Biden aimed to reassure America’s allies in the Pacific of its continued focus through his maiden trip to Asia.
Be it China’s assertive actions, the apprehension of a looming China threat over Taiwan, or North Korea’s unabated efforts to build its missile programme as well as its nuclear arsenal, there has hardly been a dearth of issues drawing the US’ attention to the Indo-Pacific even amidst an active war in Europe.While a united front against Russia along with its European allies has helped the US consolidate its transatlantic alliance, it may have played a hand in withering assurances from the Biden administration that America’s allies in the Pacific theatre were expecting out of a different dispensation in Washington than the brinkmanship of the erstwhile Donald Trump presidency. Against this backdrop, Biden’s trip to two important allies in Asia–Japan and South Korea—marks the refocusing of the US in the Indo-Pacific. In line with his administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy which was brought out earlier this year, Biden has sought to assure its Indo-Pacific allies that his promise of America’s continued focus in every part of this region is not just empty words and that a renewed focus on the threats posed by Russia in Europe will not take away from the Indo-Pacific strategy. Broadly, Biden’s Asia trip was undergirded by three strong focuses: Improving economic security at home and abroad through stronger partnerships with its allies in the Indo-Pacific; stability of the Korean Peninsula in the face of continued North Korean threats; emphasising US’ extended deterrence in the Pacific theatre and countering China’s growing dominance in the Indo-Pacific. The US-ROK relationship forms an important strategic arc in the Indo-Pacific. Symbolically, President Biden’s visit marked the earliest visit ever by a US President during any South Korean President’s tenure. In many ways, Biden’s visit looked to carve a sharper role for the ROK in US’ Indo-Pacific strategy. In South Korea, Biden looked to reassure a new government in Seoul under President Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), of Washington’s continued support amidst a wearing out of trust in Seoul that the US under Biden was doing enough to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. In the US too, there was some settling apprehension that the South Korean government under President Yoon may be timider in its approach to North Korea and China. Besides, in an early scramble, China has already reached out to the new government of South Korea by sending one of its top officials into the recent swearing-in ceremony of President Yoon. Biden’s visit to Seoul sits well with President Yoon’s claim that the US–South Korea ties had weakened under his predecessor as the latter had drawn close to China. As Yoon had taken a hard-line position against China in his presidential campaign, Biden’s visit may have served as a necessary early scramble by the US to build on Yoon’s domestic political stand vis-à-vis China.
In South Korea, Biden looked to reassure a new government in Seoul under President Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), of Washington’s continued support amidst a wearing out of trust in Seoul that the US under Biden was doing enough to bring North Korea to the negotiating table.Biden’s trip to South Korea carried high economic stakes. By linking the intention to carve a distinct place for the ROK in the Indo-Pacific with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the Biden administration has made it clear that there is a broad basing of the US–-ROK alliance underway that not just relies on the security compulsions but on “creating a strategic economic and technology partnership that really will reflect the importance of innovation and technology.” Discussions on supporting innovations, partnership on critical and emerging technologies, strengthening cooperation on defence industry issues, economic and energy security, global health, and climate change formed an important part of the bilateral discussions between the two sides. Specifically, the US and South Korea have targeted cooperation in the semiconductor industry as well as items like EV batteries and microchips. During this visit, President Biden and the Executive Chairman of Hyundai Motor Group discussed Hyundai’s decision to invest in a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility in Savannah, Georgia. On May 19, the first day of his visit to South Korea, President Biden along with President Yoon also visited the Samsung Pyeongtaek facility. The agreements are slated to secure a US$11-billion investment towards manufacturing as well as 8,000 jobs in the US. North Korea’s continued build-up of its nuclear arsenal remains a strong concern for the US, and Biden’s visit was meant to reflect his administration’s continued commitment towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
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Vivek Mishra is a Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. His research interests include America in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific regions, particularly ...Read More +