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US strengthens allies and partners in Indo-Pacific ahead of Blinken trip to Beijing

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan is in an Asian diplomatic blitz this week, taking part in a trilateral meeting with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea on Thursday.

On Friday, he is meeting with his counterparts from Japan and the Philippines, in the first trilateral engagement of national security advisers from that group.

Sullivan’s meetings in Tokyo follow a stopover in New Delhi earlier this week to finalize details for next week’s official visit to the White House of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – a country that is becoming increasingly indispensable. Washington’s objectives in the region.

Although the timing is “a coincidence,” according to an administration official, Sullivan’s meetings are taking place just days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing this weekend.

The State Department said the visit to Beijing, which Washington postponed after shooting down a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over US territory in February, is part of the Biden administration’s effort to repair deteriorating ties and maintain open lines of communication between Washington and Beijing.

Strengthening alliances and partnerships is a clear part of the administration’s strategy to effectively compete with China, while Blinken’s trip to Beijing aims to stabilize relations, said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center. . “It’s two sides of the same coin,” she told VOA.

Working with more than one country at a time to bolster allies is part of what is often called the administration’s “minilateral” strategy. The goal is to highlight each partner’s strengths and encourage them to work together.

“We won’t be able to get a big cluster, so let’s do a lot of minilaterals,” said Aparna Pande, director of the Future of India and South Asia Initiative at the Hudson Institute in Washington. That way, she told VOA, the United States carries less of a burden, even as it acts as the glue that holds the groups together.

Geostrategic Indo-Pacific

The busy diplomacy week is designed to reaffirm the message that Washington wants to strengthen ties with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, which it sees as the world’s primary geostrategic region with vast opportunities for greater cooperation on economic security, including on critical issues and emerging technologies.

Challenges in the region include North Korean nuclear threats, highlighted by Pyongyang’s Thursday launch of two short-range ballistic missiles. China, meanwhile, has massively increased military spending over the past decade and engaged in what Washington calls “economic coercion,” imposing economic costs on various countries to achieve political goals.

Amid Beijing’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea and tensions with Taiwan, the war on Ukraine has amplified threat assessments in the region, reminding countries of the devastating impact of a possible Chinese invasion.

South Korean K-2 tanks fire during a joint South Korea-U.S. military exercise at Seungjin Fire Training Range in Pocheon on June 15, 2023.

This leads to increased defense spending by each country and demands for an increasingly muscular American presence in the region, with more joint military exercises, a strengthened defense posture and a stronger nuclear umbrella for the South Korea, known as extended deterrence.

“We know they tend to face threats, and countries feel threatened,” Zack Cooper, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said at a recent event with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. .

Beijing calls the increased US presence a “distinct military provocation”, a charge denied by the Biden administration.

“The fact that we’re looking for ways to be more present is a response to changes in the security environment, not forced changes in the security environment,” said Lindsay Ford, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for South and Southeast Asia, during the CSIS event. “If that weren’t true, we wouldn’t have allies and partners so interested in having the United States there anymore.”

Beyond the defense context, US-China relations are “more than just an arms race,” said Sheila Smith, Japan research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“It’s a competition now for advantage, strategic advantage in the future, on technology and economic power as well,” she told VOA.

US officials say Blinken’s visit to China is aimed at restoring a sense of calm and normality and is unlikely to result in a significant breakthrough in the myriad of issues plaguing Washington-Beijing relations.

USA voanews

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