Joe Biden’s new Indo-Pacific Strategy: A view from Southeast Asia

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Published 16 Feb 2022 11:30 – ARISTYO RIZKA DARMAWAN

Joe Biden’s new Indo-Pacific Strategy: A view from Southeast Asia (

The United States has just released an Indo-Pacific Strategy document, reiterating the importance of the region under President Joe Biden. Even though the document states the United States “will focus on every corner of the region, from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, to South Asia and Oceania, including the Pacific Islands,” it’s obvious that Southeast Asia is very much in the heart of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Many of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states are specifically mentioned, with the Philippines and Thailand as US treaty alliance partners in the region. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are considered leading regional partners.

Unlike the AUKUS announcements, where China loomed in the background largely unmentioned, the new strategy document is explicit that China’s “coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific”. Beijing is singled out for aggressive behaviour, threatening neighbours in the South and East China seas, leading Washington to declare it will assist allies and friends in the region.

The best way to increase US engagement with the region and Southeast Asia in particular will be to demonstrate the benefit to both sides.

Southeast Asia has become one of the most important arenas for this great power contestation. ASEAN has long emphasised its centrality and neutrality and to ensure this continues the organisation has adopted the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific. The new US Indo-Pacific Strategy does not explicitly mention or endorse the ASEAN Outlook, but it does “endorse ASEAN centrality and support ASEAN in its efforts to deliver sustainable solutions to the region’s most pressing challenges”.

This is an important gesture and, unlike the Trump administration which too often sought to provoke ASEAN to confront China, the new US Indo-Pacific Strategy recognises and respects the importance of ASEAN unity.

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