After a Trump administration which heavily prioritized Asian strategy and relationships, allies in the region are seeing worrying signs of the Biden administration losing interest in the area. Japan and South Korea, close partners for the US in containing China and North Korea, both expressed serious concern regarding new missile tests in North Korea. President Biden appeared to be largely uninterested in the incident, sparking further concerns among regional allies.
Biden laughs off missile test concerns from allies
The military alliance between the United States and Japan, one of the closest and important treaty of this type in the world, obligates the United States to aid Japan against any foreign threats.
Both Japan and South Korea host vital military bases and large numbers of American naval, land, and air forces, all vital to projecting American influence and power in Asia.
President Donald Trump was particularly interested in strengthening relationships with allies in the region, particularly in working with former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who stepped down due to health concerns late in 2020.
Current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, a close ally of Abe, expressed serious concern regarding the threat of North Korean ballistic missile development and announced his desire to discuss the issue with President Biden.
So far, however, Biden has brushed off the concerns of American allies in the region. Biden responded to news of the latest missile tests with laughter and referred to them as “business as usual.”
The lack of interest from Biden is unlikely to go over well with US partners in Asia, who would face catastrophic damage from a North Korean ballistic missile attack and who currently rely on continued American pressure to assist in keeping the rogue state in check.
North Korea sees weakness from Biden
Presumably feeling emboldened by this dismissal from Biden is North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who has always been eager to take advantage of any signs of weakness from the White House.
President Trump managed over the course of his administration to engage diplomatically with Kim to an unprecedented extent. While his commitment to peace in the region has always been questionable, the dictator appeared to be somewhat receptive to negotiations with Trump.
The distaste for everything related to Trump which the Biden administration has thus far displayed is, however, likely to extend to the fragile Korean situation. Biden is likely to declare an outwardly more severe stance against North Korean weapons development than that of his predecessor.
Unfortunately for US allies in the region, though, Kim will be fully aware that President Biden considers the Korean situation to be a very low priority. Strongly worded statements from the administration are unlikely to convince the world if the President himself does not take the issue seriously.
Japan and South Korea are undoubtedly as distressed about the Biden response as North Korea is emboldened by it. It is also certain to concern the large numbers of US troops stationed in the region, directly in the path of any potential North Korean strike.
Weak or absent leadership in the White House can always have enormous consequences globally. This Biden response is sure to leave American allies in Asia desperately hoping that they aren’t abandoned to experience those consequences being launched from North Korea any time soon.