The modern world is torn by contradictions: the US and its allies, accustomed to global domination, seek to maintain and expand their position at the expense of the interests of other countries, leading to crises and conflicts. In the Middle East, wars have been raging for decades, and in Europe, fighting has broken out in Ukraine. Peace has so far prevailed in East Asia, but the situation in the region is gradually worsening: the region’s biggest power, the PRC, is a major economic rival for the US and is constantly under threat from Western hostility. For several years now there has been a “trade war” between Beijing and Washington, which has manifested itself not only in economic pressure on each other, but also in arrests and prison sentences for representatives of the other side.
The China-US confrontation is splitting the region, forcing East, South-East and Central Asian countries to consolidate on one of the opposing sides. Meanwhile, the main US allies in East Asia, South Korea and Japan, despite the fact that dozens of thousands of US troops are already deployed on their territories, have in recent years been actively building up their own military power under pressure from Washington, and there is no doubt that these preparations are anti-Chinese (and in the case of Japan, possibly anti-Russian) in nature. US propagandists, meanwhile, are talking more and more about the PRC allegedly preparing aggression against Taiwan, a partially recognized state that Beijing considers its territory. It can be concluded that the situation is constantly heating up. And Washington appears to be comfortable with this, as the American leadership is doing everything it can to divide the region and pit Asian states against each other.
In April 2022, there were media reports that US President Joe Biden intends to visit his main Asian allies, South Korea and Japan, next month. Some time before the trip, it was stated that its purpose was to reassure American partners that the US “can handle two foreign policy threats at once”: that is, Russian special operations on Ukrainian territory and Chinese activities, the fight against which was a priority issue for the White House before the Ukraine events.
During his trip, Biden hoped to reassure Asian partners of the US that, despite all the attention Washington is paying to the Ukrainian issue, all earlier agreements on countering China are still in force. Moreover, The Washington Post openly wrote that the talk would be about Washington’s readiness “to lead coalitions against aggressive superpowers.” The American love of “leading” anything and everything has long been known, but explicit phrases such as “coalitions against aggressive superpowers” are not often heard in diplomatic rhetoric. It is particularly interesting that in the current turbulent times, when it would seem necessary to maintain at least a semblance of friendly, or neutral, relations with each and every state, Washington has no qualms about openly declaring China an “aggressive superpower.”
As was to be expected, Beijing received Biden’s trip without any enthusiasm. The PRC, through its Foreign Ministry, has warned South Korea and Japan not to participate in any unnecessarily bold projects of Washington. To this end, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi even had relevant discussions with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. The Western media took the PRC’s discontent with schadenfreude; the US publication Politico even reported that “Beijing is freaking out.”
On May 19, 2022, Biden’s Asian trip began. In South Korea, he met with the country’s new, just inaugurated president, Yoon Suk-yeol. As per the general agenda, the main topic of their negotiations was the strengthening of US-South Korean military cooperation. The US President assured the Korean side that the US was prepared to ensure South Korea’s security, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons.
Biden then flew to Japan, where he met not only Japanese leader Fumio Kishida, but also the Indian and Australian heads of state, Narendra Modi and Anthony Albanese: in Tokyo, the four leaders held another Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) summit. As you know, the main objective of the Quad is to counter Chinese ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region (IPR). This was the topic that the four leaders devoted their meeting in Tokyo to.
Apart from military cooperation, Biden also discussed economic cooperation with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, namely the US initiative called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). While in Tokyo, on May 22, 2022 Biden officially announced the launch of IPEF. IPEF is designed to strengthen and expand economic ties between the US and its allies throughout the IPR. The first IPEF participants were, in addition to the USA, Australia, Brunei, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan. All of these countries are either allies of the US or have differences of opinion with China.
It should be recalled that the very notion of “Indo-Pacific region,” unknown to a wide audience until recently, has been actively promoted by the Western media over the last decade, when it became clear that Washington’s regional rivalry with Beijing was not limited to the Asia-Pacific, and that to counter China, the US should combine its anti-China struggle in the Pacific with India’s anti-China struggle in the Indian Ocean. The military basis for the Indo-Pacific Alliance against China was established by the Quad, and with the launch of the IPEF, it should also have a strong economic basis to ensure its viability.
Biden’s visit to South Korea and Japan was positively received by the West and Asian supporters of the US. The pro-Western media reported that the US leader had vividly demonstrated the US Indo-Pacific strategy and that America could simultaneously lead the “free world” against the “Russian threat” while ensuring its “principled and effective” leadership in the IPR, thus determining the fate of humanity in the 21st century. This is roughly how US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan put it.
However, not all Asian countries are ready to gratefully accept the “principled and effective leadership” of the US. Thus, on May 25, 2022, just after Biden’s visit to Japan and the end of his Asian trip, North Korea (DPRK), a long-time adversary of South Korea and the US, test-fired three ballistic missiles. From what can be gathered, one of the missiles was intercontinental. The missiles fell into the Sea of Japan. Apparently, this demonstration launch was deliberately timed to coincide with the end of Biden’s trip.
It should be noted that, despite all contradictions, China, India, Japan and South Korea have lived in relative harmony for many decades, developing trade relations and seeking other ways to coexist peacefully. However, the contradictions between China and its neighbors are now intensifying: relying on US support, India, South Korea and Japan increasingly allow Washington to drag themselves into a conflict with the PRC from which there will be no easy way out.
As for the US, by splitting the APAC and IPR into its supporters and opponents, Washington is clearly preparing for an intensified confrontation with China. It is clear that America will not give up its supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region without a fight. On the other hand, the very fact that the US is being forced to prepare to fight shows that it realizes that the time of its unchallenged hegemony and “unipolar world” is over. And now, instead of claiming world domination, Washington has to separate the parts of the world it is still able to control.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.