In his first major foreign policy speech in February 2021, President Joe Biden vowed America is 'back', setting out a plan to correct the course of its role in the world. But in the Indo-Pacific region — where competition with China is sharpest — the Biden Administration has lacked focus and urgency.

Key points:

  • The Biden Administration’s approach to the Indo-Pacific has so far lacked focus and urgency. Despite its deep regional expertise and the region’s high expectations, it has failed to articulate a comprehensive regional strategy or treat the Indo-Pacific as its decisive priority.
  • The Biden Administration’s focus on bringing normalcy back to US regional policy has restored the status quo, but not advanced its standing in the Indo-Pacific.
  • The Biden Administration’s focus on long-term systems competition with China overlooks the urgency of near-term competition in the Indo-Pacific.
  • The Biden Administration cannot compete against China effectively in the Indo-Pacific without prioritising engagement with Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. It has recognised the need to do more in Southeast Asia, but its success may be limited by its approach to competition with China and lack of an economic strategy.

Key recommendations:

To compete for influence in the Indo-Pacific, the Biden Administration should:

  • Clearly identify the Indo-Pacific region as its foreign and defence policy priority and marshal resources accordingly.
  • Articulate clear goals for its relationship with China and its strategic position in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Avoid emphasising ideological competition with China and instead focus on maximising its influence by responding to regional needs.
  • Clearly signal that it is committed to mutually beneficial economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific and adopt trade and investment strategies that reinforce its role as an indispensable resident economic power.
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