Jakarta, IO – The lines are being drawn in what is increasingly being seen as the onset of a new cold war.
But there is an important differences between the first cold war and today’s rising tensions between nuclear superpowers.
During the post WWII tussle between the Soviet Union and the United States, China barely figured into the calculus of global politics and security. When the dust first settled after the war ended in the European and Pacific theaters, China was an economic backwater and mostly inward-looking as it grappled with widespread poverty and domestic political upheavals.
Now, with the world›s second largest economy and its military strength ranked number three after America and Russia, China matters more than ever. China›s growing influence in geopolitics weighs heavily on the minds of not only America’s foreign policy establishment, but practically the entire world as Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party have embarked on a mission for China to become the regional hegemony and perhaps eventually beyond.
When it comes to this new cold war, America must not only compete with China for supremacy in the Indo-Pacific–now, it must also deal with the new and proximate security threats to Europe as a consequence of the Russo-Ukraine war.
And therein lies an extraordinary challenge to America. As Washington along with its allies get drawn deeper into their proxy war with Russia, the less resources Biden will have to focus on countering China in the Indo-Pacific.
To be fair to Biden and his foreign policy team, there has been an improvement in America’s Asia policy since he entered office. His immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, embraced a unilateralist approach in his foreign policy, often ended up antagonising Washington’s allies in the region, and he pulled America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement only to have China fill the vacuum left behind it with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership–a pact which started earlier this year and is now the largest free trade deal in the world.
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was a much more highly respected figure and admired by many Asians for his diplomacy. At the time Asia would have liked to see America play a more prominent role in the region as a counter to China. Unfortunately Obama’s professed desire to become more heavily engaged in the region through his “pivot” policy never really succeeded in pivoting America away from the Middle East toward Asia. America remained bogged down in its seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as it did the influence of China became increasingly evident.
Fortunately, Biden and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken appreciate and understand the need for alliances in this new cold war. The major European powers have applauded Washington for restoring relations to levels prior to the Trump administration. Diplomatic relations between America and its friends in Asia such as Japan, Korea and ASEAN have also been strengthened and bi- and multilateral military alliances have been bolstered. Biden’s Asia team is also looking to strengthen commercial ties with its newly announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework which, if properly managed, could prove to be an improved version of Obama’s failed pivot.
Biden’s multilateral approach was on display in this year›s Quad summit. Hosted by Japan in May, leaders of Japan, Australia, India and the United States issued a joint statement reiterating their commitment to the principle of a free and open Indo-Pacific.