The Biden administration is making a push to remind China that the United States remains involved and active in the Indo-Pacific, despite Washington and the West’s current preoccupation with a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As tensions between Washington and Moscow continue to escalate over Ukraine, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken will visit Australia this week on a journey designed to strengthen US interests in Asia and its intention to push back on rising Chinese self-confidence in the region.
He will also visit Fiji and discuss pressing concerns about North Korea with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii.
In Melbourne on Friday, Blinken will attend a meeting with foreign ministers from the so-called “Quad” – Australia, India, Japan and the United States – a bloc of Indo-Pacific democracies set up to counter China. While China will be at the top of the agenda, US officials say Ukraine and the relationship between Beijing and Moscow will also be a topic of discussion.
As spokesmen for the White House and the State Department are happy to say, “the administration can go and chew gum at the same time.”
With Quad, Blinken is expected to highlight the benefits of Indo-Pacific nations adapting to democracies and democratic values, officials said. “That part of that discussion will relate to the challenges that China poses to these values and to the rule-based order,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for Asia.
But especially after the recent meeting in Beijing between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the opening of the Winter Olympics, Blinken is also expected to address threats from a growing partnership between the two authoritarian nations.
The United States had hoped that the Xi-Putin meeting would have demonstrated Chinese caution against Russia’s military armament along Ukraine’s borders. Instead, as China increasingly asserts its willingness to reunite the island of Taiwan with the mainland, Xi was largely silent on the matter.
“That meeting should have given China the opportunity to encourage Russia to pursue diplomacy and de-escalation in Ukraine. That is what the world expects from responsible powers, ”said Kritenbrink. If Russia invades Ukraine, and “China looks the other way, it indicates that China is willing to tolerate or tacitly support Russia’s efforts to force Ukraine, even when it embarrasses Beijing, harms European security and risks global peace and economic stability. “
U.S. officials have noted that Russia has previously launched military action against a former Soviet republic during an Olympics hosted by Beijing when it moved against Georgia during the 2008 Summer Games. “Unfortunately, we have seen this before,” Kritenbrink said.
The United States and its allies have spoken out strongly against Chinese policy toward Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, the western region of Xinjiang and the South China Sea. They accuse Beijing of violent human rights violations, repression of dissent and powerful seizure of territory, as its smaller neighbors also claim.
U.S. officials say they expect Blinken and the others at the Quad summit in Melbourne to reiterate their concerns about China’s actions, particularly the recent demonstrations with power demonstrations targeting Taiwan, which Beijing considers an apostate province. On Monday, the Biden administration announced a $ 100 million arms sale to Taiwan, which will support its US-made missile defense systems.
Blinken’s three-day stop in Australia will also be the highest US visit in the country since the two nations, along with Britain, signed a broad security pact last year that punctually canceled a major submarine deal between Australia and France.
The French reacted angrily to the so-called “AUKUS” agreement, accusing the United States and Australia of duplicity by omitting it. The Biden administration responded by sending several senior officials, including Blinken, Vice President Kamala Harris and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to Paris, to try to repair the damage.
In meetings with Australian officials, Blinken is expected to further try to minimize saliva by pointing out that France, specifically, and Europe more generally will not be ignored as the United States and others plan indo-Pacific strategies.
After a brief stop in Fiji, where he will be the first foreign minister to visit since 1985, Blinken returns to Washington via Hawaii, where he will hold North Korean-focused talks with the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers.
A number of recent North Korean missile tests have underscored the threat posed by the nuclear-armed nation, which has ignored numerous requests from the United States to return to the negotiating table.
“Addressing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs remains a top priority for the United States, and I am convinced that the same can be said of our Japanese and South Korean partners,” Kritenbrink said of the negotiations scheduled for Honolulu.
“We have made it clear many times that we remain ready to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy without the preconditions to achieve this goal and make tangible progress. We have repeatedly reached out to Pyongyang; but to date we have not received a substantial response, ”he said.