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Politics and Government

Biden will visit South Korea and Japan to reinforce alliances in the region

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden is headed to Asia for the first time since taking office. He'll visit South Korea and Japan. And like presidents before him, he's been trying to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward Asia, largely to counter China. And while Russia's invasion of Ukraine has presented new hurdles, it's also been an opportunity for Biden to reinforce alliances. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: In the summer of 2019, when Joe Biden was campaigning for president, he gave a big foreign policy speech. And it was clear competition with China was on his mind.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And the most effective way that we need to change is to build a united front of friends and partners to challenge China's abusive behavior.

KHALID: And China has continued to be a focus for Biden. Michael Green worked on Asia policy in the George W. Bush administration.

MICHAEL GREEN: Within the White House, the number of people working on the Indo-Pacific is about three times as large as the number of people working on Europe or Latin America or Africa or the Middle East. So it clearly is a focus area for the Biden administration.

KHALID: Kurt Campbell is the Biden official in charge of the region. He recently spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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KURT CAMPBELL: I remember when I worked on the rebalance or pivot in the Obama administration. One of the major challenges - I would say, mistakes - that were made was a sense that we were somehow pivoting away from Europe.

KHALID: Nowadays, he says, there's a sense of moving together.

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CAMPBELL: I spend more of my time engaging with European partners around various initiatives in the Indo-Pacific almost than I do with Indo-Pacific partners.

FADEL: The ultimate goal is to counter China, even if that is sometimes publicly left unsaid. And the clearest example is the security pact that the United States established with the United Kingdom and Australia last September. But there is no doubt the war in Ukraine is reshaping this pivot to Asia. Experts say allies are concerned about whether the United States has the bandwidth to handle crises in Europe and Asia at the same time. Michael Green, the former Bush official, says Ukraine has also shown that when allies in Asia and allies in Europe unite, they can impose a devastating cost.

GREEN: What Ukraine has demonstrated, that the United States, and only the United States, has the ability to mobilize an international coalition of the most powerful democracies and economies to punish aggressors.

KHALID: The Biden administration quickly enlisted the help of Singapore, South Korea, Australia and Japan to punish Russia. In recent history, Japan was not as eager to poke Russia. Sheila Smith is with the Council on Foreign Relations.

SHEILA SMITH: In 2014 in Crimea, Japan was not aligned despite it being a member of G7. It was certainly not aligned on the sanctions piece.

KHALID: This time, Japan has taken a front seat.

SMITH: What very early on in this crisis was impressive to me is Prime Minister Kishida defined this not as a European war but as a challenge to the global order.

FADEL: And one reason, experts say, has nothing to do with Russia and everything to do with China. Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, the White House dispatched a couple of former officials, including Michael Green, to reassure Taiwan. China has vowed to unify the two and hasn't ruled out force to do so. Experts say the Ukraine crisis has accelerated a relationship that was already forming between Europe, the U.S. and Asia. Here's Michael Green again.

GREEN: This is not yet a global alliance. It's not a collective security organization. But the trend line is in that direction. And that's a very powerful deterrent for China, frankly.

KHALID: But a key question is whether this trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific bond is a temporary side effect of Russia's invasion or a long-lasting realignment.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "SHADOWS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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