GOOD MORNING FROM LONDON
The main focus of world politics in recent months has been the Russian invasion of Ukraine but in the last few days, events in the Far East have captured the attention of the media’s headlines because of President Biden’s visit to Tokyo. There are two stand out issues; first, Taiwan and, second, US efforts to build an anti-China alliance with other countries in the region.
Biden set the agenda when, in response to an interviewer’s question, he pledged to use military force if Taiwan is attacked by China. Biden, in a word, cast doubt on the consistency of US policy toward China. Hitherto the US has invoked “strategic ambiguity” in order to leave the world uncertain whether the US would resort to military intervention if Taiwan was attacked. Two events followed overnight – first, the White House, not for the first time, distanced itself from Biden’s promise and played down the commitment to military involvement. And, second, came a sabre-rattling response from China when in a joint operation with Russia, a joint fly-by of Chinese and Russian nuclear-capable bombers crossed the Sea of Japan. An unmistakable message of military power was sent from East to West, from Beijing/Moscow to Washington.
The second issue concerns US efforts to construct a rival strategy to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI today sees 140 countries signed up to participate in significant infrastructure investment in roads, ports, airports and railways designed to hasten economic development in the 140 recipient countries. Washington likes to dismiss this big world initiative as “debt diplomacy”. As a response, the US has set up the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) to promote clean energy and common digital standards.
Should the Asian countries join up? Two points; first IPEF appears insubstantial. Is there enough in the initiative to encourage the countries to join up? Second, and this is an ever-present problem for US post-Trump, will Biden become a lame-duck President after the November 2022 mid-term elections? Is Trump or Trump Mark Two lurking in the shadows?