Biden in Japan: President unveils his economic plan to counter China in Asia

The announcement is one of the centerpieces of Biden’s visit to the continent, which began in South Korea last week and continues in Japan this week.

Biden strikes a delicate balance in unveiling the Indo-Pacific economic framework, which his staff refer to as the IPEF. As Asian nations clamor for a way to work with the United States to reduce reliance on China, the president also faces protectionist sentiment at home, where economic pain in the form of higher prices is emerging as a key issue in the midterm elections have shown in November.

Biden said Monday he doesn’t think a recession is inevitable but acknowledged the pain is real.

“It’s bad,” he said, arguing that things could have been a lot worse had he not taken steps like encouraging foreign investment into the US economy.

Before Biden fully unveiled the framework, he visited Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and sat for bilateral talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss security issues.

“The United States remains fully committed to the defense of Japan, Japan, and together we will face the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in his meeting with Kishida, their first formal face-to-face meeting.

“The purpose of the visit is to increase our cooperation with other nations in the region and bring tangible benefits to the people of the Indo-Pacific region,” Biden said, thanking Kishida for joining a US-led effort to Punishment of Russia has joined for its invasion of Ukraine.

Biden was greeted at Akasaka Palace with a stately ceremony that included the playing of the national anthems and an inspection of the ceremonial honor guard. Biden watched and put his hand on his heart to play the Stars and Stripes.

China has loomed above each of Biden’s stops, a mostly unspoken but ever-present factor in his bid to reframe American foreign policy to focus more on Asia. When he meets with leaders of a revived “quad” group — the United States, Japan, India and Australia — on Tuesday, it will be with the tacit intent of countering Beijing’s attempts to expand its influence over its neighbors.

The economic framework pursues a similar goal. Since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the massive trade deal negotiated during the Obama presidency – the US has had no concrete plan to engage the region economically.

Meanwhile, China has signed several trade deals with its neighbors and is attempting to exert its economic influence globally through the Belt and Road Initiative.

The plan that Biden will announce on Monday is not a trade deal in the traditional sense. It includes a “pillar” related to trade, but also covers other areas such as supply chain resilience, promoting clean energy and fighting corruption.

By unveiling the framework, Biden appears to be acknowledging that he has little intention of rejoining the TPP, which remains unpopular with United States lawmakers who would need to ratify the deal. Instead, he hopes to create an economic space that can compete with China.

To do this, other countries must be persuaded to join – not only staunch partners like Japan and South Korea, but also smaller nations, particularly in Southeast Asia, that are not as closely aligned with the United States.

The plan’s early critics have indicated that it lacks any incentives – such as tariff cuts – in exchange for accession. Biden’s collaborators suggest that there are other ways to facilitate more trade and market access, and that the framework itself presents an attractive opportunity for participating countries to work closely with the United States. And if anything, Biden’s announcement on Monday reflects only the beginning of the process of writing the plan.

China has already reacted harshly to the framework, with a senior envoy calling it a “closed and exclusive clique.”

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden traveled to Japan from South Korea, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the criticism was expected.

“It doesn’t surprise me that China has concerns about the number of countries and the diversity of countries that have expressed interest and enthusiasm for IPEF,” he said. “It is natural that they will try to find ways to ask questions.”

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