The sense of relief that Donald Trump’s exit from the White House may have provided to China proves short-lived as the Joe Biden administration has toughened its stand against the communist nation by reaching out to the US’ Asian allies to consolidate its Indo-Pacific strategy.
New US defense secretary Lloyd Austin has promised to focus strategically on China and Asia as he opposed “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea”. In addition, he has already made it clear that the Biden administration’s objective would be to elevate defense ties with India.
This means the change of guard in the White House does not bring any change to the US’ policy towards China, whose aggressive posture has irked its neighbors, including India. The two countries have been locked in a border stand-off in Eastern Ladakh since May 2020. There were reports of a fresh skirmish between their armies in Naku La in Sikkim on Monday.
It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position. Let’s get to work. pic.twitter.com/qPAzVRxz9L
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) January 22, 2021
Meanwhile, Austin, the first African-American defense secretary, reiterated that the US military would respond to any attack on the Senkaku Islands under the US-Japan security treaty, during his first phone call with Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi on January 24.
The Pentagon has said that Austin reiterated America’s commitment to the US-Japan alliance and emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region He also reached out to his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook.
Enjoyed my first call with my South Korean counterpart, Minister Suh Wook. The U.S.-ROK Alliance is among our most combined and capable military alliances, a linchpin to regional security. I look forward to working with him to make it even stronger. @ROK_MND
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) January 24, 2021
As Beijing continues its aggressive maneuvers with incursions into Taiwan’s airspace, the US State Department noted with concern the pattern of China’s ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbors. The State Department statement said on Saturday:
“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives.”
India Top Priority For The US?
There is enough indication that the US will continue supporting India in countering Beijing’s expansionist ambitions.
Soon after being elected as the US President, Biden and Prime Minister Modi had reiterated their commitment to the Indo-US strategic partnership and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, among other matters.
Biden’s nominee for the post of Secretary of State, Antony J Blinken, made it clear in his testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the strategic ties with India will remain strong, especially on the Indo-Pacific.
He said India had been “very much a bipartisan success story over successive administrations” be it from the Bill Clinton administration to George W. Bush, then Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and that “this will continue to make progress under the Joe Biden government”.
Austin also made a similar statement before the US Senate Armed Sevices Committee. “I would also seek to deepen and broaden the defense cooperation between India and the US through the Quad security dialogue and other regional multilateral engagements.”
SD Pradhan, a former Indian deputy national security adviser, is of the view that the US’ concerns about countering China, which directly affects Washington’s global role, require closer strategic ties with India. “India is the only country in Asia, which can independently check the Chinese expansionist approach,” he wrote for Times of India.
The Trump administration’s declassified documents of 2018 — “US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific” — quite clearly state India’s position in the Indo-Pacific strategy. The document states: “A strong India, in cooperation with like-minded countries, would act as a counterbalance to China.”
It highlights the US’ objective to “accelerate India’s rise and capacity to serve as a net provider of security” in the Indo-Pacific and as America’s major defense partner, wrote Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist, in World Politics Review.