Lacking a serious vision for the region, the administration is aiming low.
FOREIGN POLICY – AUGUST 24, 2021, 12:35 PM
By Susannah Patton, a research fellow at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre, and Ashley Townshend, the director of the Foreign Policy and Defence Program at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre.
When the White House announced that U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris would visit Singapore and Vietnam in August, Asia watchers scratched their heads. Sure, Washington has ground to make up in Southeast Asia. But of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, why return to two of the countries that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin already visited in July?
The answer is simple: The Biden administration is playing it safe. This is not just to keep things easy for Harris, who has relatively little foreign-policy experience. The administration is aiming low because of underlying weaknesses in its approach to Asia, as we argue in a forthcoming United States Studies Centre report. For all the administration’s rhetoric about strategic competition with China, it has yet to present a serious Indo-Pacific policy—or its most important element, an effective economic strategy for the region. Had Harris visited countries other than the two U.S.-friendly stops prepared by Austin, Washington would have had to put much more on the table to secure a warm welcome.
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