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Indo-Pacific Economic Framework excluding China

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When Donald Trump shelved the Asia-Pacific trade alliance project, China immediately rushed to fill the vacuum left by the United States, which was determined to single out Beijing as the great adversary that needed to be clipped in its attempt to challenge US hegemony in the world. Since then China has been gaining significant power and influence in Asia, so much so that it has alarmed its neighbours to the point of provoking sharp increases in the military budgets of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and, of course, Taiwan, the undisputed target of Beijing's annexation, by degree or by force.

The tour now being undertaken by US President Joe Biden is an attempt to reoccupy the ground ceded by Trump, having ascertained that there is agreement between the former and current White House occupants on the urgent need to counter the advance of Chinese power. Biden's presence in South Korea and Japan thus has a first reading: the United States had not left Asia, but in case anyone doubted it, it is back.

To make this return more visible, Biden is presenting his Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) project in Tokyo, which according to the US Department of Commerce will be based on four pillars: increased trade, clean energy, supply chains and the fight against corruption. The latter two, in particular, are at the heart of the new American strategy vis-à-vis China, not only to counter its productive and supply hegemony but also to bring together those who join a new regional development policy that is not based exclusively on dependence on the United States. In this regard, criticism of this initiative points to the fact that the IPEF deliberately omits to facilitate greater export access to the US market.

A large bloc with China outside

The agreement, signed in principle by the United States and Japan, with the forthcoming addition of South Korea, seeks in particular the accession of the other Asian giant, India, which would then form a large bloc to which China, however, would not be invited. On the other hand, India itself, along with the United States, Japan and Australia, already form part of another association, the Quad, which is eminently deliberative, but with a clear objective: to think and design strategies capable of confronting China's growing power and influence.

Beijing has already greeted Biden's first Asian tour with its rejection, and has warned those tempted to join the new Indo-Pacific Framework to think long and hard before taking the plunge. Through the Global Times, the organ in which China informally expresses its foreign policy stance, Xi Jinping's regime accuses Biden of "trying to tie countries in the region to US interests, following its traditional pattern of dividing regions".

The Global Times notes that "it is the US that maintains a hostile foreign policy towards China, trying to corner it economically and strategically. Its leader openly instigates provocations in the neighbouring countries of another great power, with the aim of undermining existing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms with cooperation and development as key notes". And it sends a message to US citizens rather than to the White House: "Since when has such Cold War-tinged geopolitical diplomacy been taken for granted by public opinion in the United States and other Western countries?"

Predictably, China will not stand idly by, Beijing will further strengthen its ties with the ASEAN countries, will not let up on the growing pressure it is already putting on Taiwan, and can also be expected to use North Korea to increasingly unnerve and frighten US citizens with its ballistic displays and threats to include nuclear payloads in its rockets capable of reaching ever more distant targets and territories.

Biden is also attacking on another decisive flank: that of semiconductors. Hence his first visit to the semiconductor campus of the giant Samsung Electronics in Pyeontaek, 70 kilometres south of Seoul, as soon as he set foot on Asian soil in South Korea. The president has secured for the United States a giant Samsung plant in Texas, to avoid the bottlenecks that have strangled production worldwide of cars, smartphones and medical diagnostic equipment.

Nor does Biden neglect the ideological flank, especially when Ukraine is also at the heart of this visit. And although it has become almost a mantra that freedom and democracy can be experienced and exercised in different ways, the US president wants to take advantage of the opportunity to refocus the debate, so that the nuances do not end up blurring the enormous difference that exists between free countries and those that live under the rule of authoritarianism, totalitarianism and tyranny. In short, to make living and prospering in freedom attractive again, if it was not already attractive enough.