The administration sees China, which has slowed its economy to combat the coronavirus, as weakened and is hoping to fill in some of the void.
“There’s a new realism because of the backdrop of war in Europe. And after the Trump years, (the trip) reinforced the sense of an alliance-first foreign policy, which is important and welcome,” Haass said.
But the lack of details fleshing out a new Indo-Pacific trade framework left what could have been a signature foreign policy breakthrough unfinished, Haass added: “The trip didn’t resolve the problem that the U.S. presence in Asia still lacks a serious economic component.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and the focus on the war in Ukraine have severely limited Biden’s travel. He had only been to six other countries in his first 16 months on the job, though he is scheduled to travel next month to Europe and perhaps the Middle East. Biden, a former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has long viewed travel as an essential part of governing.
And there were successes on this trip. Japan reaffirmed commitments to increase its military spending as part of a deterrence strategy against North Korea. Biden appeared to be on the same page as Yoon in holding a hard line against North Korea, agreeing in concept to expand joint military exercises that were curtailed under former President Donald Trump.
The Quad, a group of power players designed to counter China that includes the U.S., Australia, Japan and India, managed to strike a united front while meeting in Tokyo despite tension over India’s refusal to condemn Russia. Biden, in a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, spoke out strongly against “Russia’s brutal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” even as Modi continued to avoid holding Russia responsible.
But the group’s joint statement included stronger language aimed at China — explicitly stating that members “strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area” — than had ever been agreed to before.
Nevertheless, some of the administration’s specific economic and security goals failed to advance. And melding Biden’s foreign policy agenda with his domestic political themes proved daunting.
“These trips are hard. They should be happy with this on the whole,” said Michael Green, a former Asia-focused National Security Council official under President George W. Bush.
Biden’s biggest economic announcement for the region, a new “framework” with 12 other nations that touch the Pacific and Indian oceans, lacked details or firm commitments to back up such promises as increasing trade and fighting government corruption.