By Zhang Jiadong
The US-ASEAN summit was held in Washington from May 12 to 13, and the US President Joe Biden has scheduled to visit Japan and ROK a week later and attend the leaders' summit of the US-Japan-India-Australia "Quad" mechanism (The Quad) in Tokyo. According to multiple media, the Biden administration has turned to the Asia-Pacific region, especially striving to intensify the efforts to woo allies and partners in the region nearly 3 months later since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. During the Trump era, the US upheld the banner of "America First", showing a tendency to weaken the alliance status. When Biden took office, the US re-emphasized the construction of the alliance system, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, where the US has been fully devoted to trying to consolidate the traditional alliance system and build a new alliance network.
The construction of the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region has shown two prominent changes, a change from a geopolitics-oriented alliance system to avalue-based alliance system and a change from a hierarchical alliance system with the US at its core to a polycentric network alliance system of multiple forms and levels. On this basis, the US has been trying to build a multi-level new alliance system concerning multiple fields in the Asia-Pacific region. The features of the new Asia-Pacific alliance system are shown as follows:
Firstly, it is of "multiple levels", which is actually an inherent feature of the US' alliance system in Asia-Pacific. The alliance system consists of three levels, namely core allies, allies and strategic partners. The core allies are the "Anglo-Saxon Group" with the AUKUS Alliance and the Five Eyes Alliance as the main carriers. Allies are of strategic significance in the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition, the US has signed conventional alliance treaties with countries including Japan, ROK, Thailand, and the Philippines, and meanwhile, they share values. The US' strategic partnership with India, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia and Vietnam serves as a peripheral support force to the US Asia-Pacific alliance system. Among others, the US-India relationship is the most special, where the US has attached equal importance to wooing and keeping a lookout for India. On the one hand, the US has been committed to developing a strategic partnership with India, even making efforts to promote India to become a leading country in the region. On the other hand, the US has sought to counter balance India's strength.
Second, it is "networking". The US has tried to turn the alliance system in Asia-Pacific into another NATO while promoting many new cooperation systems going beyond alliances. It hopes to enhance its own strategic resilience and sustainability through the decentralized, polycentric network of alliances. To be specific, it tries to link the maritime powers in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions through its Indo-Pacific Strategy, with Japan as the main strategic base and India as the main target to win over, with a view to counterbalance the land powers with resiliency. The Quad is an important starting point for the US. Under the framework of the Quad, several "2 plus 2" Dialogues and trilateral cooperation mechanisms have also come into being for bilateral defense and diplomatic communication. Japan and Australia signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) in January this year, pushing their bilateral relationship to a quasi-alliance level.
Third, it is "cross-regional". Traditionally, the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region and its transatlantic system are independent of each other. In this way, the US has to deal with security affairs of the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, by which it is easy for the US to maintain its position as a strategic axis. On the one hand, the US has strived to form a "three-ocean linkage" pattern by integrating the alliance systems of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean regions, with the ultimate aim of promoting the Asia-Pacificization of NATO. Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs was held in April this year, revising its strategic direction and action guidelines for the first time in the past 12 years, and focusing on the "China factor" for the first time. Besides, Japan, ROK, Australia and New Zealand were invited to attend the event. On May 5, ROK officially joined the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence. This marks the first time the agency has expanded its scope of recruitment beyond Europe, and means ROK has joined NATO's cyber security alliances system.
On the other hand, the US has also made efforts to promote bilateral military cooperation between NATO member states and its Asia-Pacific allies. The UK and France have already started cruising the Western Pacific. Not long ago, the UK and Japan also reached a historic agreement on signing a RAA, which marks the third of its type signed by Japan and also the first of its kind signed with a European country.
In the end, it is worth noting that, as the Russia-Ukraine conflict keeps going, the US may expand its geopolitical goal of strategically squeezing Russia and enhancing its own international influence to a value-oriented goal of converting Russia's political system. Correspondingly, the value-based US' alliance system in Asia-Pacific may also tend to develop into an even broader value-based alliance system.
(The author is a professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University)
Editor's note: This article is originally published on huanqiu.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.