Role of Donald Trump in Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy

Indo-Pacific, as defined by the US Indo-pacific strategy report, spans from the west coast of the Americas to the eastern shores of the African Continent. The area has become essential for US foreign policy in the twenty-first century. “Harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism are central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama”- as stated by the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But the Trump administration has made the Indo-pacific region a top priority for US engagement. In November 2017, in Vietnam, he outlined the US vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, stating- “I’ve had the honor of sharing our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific — a place where sovereign and independent nations, with diverse cultures and many different dreams, can all prosper side-by-side, and thrive in freedom and in peace.”

For the first time, the Trump administration officially documented the vision for Indo-pacific and released the USA Indo-pacific vision report in 2019. Just after a few months, the detailed U.S. strategy for the Indo-pacific was released by the U.S. Department of Defense under the rubric of  Indo-Pacific Strategy Report.

In 2020 the U.S. Presidential Elections were held, and Joe Biden became the New President. Biden has also kept the legacy of prioritizing the Indo-pacific region but with the addition and omission of some factors, as seen in the latest Indo-Pacific Strategy report released in 2022. This article will examine these similarities to judge whether the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy is built upon the strategy of Trump administration.

Free and Open Indo-Pacific

The Strategy report released by the Trump government aimed for a free and open Indo-pacific and commits to a safe, secure, Prosperous, and free region that benefits all.

The 2022 Indo-pacific Report under the Biden administration reiterates the need for a Free and open Indo-pacific. “The future of each of our nations—and indeed the world— depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.” President Joe Biden (QUAD Leaders Summit 2021)

The 2022 Indo-Pacific report presents the vision of a free and prosperous Indo-pacific where the governments can make their sovereign choices and an area where seas, skies, and other shared domains are lawfully governed. The report has also added some more important goals for the region. For example, through this report, the US is keen to work with other Indo-Pacific countries to advance common approaches to critical and emerging technologies, the internet, cyberspace, and climate change.

Like the Trump administration, the Biden administration is also interested in prosperity through trade and investment. It maybe mentioned that the Indo-Pacific is the world’s most economically significant region; it is the home of the world’s largest economies; the region accounts for 60% of the global GDP and 60% of the maritime trade through its waters. Keeping these things in mind, Biden recently announced the New Indo-Pacific Economic Framework to implement its vision for the region’s prosperity.

Promoting regional alliances

In 2007, the then Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe proposed a security dialogue between Australia, Japan, the USA, and India for the Indo-Pacific region. In 2017 the then President of the US, Donald Trump, while his visit to India, revitalized the idea of QUAD. “Together, the Prime Minister and I are revitalizing the Quad Initiative with the United States, India, Australia, and Japan,”  Trump stated.

Continuing the legacy of Donald Trump, under the new leadership of Joe Biden, the QUAD became a formal organisation with the membership of India, US, Japan, and Australia.

Apart from the QUAD, Trump administration also saw India as one of the most important strategic partners in the region; the 2019 Indo-Pacific report mentions it very clearly- “The United States and India maintain a broad-based strategic partnership, underpinned by shared interests, democratic values, and strong people-to-people ties.” 

This importance of India is also continued in the eyes of the Biden administration in the latest Indo-Pacific report; it asserts that the US will continue to build a strategic partnership with India to work together through various regional groupings and bilateral pacts to promote stability in the region.

Countering Chinese Influence

Apart from trade and commerce, one of the biggest reasons for the US to engage in the Indo-Pacific is to counter China. Trump administration used to see China as a revisionist power; it was critical of China’s economic, political, and military rise in the twenty-first century. Trump administration was concerned with the rise of Chinese use of economic means to advance its strategic interests, as Admiral Philip S. Davidson stated, “Beijing is leveraging its economic instrument of power in ways that can undermine the autonomy of countries across the region.”

Joe Biden also sees China through the same lens. The US believes Chinese economic, political, diplomatic, military, and technological growth as means to pursue a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific to become the world’s most influential power.

The most significant step the US has taken to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific is the AUKUS security pact with Australia and the UK. Under this deal, UK and US will help Australia to acquire nuclear powered submarines. Currently, Australia lacks these submarines, whereas China has six nuclear submarines; the addition of these submarines in the Australian Navy will be a game changer in countering the Chinese maritime influence.

Although the US made some of the most important and major policies for the Indo-Pacific region, the understanding of this area is still evolving for the US and other relevant countries. President Trump stated, “This entire region has emerged — and it is still emerging — as a beautiful constellation of nations, each its own bright star, satellites to none — and each one, a people, a culture, a way of life, and a home.”

Though the region is still getting shaped in the administrative books of the US, we can conclude from the above examples that for the past few years, the Indo-Pacific has been the priority of the US, and it is working for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

[Photo by the  White House]

*Abhishek Kumar holds a Postgraduate degree in International relations and area studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi India. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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