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President-elect Biden’s subtle change in China policy

By Yoshihisa Komori, an associate correspondent in Washington


U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters have become “demons” overnight. This is the political effect created by the intrusion of some Trump supporters into the U.S. Capitol.


But the Trump camp has responded to the Democrats’ and mainstream media’s denunciations of the president, saying that “plans for impeachment and invocation of the 25th Amendment that fail to meet requirements are the same as the demonization of President Trump four years ago when he took office,” according to conservative critic Greg Jarrett.


There happened to be a gathering of the Republican National Committee on Jan. 7. During the meeting, Nikki Haley, a former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, condemned the intrusion into the Capitol but stressed that “the achievements of the Trump administration over the past four years should not be negated by this incident.” She is a female politician of Indian descent who has been touted as a possible candidate for the next Republican presidential nomination.


But in any case, American politics has moved forward. As a nation, the U.S. finally decided to move from confusion and confrontation over the allegation of election fraud to the Jan. 20 inauguration of new President Joseph Biden. In this sense, it can be said that democracy is functioning well in the U.S.


So, naturally, the next concern is the policies of the new Biden administration. In this regard, there are already very worrisome signs for Japan and Asia. There are signs that Mr. Biden will soften the U.S. stance on deterring China.


The Trump administration has consistently advocated the concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” as a key deterrent to China’s ambitious foreign expansion. It was a clear statement of policy intention to suppress the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party because it is unfree and unopen.


It has been widely known that this policy slogan was first launched externally by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016. Abe has repeatedly acknowledged that the phrase “free and open” implies a counter to China’s repression and closed nature.


However, in mid-November last year after the presidential election, Mr. Biden consistently used the words “secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific” in a series of telephone conversations with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The same was true when the U.S. president-elect spoke by phone with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few days later. It is clear that he will not use the policy slogan of the Trump administration.


A state that is “secure and prosperous” can be achieved under a dictatorial and closed regime. It can be said that the phrase has been watered down to where it does not challenge the philosophy of China’s political structure. Criticism of Mr. Biden’s stance has already become apparent.


Indian strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney warned in a recent article in a diplomatic journal that the withdrawal of the concept of ‘free and open’ means the softening of the policy of  deterrence against China for the promotion of democracy.”


Sebastian Strangio, a U.S. expert on Southeast Asian diplomacy, also cited this “subtle but important change in policy terminology” by Mr. Biden, criticizing it for “weakening the ideological element of deterrence against China, much to the dismay of India and Australia, which are at odds with the PRC.” It is obvious that this is a serious issue for Japan as well.

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