Biden’s Asia Trip Produces More Questions Than Answers

Joe Biden’s first trip to Asia as president was positively gushed over by many in the media. Foreign policy and political pundits attached to left-leaning publications and news channels applauded Biden for adopting a strong position against China during his trip. While in Tokyo, Biden rolled out the framework for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a trade pact the administration is hoping will serve as a counter to China’s growing economic power and influence in the Indo-Pacific region. On this past Monday, Biden stated the United States will defend Taiwan militarily in the event of a Chinese invasion. Strong, confident words and proposed action by the leader of the free world.

Unfortunately, some factors were left out of Biden’s calculations. To no one’s surprise, most left-wing and/or mainstream journalists failed to make mention of this. On the economic side, Taiwan has not received an invitation to join the IPEF despite demonstrating high interest in becoming a member. Militarily, despite Biden’s promise and sentiment, the United States does not have a concrete war plan centered on countering a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Sure, Indo-Pacific Command has dozens of contingency plans and hypotheticals available to work from, as do the individual services. So, Biden has promised to defend Taiwan with American blood even though the military has no realistic plan for this at the present time. Then we have the administration deliberately keeping Taiwan away from IPEF membership because bringing Taipei aboard will be viewed as provocative and controversial by Beijing.  

Not surprisingly, China is less than thrilled by the US following IPEF and Biden’s Taiwan comments. On Tuesday, as leaders of the Quad nations met in Tokyo, Chinese and Russian bombers flew in close proximity to Japanese airspace. Chinese officials were vocal in denouncing IPEF while China’s state-run media claim the pact is ‘economic NATO.’ Xi Jinping will likely limit his country’s response to verbal outrage and a handful of snap air and sea exercises. Quite honestly, China has more pressing problems to worry about closer to home right now.

In time, China will get around to adopting an effective counter to IPEF and Biden’s newfound military confidence. Then the competition for supremacy in Asia will officially begin.

Sri Lanka Crisis Update: Shortages Loom, Some Help On The Way

Sri Lanka is girding for potential shortages of food products and fuel in the near future. Citizens have been lining up for cooking gas, automobile fuel since Friday. As the government attempts to stave off complete economic meltdown, the nation has defaulted on debt for the first time in its history. So, much to the chagrin of Sri Lanka’s leaders, the economic outlook remains bleak as the government lifts the state of emergency decree that has been in place since early May. The state of emergency went into effect as a result of violent street protests and riots in Colombo and across the country in late April and early May. The root cause of the unrest was spiraling inflation and other factors of the nation’s economic crisis.

India and Japan will provide emergency relief to the island-nation in a bid to stave off a complete collapse. The first ship laden with food and other material will depart from India on Wednesday. Japan will provide an emergency grant for $3 million worth of medicine and food. These moves also have geopolitical purpose as both nations would prefer to keep Chinese involvement in the Sri Lankan crisis at bay. Tokyo and New Delhi are wary about offering an opening for China to expand its presence and influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Biden’s Upcoming Asia Trip

With US President Joe Biden heading to Asia today, the focus of the US government will pivot away from the war in Ukraine and Europe for the first time in months. Even though the pivot will be temporary, Biden’s trip to Japan and then South Korea will reveal a glimpse or two at future US economic and security policies and postures in the Western Pacific. As expected, even though Biden’s trip will take him to Japan and South Korea, two staunch US allies, this visit is all about North Korea and China.

Tensions in the region are evident at first glance. China is contending with issues close to home stemming from the latest COVID-19 outbreak on the mainland, redoubled efforts to replenish strategic oil reserves and of course, Taiwan. Then there is North Korea, dealing with its first official outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, as well as preparing for either a ballistic missile or underground nuclear test in the near future. Washington’s preoccupation with Ukraine and Russia has delayed the Biden administration’s intentions to refocus on Asia this year.

The Ukraine crisis and subsequent war is raising concerns about the ability of the United States to handle simultaneous crises in different parts of the world diplomatically and politically. China’s designs on Taiwan are at the core of these concerns. One of Biden’s primary goals for this trip will be to address the worries of allies and non-aligned regions in the region and demonstrate how solid US security commitments in the region are. The president also needs to address why his administration has failed to apply an economic component to US Indo-Pacific strategy. During this trip, Biden is expected to present the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as an answer to the economic questions.

Western Pacific Update: Sino-Australian Relations Damaged Irreparably By Security Deal

 China’s increasingly aggressive military posturing and diplomatic ventures in the Western Pacific region continue to elicit strong rejoinders from regional powers, as well as the United States. The past week has not been particularly smooth sailing for Beijing. Australia’s decades-long effort to keep good relations with both the United States and China has ended. Thursday’s announcement of a security deal between the US, Australia and Great Britain that will eventually see Australia build and deploy nuclear-powered submarines means Canberra has chosen Washington over Beijing. To be fair, Sino-Australian relations have been trending downward for a long time. The COVID-19 pandemic and questions about the origins of the virus seem to have been the final nail in the coffin though.

The security deal’s completion has wasted no time in antagonizing China. On Thursday, China reacted angrily with a statement from the foreign ministry saying the blame for deteriorating relations “rests entirely with the Australian side.” Australia’s pivot towards the US undoubtedly seems like a stab in the back to China, which has invested years of effort in cultivating good trade and diplomatic relations with the Land Down Under. There will be no rapprochement between Australia and China for the foreseeable future, it would seem. Canberra has gone beyond the point of no return with its security deal with the US and Great Britain. Call it a rubicon moment of sorts for Australian foreign policy where Canberra has finally admitted its relationship with China has been decidedly one-sided and of benefit mainly to Beijing.

On the heels of the security deal, leaders from the four Quadrennial Security Dialogue nations are set to meet in Washington on 24 September. Countering China’s rise will undoubtedly be at the top of the agenda.

Suga’s Departure Raises Questions About a Quad Summit as Modi Prepares For A Possible US Trip

Yesterday’s decision by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to step down at the end of the September came as a shock even though it was widely expected. Suga’s handling of the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Japan has been seen as ineffective and his public support has plummeted. Suga’s own party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has lost confidence in him, a death knell for any prime minister. To be fair, Suga was never expected to become more than a placeholder. His time in office followed the tenure of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

The prospects of a Quad Partnership summit in Washington later this month are rapidly dimming now, owing to the return of Japanese political instability. Even though some sources claim there is still a possibility of a meeting happening, it doesn’t seem likely at this time. However, there are growing indications that India’s leader Narendra Modi will visit the United States this month. There has been no official confirmation, yet Today’s DIRT has learned from friends within the Indian government that preparations for the trip are underway.

A visit to Washington and subsequent meeting with President Biden could occur on September 23-24, followed by Modi traveling to New York City for the UN General Assembly.If the trip does happen, it will mark the first in-person meeting between Modi and Biden, coming on the heels of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as well as rising tensions in the Western Pacific.