President Joe Biden’s May visit to Asia has been timely, especially in the wider context of international developments in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere. China’s sustained military buildup requires a diplomatic and strategic response, and clearly, this is a principal — though not the only — incentive for the trip.
The journey included Japan and South Korea, two of the largest Asian economies outside of China. Both are close United States allies.
The Korean War of 1950-53 forged a powerful tie. South Korea’s evolution afterward to political democracy and economic powerhouse is extraordinary.
Biden spent three of the five days of the trip in Korea, including a wreath laying on May 21 at Seoul National Cemetery to honor those who died in the Korean War. Talks with new President Yoon Suk-yeol followed.
On May 24, high-level talks took place in Tokyo among leaders of the “Quad,” the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, reestablished in 2017 following unsuccessful earlier efforts. The Quad leaders who met in Japan included Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Biden.
China accuses Quad nations of trying to replicate NATO. That analogy neglects the great distances and associated challenges of the Asia theater. NATO ties together largely contiguous nations of Europe as well as North America.
Along with geographic realities, important differences in histories characterize the Quad. Nonetheless, the enormous growth of China’s military, in particular the maritime dimension, provides powerful incentive for this allied cooperation.
The Obama administration declared Asia a priority concern for defense policy. This reflects the threat from China, and more generally the expanding strategic importance of Asia.
Since the mid-1980s, the total volume of U.S. trade with Asia has been larger than with Europe. In the wake of the Soviet Union collapse and end of the Cold War, international relations have become more flexible — and unpredictable.
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization is an ambitious initiative to provide policy coordination among the Pacific nations. APEC was conceived by Australia’s Prime Minister Bob Hawke and embraced enthusiastically by President George H.W. Bush
Over the past several decades, Australia has moved in the direction of free markets, and a much more explicit national commitment to tolerance, directly reflected in official policy toward Indigenous populations. The Obama administration’s decision to station a U.S. Marine contingent in Australia underscores the strong bilateral ties between the two nations, dating back to World War II.
The 2006 APEC summit was held in Vietnam. The gathering highlighted that nation’s economic growth and commitment to multilateralism. As with China, economic realities forced ideological change.
Vietnam honored U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and our government with a parade, complete with American flags — an ironic, as well as poignant, gesture.
There are military security aspects to APEC summits, just as with the Quad. In the 2008 summit held in Peru, Americans and Russians discussed differences over Moscow’s invasion of Georgia, important background given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Pacific region generally lacks the complex established network of economic and military organizations defining Atlantic area relationships. For this reason especially, APEC and the Quad are significant.
For decades, Cold War division defined relationships among nations. Today, economic incentives and related self-interest undermine ideological hostilities.
This unfolding reality may or may not change China’s strategy. Therefore, Biden’s blunt declaration of commitment to Taiwan is justified.
Beijing is on notice. Asia-Pacific democracies are strong and united.
Arthur I. Cyr is a Clausen distinguished professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org