEP covers 2.27 billion people and a GDP of $26.1 trillion. The Obama administration introduced the concept of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Trump administration cancelled. Now with the Biden administration came the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). The initiative, defined by IPEF as a “New partnership”, covers high standards of trade, digitization of economies, development of supply chains and facilitating infrastructure investments. Without meaningful proposals that suggest tangible benefits for countries in the region, the United States has little to offer potential IPEF participants more than a political commitment to improving its economic presence in the region. That might have been enough a decade ago, but today, China stands out as the economic centre of gravity in the Indo-Pacific. New regional trade agreements such as RCEP and financing mechanisms such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offer Indo-Pacific countries various options for their trade, supply chain, infrastructure, clean energy and economic integration needs. For example, RCEP countries account for 49.4 per cent of South Korea’s total exports and imports. Foreign Minister Wang Yi also stated that the US “Indo-Pacific strategy” undermines peaceful development and will undoubtedly fail. Yi said that with the solidarity in the region, the GDP in the region will grow by 6.3 per cent in 2021.
Does a strategy that ignores China have a chance to succeed in Asia?
The Biden administration promised ASEAN $150 million in infrastructure, security, pandemic and clean energy at the Washington summit. However, the promise of the US seems pretty pale when compared to China, which in November alone promised $1.5 billion in development aid for ASEAN to fight COVID19 for three years and to help its economic recovery. Even the Chinese company Huawei has promised to double that amount for the ASEAN region, and Huawei has announced a $300 million fund for Southeast Asian tech start-ups. In addition, the US is in such despair in the region that it hopes that by developing cooperation with Vietnam and the Philippines, they can develop a front against China. After the night when Bongbong Marcos was elected president in the Philippines, after the night when the western media made headlines that “the son of the dictator was elected president” and “autocracy is coming”, some opinions were written and drawn that the Philippines and the US may strengthen the front against China. But the newly elected president of the Philippines, Marcos, foiled the US plans by expressing that he would take relations with China to the next level. In other words, it is already seen that the significant expectations of the US from both ASEAN and the countries of the region will result in a complete fiasco.
A move towards the South Korean Quad membership, the first stop in the US president’s Indo-Pacific strategy. But South Korea’s reliance on Chinese imports, especially those used in the world-leading electronics industry, will be hard to break. Grass, the world’s second-largest economy, is South Korea’s largest trading partner and accounted for 25 per cent of total trade last year. Data from the South Korea International Trade Association show that in the first three quarters of last year, 3,941 of the 12,586 items South Korea imported had at least 80 per cent dependency on a particular country. Nearly half of the approximately 1,850 items have at least 80 per cent dependency on China. Electrical and electronic equipment account for the largest portion of imports from China, including unfinished semiconductors in South Korea. South Korea imported $17.93 billion worth of semi-finished chips from China in 2020, and it seems that imported semiconductors account for 39.5 per cent of the total value. It is also stated that US businessmen are not ready for the next China-US crisis. When the developments in the region and China’s strong economic ties with the region’s countries are examined, US President Joe Biden’s chances of success in developing trade with ASEAN countries and forming a front against China are meagre. Compared to China’s strong economic ties to the region and the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific, Biden’s trip is like the last roar of a paper tiger.