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Asia is a priority for U.S. foreign policy as Washington shores up alliances

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The Indo-Pacific is set to play a much bigger role in U.S. foreign policy, with Asia being a top priority, according to political experts.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are in Japan and South Korea this week, visiting Washington’s two major military allies in Asia where tens of thousands of troops are stationed.

Last Friday, President Joe Biden virtually met the prime ministers of Japan, India and Australia as part of the first leaders’ summit of an informal strategic alliance — the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad as it’s known.

“Asia is the priority,” said Angela Mancini, a partner at Control Risks, on CNBC’s “Capital Connection” Monday. She explained that based on last week’s Quad meeting as well as the overall diplomacy that’s happening with the current administration, the U.S. is making it very clear that the Indo-Pacific region is important to Washington — compared to the previous administration’s transactional approach.

President Joe Biden, top left, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister, top right, Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, bottom left, and Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, on a monitor during the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) meeting at Sugas official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, March 12, 2021.

Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“In addition to shoring up alliances to potentially counter China, there are some specific bilateral issues as well to deal with,” Mancini said, adding that it includes the presence of U.S. troops in the region.

The Biden administration is building on the framework that the Trump administration left with regard to the Indo-Pacific strategy and is developing a coalition of partners to collaborate with, according to Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

The flurry of diplomatic activities in Asia by U.S. officials comes ahead of Blinken’s meeting with Chinese officials Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi on March 18 in Alaska.

Countering China

China is feeling they’re being encircled by the U.S. … and so they are going to push back with their own investments in tech spending and their own focus in the domestic economy.

Angela Mancini

Partner, Control Risks

The informal Quad alliance positions itself as being committed to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

The group is set to take on a much more important role in the region and can potentially become “a nucleus of a larger regional security architecture” going forward, according to Harsh Pant, head of the strategic studies program at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

For more than a decade, the Quad has had a lackluster existence even after geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China worsened starting in 2017, followed by a deterioration in relations between India and China, Pant said Monday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.” The group’s profile has risen in the last few months, he said.

Last year, India invited Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercises alongside the U.S. and Japan. For years, New Delhi resisted Canberra’s participation by taking into account the move would provoke Beijing.

Pant said India appears to be reevaluating its policy toward China after being a “fence sitter” in the larger balance of power in the region. New Delhi is now “making its reasons for joining certain platforms very clear,” he added.

Last Friday’s joint statement from the Quad avoided any direct mention of China and its foreign policies in the region and focused instead on areas such as Covid-19 vaccine distribution efforts.

That agreement is already a “significant step forward, and shows that the group is capable of delivering on tangible deliverables, rather than just talking about the China challenge,” Eurasia Group’s Bery told CNBC by email.

While it remains to be seen to what extent the Biden administration can get allies to approach developments in the region from a multilateral perspective, it is likely that Beijing will push back, said Mancini from Control Risks.

“China is feeling that they’re being encircled by the U.S. and that feeling is real and growing, and so they are going to push back with their own investments in tech spending and their own focus on the domestic economy,” she said.


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