And then there are the regional fallout from the war in Ukraine.
The Russian invasion has raised fears in the region that Beijing could use the war to increase pressure on Taiwan and step up its disruptive tactics against other neighbors. The White House hopes that Biden’s mere presence will reassure Tokyo and Seoul and their newly elected leaders. The president will also use the trip to meet with the Quad, which includes Australia and India, to try to establish another barrier to Chinese expansion.
“The message we’re trying to send on this trip is what the world could look like if the democracies and open societies of the world could come together to shape the rules of the road,” said Jake Sullivan, adviser to the president. to national security. “It will send a powerful message, and we believe that message will be heard everywhere. We think he will be heard in Beijing.
All told, the trip constitutes Biden’s toughest foreign test yet, one that combines a myriad of thorny diplomatic issues that successive presidents have pledged and largely failed to resolve.
Competition with China had long been seen by the White House as a major foreign policy goal, with Biden calling for a tougher stance on trade, security and human rights issues. The administration believes that the relationship and rivalry with China will always be defining for this century, and it has pushed back against the idea that the war in Europe has come at the expense of a focus on Asia.
But it will certainly be difficult for Biden to escape the shadow of war in Ukraine. Japan and Korea have helped Ukraine ward off Russia, which has its own presence in the Pacific. And the administration explicitly and implicitly argued that helping Ukraine win the war would strengthen the position of democratic governments in the East.
“We don’t see it as tension, we see it as mutual reinforcement,” Sullivan said Wednesday, noting that Europe is increasingly involved in the Indo-Pacific strategy.
When Biden first took office, competition against China was among his top foreign policy concerns.
But the planned pivot never fully materialized as various other priorities emerged, including restoring alliances in Europe, chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The inability to devote real time and attention to China policy was no small feat, foreign policy experts said. And there is some hope that as the war settles into a stalemate in eastern Ukraine, it could inadvertently help the White House expand its reach elsewhere.
“The most valuable asset in Washington is the president’s time,” said Ryan Hass, who served as director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia on the National Security Council during the Obama administration and wrote the 2021 book. , “Stronger: Adapting America’s China Strategy in an Age of Competitive Interdependence.” The more the administration demonstrates its ability to mobilize tangible support to address key economic, health, and climate priorities in the region, the more the United States gain influence in the region.”
There are also new opportunities in the region with the recent inauguration of Yoon Suk Yeol as President of South Korea. Yoon reported a closer relationship with the United States. At his inauguration earlier this month, administration officials noted that second gentleman Doug Emhoff sat in the front row, and during a dinner with foreign dignitaries, Emhoff also sat at the table. Yoon.
Biden’s relationship with Yoon could be critical as North Korea has stepped up its slashing. Biden has no plans to travel to the DMZ, the heavily fortified border with the North, while in Korea, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. But North Korea, which has only admitted in recent days that it has started to fight Covid-19, could be ready to carry out a seventh nuclear test, officials warn.
“We are preparing for all eventualities, including the possibility of such a provocation occurring while we are in Korea or Japan,” Sullivan said.