US President Joe Biden delivers remarks alongside Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore in the East Room of the White House on March 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. During their remarks the two leaders discussed the meeting they held earlier in the Oval Office and announced that President Biden would host the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders for a ASEAN-US Special Summit at the White House later in the spring. (AFP/Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the United States was “strongly” turning its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, despite the crisis generated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
World rulers face “unprecedented challenges” but added that Washington is not distracted by the war in Ukraine.
“Even as we address the crisis in Europe, my administration is firmly in favor of moving quickly to implement the Indo-Pacific strategy,” Biden said.
He added that the United States wants to ensure the region remains “free and open”, a reference to what the White House sees as China’s attempt to dominate international trade routes.
Reflecting Singapore’s position as a trading hub that wants to have good relations with Beijing and Washington, Lee said he hoped Biden would “deepen” ties “with China, of course, but also with countries other than China.”
During a subsequent joint press conference, the two leaders underscored this message.
“We are together pursuing a free and open Indo-Pacific, a connected, prosperous and safer Indo-Pacific,” said Biden.
Lee said that “Singapore deeply appreciates the US commitment to Southeast Asia” and “supported a strong US presence in the region.”
The Biden administration has repeatedly characterized the Asia-Pacific region, and in particular the rise of China, as the number one strategic issue for the United States.
The world’s two largest economies clash on issues such as trade and human rights and more generally in what Biden often describes as a decisive battle between autocracies and democracies.
But concerns about China took a backseat after the war in Europe, where Russia’s army invaded pro-Western Ukraine in a crisis reminiscent of the Cold War.
Even concerns about North Korea’s missile tests have been overcome by the Russian military campaign.
Inevitably, war in Europe underpinned Lee’s visit.
Rich Singapore joined other pro-Western countries in February in imposing financial sanctions on Russia that include blocking financial transactions.
Singapore rarely sanctions other countries without UN support, but its foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said this time the crisis was of “unprecedented severity”.
Furthermore, the Russian attack on Ukraine has impacted American allies beyond Europe, including Japan and Australia.
“The war in Ukraine has implications for the Asia-Pacific region. There are potential hotspots of tension and contentious issues also in our region that, if not managed well, could escalate into open conflict,” Lee said.
Source: with agencies