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US’s move in Asia creates new tensions

Newsman: President Joe Biden arrived in Japan on Sunday to launch a plan for greater U.S. economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific. This is his first Asia trip as president.  Biden’s move facing criticism even before the program is announced that it will offer scant benefit to countries in the region.

President Biden tended to both business and security interests Sunday as he wrapped up a three-day trip to South Korea, first showcasing Hyundai’s pledge to invest at least $10 billion in the United States and later mingling with troops at a nearby military base.

Biden’s visit to Osan Air Base, where thousands of U.S. and South Korean service members monitor the rapidly evolving North Korean nuclear threat, was his final stop before he arrived in Tokyo later Sunday.

“You are the front line, right here in this room,” the president said in a command center with maps of the Korean Peninsula projected across screens on a wall.

The US President Biden is to meet with leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the “Quad,” another cornerstone of his strategy to push back against China’s expanding influence. On the second leg Biden meet with Japanese business leaders, including the president of Toyota Motor Corp, at the ambassador’s residence in Tokyo shortly after arriving.

President Biden on Monday, he is to call on Emperor Naruhito before talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Biden and Kishida are expected to discuss Japan’s plans to expand its military capabilities and reach in response to China’s growing might.

On Tuesday in Tokyo, Biden will join the second in-person Quad summit.

On Monday Biden plans to roll out the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a program to bind regional countries more closely through common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.

China welcomes initiatives conducive to strengthening regional cooperation but “opposes attempts to create division and confrontation””, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement. “The Asia-Pacific should become a high ground for peaceful development, not a geopolitical gladiatorial arena.”

Wang said the “so-called ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’ is essentially a strategy to create division, a strategy to incite confrontation and a strategy to undermine peace”.

The White House had wanted it the IPEF announcement to represent a formal start of negotiations with a core group of like-minded countries, but Japan wanted to ensure broader participation to include as many Southeast Asian countries as possible, reports published in several US media quoting trade and diplomatic sources said.

Monday’s ceremony will likely signal an agreement to start discussions on IPEF rather than actual negotiations according to those sources. Some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could join the IPEF launch ceremony but a Japanese Finance Ministry official told to media many in the region were reluctant because of the lack of practical incentives like tariff reductions.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One that Taiwan would not be a part of the IPEF launch but that Washington is looking to deepen its economic relationship with the self-governing island.

The four countries share concerns about China, but the Quad as a group has avoided an overtly anti-China agenda, largely due to Indian sensibilities.

India’s strong security ties with Russia and refusal to condemn its invasion of Ukraine will likely prevent any strong joint statement on that issue, analysts said.

At their last summit in March, Quad leaders agreed that what has happened to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific – a reference to the threat posed to Taiwan by China, though Beijing was not mentioned by name.

South Korean has shown interest in working more closely with the Quad, but the U.S. official said there was no consideration of adding Seoul to the group.

“It’s natural… to think about ways in which you can work with other like-minded democracies, but I think it’s also important to recognise that the goal right now is to develop and build out what has already been laid out,” the official said.

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