United States (US) President Joe Biden’s administration released its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy on Friday, marking the culmination of months of work to reposition the US as a major player in trade development in the region, leaning heavily on alliances, military deterrence and a stronger presence in Southeast Asia.
The 12-page strategy overview is central towards Washington’s strategy in ramping up its engagement with ASEAN and other partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific region, five years after the Trump administration formally removed the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a comprehensive trade agreement that the Obama administration had worked for years to complete.
Some of the highlights from the strategy overview include the US desire to contribute to an empowered and unified ASEAN, proposing an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework including a new digital economy framework and also stepping up cooperation and enhancing interoperability with allies and partners in the defence area.
According to a statement from the White House, the Biden-Harris Administration has made historic strides to restore American leadership in the Indo-Pacific and adapt its role for the 21st Century. “In the last year, the US has modernised its longstanding alliances, strengthened emerging partnerships, and forged innovative links among them to meet urgent challenges, from competition with China to climate change to the pandemic. It has done so at a time when allies and partners around the world are increasingly enhancing their own engagement in the Indo-Pacific; and when there is broad, bipartisan agreement in the US Congress that the US must, too.”
The White House added that this convergence in commitment to the region, across oceans and across political-party lines, reflects an undeniable reality. “The Indo-Pacific is the most dynamic region in the world, and its future affects people everywhere.”
This strategy outlines President Biden’s vision to more firmly anchor the US in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen the region in the process. Its central focus is sustained and creative collaboration with allies, partners, and institutions, within the region and beyond it.
The White House statement explained that the US will pursue an Indo-Pacific region that are:
FREE AND OPEN
The US’s vital interests and those of its closest partners require a free and open Indo-Pacific, and a free and open Indo-Pacific requires that governments can make their own choices and that shared domains are governed lawfully. The strategy begins with strengthening resilience, both within individual countries, as they have done in the US, and among them. They seek to advance a free and open region, including by: investing in democratic institutions, a free press, and a vibrant civil society; improving fiscal transparency in the Indo-Pacific to expose corruption and drive reform; ensuring the region’s seas and skies are governed and used according to international law; advancing common approaches to critical and emerging technologies, the Internet, and cyber space.
The White House said, “A free and open Indo-Pacific can only be achieved if we build collective capacity for a new age.”
The statement added that the alliances, organisations, and rules that the US and its partners have helped to build must be adapted and the US is keen on building collective capacity within and beyond the region, including by: deepening their five regional treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand; strengthening relationships with leading regional partners, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands; contributing to an empowered and unified ASEAN; strengthening the Quad and delivering on its commitments; Supporting India’s continued rise and regional leadership; partnering to build resilience in the Pacific Islands; forging connections between the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic; and expanding US diplomatic presence in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.
According to the White House, the prosperity of everyday Americans is linked to the Indo-Pacific and that fact requires investments to encourage innovation, strengthen economic competitiveness, produce good-paying jobs, rebuild supply chains, and expand economic opportunities for middle-class families: 1.5 billion people in the Indo-Pacific will join the global middle class this decade.
The US is seeking to drive Indo-Pacific prosperity, including by: proposing an Indo-Pacific economic framework, through which they will develop new approaches to trade that meet high labour and environmental standards, govern our digital economies and cross-border data flows according to open principles, including through a new digital economy framework, advance resilient and secure supply chains that are diverse, open, and predictable and also make shared investments in decarbonisation and clean energy.
They also want to promote free, fair, and open trade and investment through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), including in their 2023 host year and is working to help close the region’s infrastructure gap through Build Back Better World with G7 partners.
The statement said that for 75 years, the US has maintained a strong and consistent defence presence necessary to support regional peace, security, stability, and prosperity.
“We are extending and modernising that role and enhancing our capabilities to defend our interests and to deter aggression against US territory and against our allies and partners. We will bolster Indo-Pacific security, drawing on all instruments of power to deter aggression and to counter coercion.”
As the Indo-Pacific faces major transnational challenges, climate change is growing ever-more severe as South Asia’s glaciers melt and the Pacific Islands battle existential rises in sea levels.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to inflict a painful human and economic toll across the region. And Indo-Pacific governments grapple with natural disasters, resource scarcity, internal conflict, and governance challenges. Left unchecked, these forces threaten to destabilise the region.”
The Biden administration seeks to build regional resilience to 21st-Century transnational threats, including by working with allies and partners to develop 2030 and 2050 targets, strategies, and policies consistent with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius; reducing regional vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, ending the COVID-19 pandemic and bolstering global health security.