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Briefing paper

The Biden Administration is preparing to release its official Indo-Pacific strategy this month. This will not be the first attempt to frame a US strategy for this critical region. The Trump Administration released its Indo-Pacific strategy, which was declassified in the waning days of his presidency, and before that Barack Obama attempted a US foreign policy 'pivot' towards Asia. As different as these administrations were in outlook and temperament, there was consistency on certain key features of their policies towards the region, including an understanding of the region’s relative importance, an emphasis on allies and partners, and the overall goal of keeping the region free from coercion and open to trade, investment and ideas. A persistent critique has been the lack of a comprehensive economic approach to the region.

Despite common themes, each successive US administration adjusted its approach to the Indo-Pacific in different ways — by varying the geographical scope of the region, by alternating between unilateral and multilateral efforts, or by privileging the diplomatic, technological, economic or military aspects of US regional engagement. The Biden Administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy will signal their preferred approach to many of these issues, even though the strategy is unlikely, on its own, to provide definitive answers to Washington’s overall plans for the Indo-Pacific region.

This policy brief looks back at what has happened since President Obama first announced the 'pivot' to Asia ten years ago in Canberra. It also examines the emerging contours of Biden’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific, and outlines what outstanding questions have yet to be addressed.

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