Blind spots in Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy

Blind spots in Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy | East Asia Forum

Author: Paul Heer, CFTNI October 30, 2022

The Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, released in February 2022, affirms that the United States will work through ‘a latticework of strong and mutually reinforcing coalitions’ to foster ‘the collective capacity’ of the region to confront 21st century challenges. To that end, Washington has played a leading role in promoting multilateral institutions and shared interests in the region.

These efforts include the Quad — a dialogue process that combines Japan, Australia, India and the United States — and AUKUS — a security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the economic realm, Washington has partnered with multiple countries in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), as a substitute for US membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The Biden administration also includes the Indo-Pacific in the Build Back Better World (B3W) Partnership, an infrastructure investment program launched by the G7.

US-led initiatives also include the US–Pacific Partnership with multiple South Pacific Island countries and the complementary ‘Partners in the Blue Pacific’ initiative (PBP) launched in June 2022 with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United Kingdom. These groups overlap with the pre-existing network of formal US allies in the region and Washington’s longstanding participation in ASEAN-centered institutions like the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.

Though this would appear to be an embarrassment of riches in terms of US multilateral engagement in the region, several underlying issues have tempered the impact of Washington’s efforts and pose challenges going forward.

While most of the Indo-Pacific is eager for US engagement and commitment, fault lines persist on what to prioritise in the regional agenda. Many countries perceive the US focus on traditional security issues to be at the expense of economic concerns and climate change. Washington has ramped up its attention to the latter issues, but diverging views on what is most important will continue to hamper robust cooperation. So will limits on the resources that the United States can bring to bear.

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