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Tuesday, March 02, 2021, 07:32 (GMT+7)
A forecast about the U.S. security and defence policy for the Indo-Pacific region

The U.S. security and defence policy for the Indo-Pacific region has been designed, inherited and developed by many U.S. presidents since the end of the World War II. Will there be any adjustment in this policy to maintain the U.S. military superiority on a regional and global scale?

Legacy of the previous government

In 4 years of the Trump presidency, in spite of numerous controversial statements, the U.S. Military partly restored and consolidated its strength thanks to a record increase in defence budget. The U.S. budget for its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region was always maintained. It should be noted that in 2021 the U.S. spent 2.2 billion USD on supporting the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (within 2 years) in order to respond to “challenges from China.” The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command recommended an increase of 20 billion USD in the period of 2021-2026. Nearly half of the U.S. military bases in other countries belong to this Command and are established in key places, such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, which enables Washington to maintain its military presence and increase its combat readiness capacity to deal with confrontations and conflicts in the region. Military modernisation programmes obtained positive results and helped raise the U.S. Military’s power and combat readiness capacity in 4 main fields as follows. (1) Budget for restoring the U.S. joint forces’ combat readiness capacity was increased. (2) More investments were made in military research and development (R&D). (3) Strategic nuclear weapons and tactics were modernised. (4) The aerospace programme was enhanced while the Space Force was established as the 6th service branch of the U.S. Military.

When Washington enhanced its strategy to compete with Beijing and gather forces in the region, allies and partners of the U.S. adopted many policies to facilitate America’s strategy. It is clear for us to see that when China pressurised Australia regarding COVID-19, this country clearly expressed its support for the U.S. policy to build a rules-based order and flatly refused to use the 5G technology developed by China. India also developed its relations with the U.S. into Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, enhanced its participation in the quadrilateral dialogue mechanism, and promoted its defence cooperation with Australia.

Allies and partners also demonstrated their stronger support for Washington concerning the issues at the East Sea. Notably, since the U.S. changed its standpoint and rejected China’s claims of marine natural resources in the vast majority of the East Sea, its allies, such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK all opposed Beijing’s militarisation of the East Sea and deployed their warships to joint exercises with the U.S. Navy in this sea. Meanwhile, America’s partners in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia took a more unyielding stance against China on the East Sea.

Challenges facing the Biden Administration

In spite of gaining several advantages from the previous government, the Biden Administration will be confronted with the increasingly enormous challenges relating to defence and security within the Indo-Pacific Region.

The first and biggest challenge will be China’s rise. The Trump Administration also considered China as a “strategic rival” and American politicians achieved a consensus on a strategic competition with Beijing as the top diplomatic priority. Over the years, China’s military power has witnessed impressive development. This country’s warships and cruise missiles have outnumbered American ones; however, the level of modernity of China’s equipment is still lower than the U.S. for about 5-10 years. In 2017, China announced its ambition to build a “world-class military” by 2049. While increasing its military power, Beijing has gathered forces and extended its influence in the region, particularly on Southeast Asia countries, with a view to driving the U.S. and Western countries out of the region and the East Sea as well.

The second challenge will be Russia’s return to the region. As for American people and especially Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States of America, Russia’s large stockpile of nuclear weapons should be seen as “the most serious threat to the U.S. security.” In recent years, Asia-Pacific region has become an “exit” of Russia against sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the West. Russia has been devoting effort to intervening in Asia, improving its role in the region, and fostering relations with China in order to undermine the U.S. strategic status. Russia has also deployed thousands of weapons and pieces of military equipment to the Far East, including the state-of-the-art S-300V4 air defence system, which have been thought to be against the U.S. and Japan.

The third challenge will be “hot spots” in the region, namely North Korea, Taiwan, and the East Sea. In March 2020, North Korea tested a multiple launch rocket system, causing concern about the country’s continued development of its missile and nuclear programme. Meanwhile, the situation at the Taiwan Strait has been constantly intense due to the policy adjustments made by both China and Taiwan, which would pose threats, including the risk of a military conflict between the two sides, to the Biden Administration. Regarding the East Sea, Beijing has basically completed the militarisation of entities at sea and it is designing a plan to announce the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), continuously making claims, and taking provocative actions against its neighbours.

Furthermore, the Biden Administration will have to face non-traditional security challenges in the region, such as epidemic, climate change, human trafficking, arms smuggling which have increasingly complex developments and are negatively significantly impacting on regional security and the world economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped the whole world to more fully understand the non-traditional security challenges in the context of globalisation. Against that backdrop, as a superpower, the U.S. shall encourage its role in leading other countries to overcome such challenges, which has not been fulfilled by the previous government over the years.

A forecast about the Biden Administration’s policy

The goal of the Biden Administration in the Indo-Pacific Region (which is considered the global centre and arena of the 21st century) will be maintaining the U.S. leadership role and status as the greatest military power to ensure that the 21st century will still be “American century.” Grounded on advantages, challenges, and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, the U.S. defence and security policy for the Indo-Pacific Region in four years’ time is forecast as follows.

First of all, immediately after taking office, President Joe Biden will consolidate the U.S. prestige and relations with allies and partners in the region, which have been believed to be weakened under Donald Trump’s presidency. However, major adjustments will not be made as most of the U.S. allies and partners have partly adapted themselves to the previous government’s changes. Nevertheless, the Biden’s Administration will have to exploit the “political space” to foster relations with its allies and partners, while gradually reducing pressure over trade issues, continuing to ask allies to share military costs, avoiding public criticisms, and possibly cancelling the withdrawal of American troops from Japan and South Korea as Donald Trump ever said. Washington will continue giving priority to maintaining and extending the quadrilateral dialogue mechanism, while assisting its Southeast Asia partners in increasing their military capacity via joint exercises and training as well as the provision of military equipment. The Biden Administration will possibly promote a principled security network. The U.S. will both deepen bilateral relations with its allies and help these countries to encourage security cooperation to support one another when necessary so that they could work with America to share the burden and proactively maintain cooperation based on universal principles without the U.S. direct involvement.

Second, with reference to China, the Biden Administration will seek ways to promote cooperation on global issues, such as epidemic and climate change; however, Washington will continue maintaining rigid viewpoints against Beijing on trade, technology transfer, democracy, human rights, and China’s effort to extend influence. It is more likely that competition will still be the mainstream of the U.S.-China relations. Programmes to modernise weapons, rearrange and gather forces as well as military operations by the U.S. will be aimed at containing China’s increasing military power. In the mean time, Washington will keep imposing sanctions on Russia and preventing Moscow from exercising influence on the Indo-Pacific Region.

Third, the U.S. will deal with security issues in the region. Regarding the nuclear progamme on the Korean Peninsula, the third U.S.-North Korea Summit will hardly take place unless there are significant developments during working-level negotiations. Besides, Washington will have to focus on responding to North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests which are on a larger scale and in a higher degree. Concerning Taiwan, the U.S. will continue supporting Taiwan but avoid provoking China. As for the East Sea, the Biden’s Administration will basically inherit the previous government’s goal and direction, while adopting a firm stance on maritime dispute, increasing military presence, conducting freedom of navigation operations (FONOP), organising field exercises, and possibly imposing economic sanctions when necessary. After lessons on the Scarborough Shoal stand-off in 2012 and China’s violation of its commitment not to militarising the East Sea in 2015 (when Joe Biden was Vice President of the U.S.), America under Biden’s presidency will take more cautious and tougher actions against each move of China. 

In conclusion, in spite of the fact that the U.S. strength is being undermined, it is still the world’s only superpower. Thus, the adjustments in the U.S. policy will enable Washington to effectively deal with changes in the regional strategic environment when China is rated as the biggest challenge.

MY CHAU

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