FOREIGN POLICY – Security Brief – By Jack Detsch, Robbie Gramer | October 29, 2020, 1:08 PM
Trump’s Moves in the Indo-Pacific
Though U.S. President Donald Trump appears to be the underdog next week, the upcoming election hasn’t stopped his administration from embarking on moves across the Asia-Pacific region to counter China’s rise. On Tuesday, after meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a pact to share sensitive satellite information that can provide targets for missiles and drones, the latest major defense deal with New Delhi.
The Trump administration has also pledged to beef up the U.S. diplomatic presence in the region, with Pompeo announcing plans to open the first-ever U.S. embassy in the Maldives on Wednesday alongside other defense deals. Pompeo used visits to the Maldives and Sri Lanka to slam what he has dubbed China’s “debt-trap diplomacy”—predatory loans on infrastructure projects in both countries. Pompeo is visiting Indonesia today.
The State Department also approved the sale of more than $2 billion in Harpoon missiles to Taiwan this week, leading Beijing to announce sanctions against three major U.S. defense contractors.
Those aren’t the only moves that the United States is making. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite just wrapped up a trip to the region, stressing that the U.S. military was falling behind in competition with China. He traveled through Japan, Singapore, Guam, and Palau—a tiny island that has asked the Pentagon to build bases, ports, and airfields to counter Beijing. “It is an unbelievable threat to our way of life,” Braithwaite said during the trip, which he also used to articulate Chinese military threats in the Arctic.
Pompeo, Esper, and Braithwaite could all be lame ducks by next week, but their pre-election moves are likely to outlive the administration if Trump loses. In an interview with CBS 60 Minutes last week, Biden called China the greatest geopolitical competitor to the United States, and so far his policy to contain Beijing sounds like more of the same.
“People in Beijing may be nervous about Joe Biden because they recognize that he is going to work with allies,” Jeffrey Prescott, a Biden advisor, told Axios. That doesn’t sound like an administration that would reverse Trump’s moves—but one that might make them enduring.