Biden Administration Counters China In The Indo-Pacific

A primer on why U.S.-China tensions over maritime boundaries and trade routes matter in this trade hot spot

What’s happening: The Biden administration is ramping up diplomatic efforts in the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese influence. The State Department is planning a sizable increase in diplomatic personnel across Pacific islands with an existing Chinese presence, and State Secretary Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and climate envoy John Kerry are shoring up alliances across the region.

  • What to watch: This coming week, Blinken is traveling to Tonga, New Zealand, and Australia in what will be his third time to Asia in two months, dedicating a new U.S. embassy in Tonga, one of only three Pacific island countries with a military.

Rising tension: China's increasingly “coercive and risky” actions in the Indo-Pacific, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is tilting the already tense region toward war. Earlier this month, China surrounded a large number of Philippine ships in a provocative response to the U.S. and the West strengthening ties with island nations around China.

U.S. response: U.S. officials are stressing the need for an “open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific” and are investing in both military and diplomatic efforts to ensure a U.S.-dominated region. The Chinese government sees increased U.S. engagement as a provocation, in line with its worldview that it has the right to govern affairs closer to its territory.

  • Dive deeper: China's People's Liberation Army Navy launches a naval force equivalent to the British Royal Navy every four years. In contrast, the U.S. faces aging ships and limited shipbuilding capacity due to outdated legislation. It already has the world's largest navy, meaning diplomatic solutions, rather than flexing military muscles, are critical for Washington.

Why the region matters: The Indo-Pacific is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population and a global trade hot spot. The U.S. and China, both vying for influence in the region, realize that whoever dominates it could set the rules for trillions of dollars worth of global trade. The smaller islands in the region — specifically the Philippines — are also a cornerstone of Washington’s contingent war plan.

Join the conversation

or to participate.