TOKYO (AP) — Joe Biden spent his first trip to Asia as president to bolster his economic and military commitments. He pushed for new rules for the world economy and promoted democracy by launching a new trade pact. And he urged other Indo-Pacific leaders to do the same do more to defend Ukraine even if it causes their people economic pain.
In short, the president promoted abroad the kind of values he has, like greater economic investment, cooperation and democratic principles struggled to sell to US voters
“The future of the 21st century economy will be largely written in the Indo-Pacific and in our region,” Biden said hopefully as he launched a new trade agreement dubbed the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
It was one of the brightest moments of the five-day trip that took him to South Korea and then Japan. The trade framework has been backed by a dozen Pacific leaders, including some like Japan’s Fumio Kishida, who would prefer the United States to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal Donald Trump pulled the US out of in 2017.
But Biden’s big moment in trade was eventually overshadowed — by Biden himself, when he deviated from the script on the sensitive issue of Taiwan.
Biden made headlines around the world when he answered “yes” when asked if he was willing to take a military part in defending Taiwan should China invade. The President said a Chinese invasion, while unlikely, would “displace the entire region and be another action similar to that in Ukraine.” And so it’s an even heavier burden. ”
The President later asserted that he had not signaled a change in US policy by opening the door to military intervention. But this moment has shown that he has changed the tone of US politics and shows his willingness to be more proactive against possible threats to allies in the wake of the Russian invasion.
“It seems to me that his testimony was not a ‘blip,’ but that Biden is working toward a policy of forward-looking strategic ambiguity with attitude to both deter China and reassure Taiwan and US allies like Japan,” said Kurt Tong, a former US diplomat who is now a partner at The Asia Group. “This is basically the same policy, but with a stronger emphasis on deterrence rather than reassurance towards China – necessitated by the situation in Ukraine.”
Biden showed his inclination for stronger foreign policy rhetoric Tuesday at the meeting of the informal Indo-Pacific security coalition known as the Quad, made up of the US, Japan, Australia and India. Biden told other leaders they were navigating “a dark hour in our common history” because of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and he called on the group to make greater efforts to stop Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
The message appeared to be meant specifically for Modi, the leader of the world’s largest democracy. Unlike other Quad countries and almost every other US ally, India has not imposed sanctions or even condemned Russia, its largest supplier of military equipment.
Later, at the start of a one-on-one meeting with Modi, Biden said he and the Indian PM discussed how the US and India would “continue to consult closely on how to mitigate these negative effects” of the invasion.
Modi paid no heed to Biden’s ambitious statement. The Indian leader said nothing about Russia and Ukraine, instead focusing his remarks on a litany of trade and investment priorities for New Delhi.
All of this was playing out for Biden against a backdrop of growing discontent at home, where inflation, baby food shortages, political discord and more are churning the landscape ahead of midterm elections that could well cost Democrats control of Congress.
There are early signs that American attitudes toward punishing Russia with sanctions are changing, as rising costs for gas, food and other necessities have strained the budgets of millions.
Now 45% of adult Americans say the nation’s bigger priority should be to sanction Russia as effectively as possible, while slightly more – 51% – say the priority should be to limit the damage to the US economy, a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows.
In March, shortly after Russia attacked Ukraine, a clear majority – 55% – said the greater priority should be to sanction Russia as effectively as possible.
The Biden White House is all too aware of the challenges. It has followed a steady stream of tweets, press releases and announcements during Biden’s overseas tour, focusing on efforts to address issues at home. While Biden was in a meeting with the Emperor of Japan, his Twitter account posted details of the government’s efforts to b aby formula deficiency.
The trip cemented a broader shift in US policy as the nation comes to terms with the economic havoc that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has sown around the world, including rising energy prices and food shortages.
Russia’s cutting off the energy tap to parts of Europe has exacerbated supply chain challenges that have emerged during the pandemic, problems that are ongoing as China – the dominant player in manufacturing – has tightly locked down cities to contain coronavirus outbreaks .
Because of these changes, Biden is trying to blaze a new trail by proposing a trading partnership that is less about tariffs and more about rules to promote a stable supply of digital products, information-sharing and a determined response to climate change.
During his five days in Asia, the president attempted to convey a message of US economic strength – he and his staff repeatedly pointed to a report forecasting that the American economy will grow faster than China’s for the first time since 1976. It was a sign that China’s rise – a crucial part of the diplomatic calculus for Asian countries – is no longer a sure thing.
But Biden is facing inflation that is crushing public support in the US and spreading around the world in ways that could be destabilizing. Allies in Europe are facing drastically higher gas and oil costs because of sanctions designed to isolate Putin.
Biden admitted during an event spotlighting Hyundai’s $10 billion planned investments in the US that the US economy has been “kind of slightly stalled” because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
As he wrapped up his trip, Biden insisted that the world must steadfastly support Ukraine despite the rising cost to the economy under his watch. He also had a message for troubled Americans asking for patience.
“This will be a catch,” he said. “This will take some time.”
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