Vice President Joe Biden described the benefits of increased U.S. engagement in Asia in an address at The George Washington University on Thursday afternoon.
Biden cited three American goals in the region during his speech, which was sponsored by the Center for American Progress: stronger alliances, a new defense strategy and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. He said that the United States would focus on proliferation, human disasters, conflict between nations, the threat posed by North Korea and the risks of disrupting commerce.
“In the Asia-Pacific, we saw a region of remarkable promise, but also genuine uncertainty and political risk,” Biden said to an audience of 250 invited guests, including Indian Ambassador to the United States Nirupama Rao.
Biden specified the payoff of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as part of the pivot to Asia, suggesting that its benefits would bolster stability and increase prosperity in both Asia and Latin America.
“To spark new growth, there has to be fewer barriers at and behind our borders, protections for intellectual property to reward innovation, new commitments to make sure everyone plays by the same rules because that’s what attracts investment and jobs, as well as greater economic integration,” Biden said.
The vice president, who will travel to the subcontinent and Singapore next week, pointed to the growth of India while outlining policy implications for specific countries in the region.
“Twenty, even 10 years ago, some might have suggested that India be left out of discussions about the Asia-Pacific,” Biden said. “[Today] India is increasingly looking east as a force for security and growth in Southeast Asia and beyond.”
Biden also spoke to the health of the U.S.-China relationship.
“We do not view our relationship and future relations with China in terms of conflict or the talk of inevitable conflict,” Biden said. “We view it in terms of a healthy mix of competition and cooperation. A competition that we welcome; it’s stamped into our DNA.”
The vice president addressed fears in some European capitals that the pivot to Asia will mean fewer resources for U.S. efforts in the Middle East.
“Europe, just like us, will benefit greatly as well from stability in the Pacific, in Asia. And by the way, there is no reason why we cannot bring greater focus to the Asia-Pacific and keep our eye on the ball in the Middle East,” Biden said. “Folks, that’s what big powers do. To use the vernacular, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Georgetown associate professor of international relations Michael Green, who also serves as vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Biden was trying to reaffirm that American interest in Asia remains high, despite turnover at the State Department.
“There are real questions out in Asia about who will champion Asia policy and the pivot after Hillary Clinton and Kurt Campbell,” Green wrote in an email. “Beijing is telling the smaller ASEAN states that America comes and goes, but China will always be there, so they had better rethink who their real friends are. In that context, Biden’s attention to the region is welcome, but is it enough?”
Biden concluded his speech with a defense of economic and political freedom — and a plug for the administration’s economic policy.
“We’re better positioned than any time before to be able to do it all. I know you’ll think it sounds like a campaign assertion I’ve been making for years, but America is back,” Biden said. “I think it’s because of the enduring strength of our people and of our system. For all our difficulty in education for our children, they’re still taught to challenge orthodoxy.”