Biden peddles ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy to Singapore's Lee, but ASEAN members ‘aware US targeting China’
Published: Mar 30, 2022 09:58 PM
US President Joe Biden. Photo: VCG

US President Joe Biden. Photo: VCG

US President Joe Biden told visiting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday that the "Indo-Pacific" remains the strategic focus of the US, but during their meeting, Lee mostly avoided using the "Indo-Pacific" term which is widely believed to be coined by the US to contain China.

Tuesday was the original date for a US-ASEAN summit which had been postponed for "scheduling reasons" of ASEAN leaders.

With global attention attached to the Ukraine crisis, Biden said Tuesday his administration "is strongly supportive of moving rapidly to implement the Indo-Pacific strategy."

"We also discussed a wide range of concerns for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.  That includes ensuring that all nations in the region, including China, uphold the principles that enable a free and open region," Biden said at a joint press conference with Lee after their meeting, according to a transcript released by the White House. 

Lee welcomed the US-proposed Indo-Pacific economic framework, while referring to the region as "Asia-Pacific" rather than Indo-Pacific when talking about other issues.

Some observers interpreted the word selection as showing Singapore, just like other ASEAN members, is cautious about getting involved in the US' Indo-Pacific blueprint, which is more about security rather than development and mainly targeting China. 

Gu Xiaosong, dean of the ASEAN Research Institute of Hainan Tropical Ocean University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that since the US-ASEAN summit was postponed, the US seized on Lee's visit to learn about ASEAN's internal views of key regional and international issues, and convey a message of commitment to the region.

But ASEAN members have a tradition of balanced policies and they are aware of the US' real intention - Washington doesn't care about Southeast Asia at all, except the region's potential to serve the US' containment of China. 

Unlike China which has been developing ties with the region through concrete projects and programs, what the US does in the region is trying to spend little with maximum gains - sending warships and warplanes to the South China Sea and playing "a thief crying stop thief" by hyping China as a threat to the region. 

US and the Philippines kicked off their largest joint exercises in years, in a region that US media hyped as facing Taiwan island and the South China Sea. The Philippines said the exercises are "for mutual defense, never for offense." 

Observers said that through the drills, the US tried to fan the flames and stir trouble in the Asia-Pacific and benefit from it, just like it has done with the Ukraine crisis. Some Philippine politicians also noted the country should pursue an independent foreign policy, stressing that the country should not be a "pawn."

The US has been hyping the "China threat" theory and is trying to connect the Russia-Ukraine conflict to China's role in Asia. 

According to the Biden-Lee joint statement, the US and Singapore recognize that threats to the UN Charter and the rules-based international order, including Russia's military activities in Ukraine, place peace and prosperity everywhere at risk. The war in Ukraine has a negative impact on the Indo-Pacific region, which already faces many complex challenges, it says.

Though frequently sending senior officials to Southeast Asia, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden's three foreign visits since his inauguration were all to Europe. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that Biden's ideal was to streamline the transatlantic relationship first and engage Europe to join its Indo-Pacific Strategy, for which it has to unite Europe by creating a common threat - Russia. 

The US has seeded the crisis, but playing with fire turned out to burn the US itself, and the expert said the US no longer has time or resources for the Asia-Pacific.

The Biden-Lee meeting touched on the "Indo-Pacific economic framework" with regional partners that will "expand cooperation on trade, supply chains, clean energy, de-carbonization, infrastructure, taxes, and anti-corruption," according to the White House release. 

But like previous US promises including a $102 million fund announced in October 2021, what Biden said to Lee will remain as lip service; in contrast, China's cooperation with ASEAN eyes joint development and prosperity, and has been concrete and fruitful, Lü said. 

At the invitation of China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, foreign ministers of Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar will visit China from Thursday to Sunday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, announced on Monday. 

Wang said the four countries are important ASEAN members and China's friendly neighbors and important partners for high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. Through this visit, China hopes to work with all parties to ensure the sound implementation of the outcomes and consensus of the summit in 2021, promote the materialization of the Global Development Initiative in neighboring countries first, and jointly build a peaceful, tranquil, prosperous, beautiful and friendly homeland, Wang said. 

Lü pointed out the Ukraine crisis has an implication for Southeast Asia, showing that neutrality and a balanced policy will benefit a country's interests.