Getting back in business in the Indo-Pacific

Source: The Hindu

Relevance: A visible shift in the USA’s Asian foreign policy towards the Indo-Pacific region will be very important for India.

Synopsis: Recent visits of the top US officials to various Asian nations indicate that the USA is trying to shift its foreign policy focus away from Afghanistan & Iraq to maritime Asia where COVID-19, climate change, and China are compelling challenges. An assessment of these visits and the key takeaways.


Visits to various Asian countries by three top US officials — Deputy Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State.

In East Asia and Oman

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman’s visit (July 19-27) covered Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, and also China.

Underlying theme: Reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to working with allies and partners for the promotion of peace and prosperity and upholding a ‘rules-based order’, the code word critical of China’s behaviour.

Key points:

Southeast Asian dynamics

The visit by Secretary of Defense, Mr. Austin (July 23-30) covered three important ASEAN member-states — Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Underlying theme: Discussions reiterated the necessity for a U.S. military presence in the region.

Key points:

  • Mr. Austin aptly asserted, that Beijing’s claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law and sent out the key signal to Beijing stating that US won’t hesitate when its interests are threatened. Yet it doesn’t seek confrontation.
  • In a joint statement, Singapore and the U.S. agreed that America’s presence in the region is “vital for its peace, prosperity, and stability”.
  • Mr. Austin encouraged Vietnam to develop closer defence cooperation with the U.S.
  • The Philippines visit produced a notable result, as Manila agreed to full restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which provides the legal foundation for the U.S. military presence in that country.
In South Asia and Kuwait

Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken, visited Delhi and Kuwait (July 26-29)

  • Visit to India: The India visit was more in the nature of a consultative dialogue, bringing out the expanding areas of convergence between the two nations. His repeated observation that the friendship with India is one of the closest that the U.S. has, was very important for India.
  • Blinken’s visit has already been covered in detail here and here
What do these visits signal?
  1. China policy and Indo-Pacific policy: First, that America’s China policy and the Rest of the Indo-Pacific policy will run in parallel, with inner consistency ensured by Mr. Biden.
  2. Relationship with China: Second, Washington maintains a tough attitude towards Beijing, but it desires to keep the doors open for dialogue. The relationship with China is marked by three characteristics — adversarial, competitive, and cooperative. It is likely to stay that way.
  3. Integrated deterrence: Third, the U.S. is willing to resist and counter China firmly, but with the full engagement of and contribution by the like-minded states of the region i.e. integrated deterrence


In short, the U.S. is back and is willing to lead — but the region will have to seriously step up too and participate actively to maintain peace and prosperity.

Terms to know

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