The Real China Hands

U.S. and South Korean naval vessels taking part in joint exercises off the coast of South Korea, September 2022. Third Party / Reuters
U.S. and South Korean naval vessels taking part in joint exercises off the coast of South Korea, September 2022. Third Party / Reuters

For four years, as an increasingly belligerent China breathed down their necks, the United States’ allies in Asia quietly endured a torrent of abuse from President Donald Trump. Under President Joe Biden, they again have a winning hand in Washington. By the time he took office, Biden, a leading optimist about cooperation with China when he was vice president, had transformed into a hardened skeptic. He has promoted key alliance builders to the top Asia posts at the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Pentagon and ensured that his first in-person summit was with Yoshihide Suga, then Japan’s prime minister. His administration has elevated the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), the group linking the United States with Australia, India, and Japan, to a regular summit and agreed to help Australia build nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS pact with that country and the United Kingdom. The White House’s Indo-Pacific strategy, issued in February 2022, mentioned allies or alliances more than 30 times in a 19-page document. China merited only two references.

Despite this welcome attention, the United States still fundamentally gets the relationship with its Asian allies backward. These countries are not reluctant partners that need to be shaken out of their complacency; they live with the threat of China every day, are eager to blunt it, and in fact originated many of the Biden administration’s initiatives to counter the country’s influence. Nor are they reckless novices that fail to understand the dangers of competition with China; they often have a far more subtle understanding of coexistence than the one that prevails in Washington. As it refines its China strategy, the United States should increasingly take its cues from Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

Indeed, as the United States becomes more dependent on allies to maintain a favorable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, those countries will naturally expect a larger voice in formulating strategy on China. But the United States remains out of sync with its allies on two of the biggest strategic questions: the role that regional free-trade agreements should play in competition with China and the ultimate goal of allied policy toward China. And there are dangerous deficiencies in technology sharing and command and control that need to be addressed. These misalignments are not merely harmless differences between friends. The longer they last, the more China will be able to take advantage of them.


As U.S. policymakers revamp their country’s China policy, a good place to start would be to recognize that it was not the United States that moved first to respond to the China challenge but its allies. A decade ago, the Obama administration was flirting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s proposal for a “new model of great-power relations”, which, in Beijing’s version, would have relegated Japan and South Korea to second-tier status in a new bipolar U.S.-Chinese condominium. Tokyo and other capitals quietly protested, as they had in 2009, when President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a joint statement promising to respect U.S.-Chinese “core interests” and when Obama administration officials proposed “strategic reassurance” to Beijing. It was not that U.S. allies sought confrontation, but they had legitimate concerns about losing U.S. support at a time of growing Chinese coercion in their region.

U.S. officials shifted their stance near the end of the Obama administration, when the revisionist dimensions of China’s strategy became more apparent. The mood of the broader public was changing, too. In 2012, a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 40 percent of Americans favored placing a higher priority on building good relations with China than with U.S. allies; by 2018, that number had fallen to 26 percent. The sentiment was mirrored on the other side of the Pacific, with polls in Australia, Japan, and South Korea showing overwhelming support in each country for their alliances with the United States.

In waking up to the threat of China, Washington was far behind its most important allies in Asia, especially Japan. Back in 2013, as Washington anticipated a closer partnership with Xi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government released a strategy for longer-term competition that was based on assumptions about Chinese behavior that are now widely accepted in U.S. policy circles. Abe’s controversial views on Japan’s own history—he had argued that Japan was often unfairly criticized for its conduct during World War II—made him look to many in Washington like an unwelcome spoiler in U.S.-Chinese relations. Beijing sought to exploit those doubts by targeting him with a global media campaign. (In one of the more histrionic episodes of Beijing’s relentless campaign, the Chinese ambassador in London went so far as to write an article for The Telegraph comparing Abe to the evil Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter books.) But Abe persisted with his strategy. He had been returned to power by a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) looking to reset relations with Beijing after years of embarrassing Chinese incursions around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands (known in China as the Diaoyu Islands). Abe understood full well what Washington was only beginning to realize: that China’s leaders judged both the United States and Japan as being in precipitous decline. He intended to change that perception.

Faced with a deteriorating balance of power in relation to China, a nation such as Japan has three basic choices. The first is to get on the bandwagon of the rising power. But that was never an option that Abe or any other Japanese leader would consider. As he told an American audience in 2013, “Japan is not now and will never be a tier-two power”. The second option is internal balancing: enhancing one’s own power to meet the threat. In Japan’s case, the fastest way to accomplish that would have been to acquire nuclear weapons, which the country could develop in less than two years, but the Japanese public remains overwhelmingly opposed, as do its allies. Instead, Abe invested in more targeted defense capabilities and new sources of economic growth. He proposed the acquisition of long-range missiles that would go beyond the strictly defensive mission of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, ended a two-decade decline in defense budgets, and centralized national security decision-making in the prime minister’s office. On the economy, Abe did not undertake the full-throated reforms that most experts have called for, but he did spur growth by deregulating a handful of sectors and by pushing for more women in the workforce.

It was the third way to redress a power imbalance that formed the centerpiece of Abe’s overall strategy: external balancing, or strengthening one’s alliances. A decade ago, Washington may have still been debating the relative importance of cooperating with allies versus cooperating with China, but for Tokyo there was no question which was more important. For most of Japan’s postwar history, governments had interpreted the country’s pacifist constitution as forbidding Japan from coming to the aid of friendly nations under attack. Because the Japanese public feared getting trapped in the United States’ Cold War adventures more than it feared being abandoned, this interpretation provided a convenient alibi for sitting out conflicts from the Vietnam War through the Gulf War. But Abe was now more worried about abandonment than entrapment. The growing chorus of dovish voices in Washington, along with China’s expanded military footprint around Japan, led him to throw out the alibi.

In 2014, Abe introduced legislation recognizing that Japan would exercise the right of collective self-defense and could fight alongside the United States if the need arose. Although Abe was motivated in part by ideological opposition to Japan’s constitutional constraints, he fundamentally sought to ensure that the United States could depend more on Japan in a crisis so that Japan would still be able to depend on the United States. After a grueling 100-plus hours of debate in Japan’s parliament, the country backed him. Abe’s motivation was not a nostalgic attachment to U.S. leadership so much as a realistic assessment of what it would take to shore up U.S. power and commitments in the region for Japan’s own security. That was why he, more than any other world leader, was willing to absorb Trump’s barbs and ensure that he kept the mercurial U.S. president on his side.

Abe’s external balancing strategy also involved reinforcing countries’ resilience against undue Chinese influence and coercion. His “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy not only matched China’s Belt and Road funding but also promised high-quality infrastructure investments that would protect the environment and spare the recipients dangerous debt traps. This focus on helping the region paid off: today, Japan enjoys favorability ratings in South and Southeast Asia that far exceed those of China or any other country in the world. Abe gradually won over skeptical partners on his proposal for reestablishing the Quad after China’s incursions into the South China Sea and the contested Himalayan border with India. Free-trade agreements aimed at reinforcing open economic rules for the region also expanded under Abe. When he began his second stint as prime minister in 2012, less than 20 percent of Japan’s trade was covered by such agreements, but by the time he left office in 2020, the share had reached 80 percent. When the Trump administration withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2017, Abe stepped in with his counterparts from Australia, Canada, and Singapore to ensure that the agreement went forward, leaving a place at the table should the United States regain its bearings on trade policy.

No other world leader did more in the face of Chinese revisionism to align the major powers and invest in countries’ durability against it, and that ultimately shaped U.S. strategy. The Trump and Biden administrations’ free and open Indo-Pacific strategies and their embrace of the Quad all flow from Abe’s original framework, often verbatim. Governments across Europe and Asia have begun modeling their approach to the region on the Indo-Pacific concept rather than on Xi’s fading China-centric alternative of a “community of common destiny”.

When Abe was assassinated in July 2022, the world acknowledged his impact. Scholars and diplomats also noted the shortcomings of his approach: challenged relations with South Korea, fruitless diplomatic efforts with Russia, and incomplete efforts at spurring economic growth and sustaining the economic empowerment of women to address Japan’s tough demographic picture. But to move forward, Washington’s own approach to allies must include an understanding of how persistently and effectively Abe introduced the framework that defines competition with China—and where U.S. strategy falls short by comparison.


Japan has emerged as the most important net exporter of security in the Indo-Pacific, but Australia and South Korea remain critical bookends, 96 given their capable militaries and their development and diplomacy toolkits. Largely for reasons of geography, Canberra and Seoul were not as quick to organize in response to the China challenge as Japan—Australia because it is so far from China and South Korea because it is so close. U.S. allies all have closer trade relations with China than the United States does, particularly Australia and South Korea: 35 percent of Australian exports and 25 percent of South Korean exports go to China, compared with 22 percent of Japanese exports and nine percent of U.S. exports. But both Australia and South Korea are increasingly finding ways to adopt the same Indo-Pacific framework that Japan championed and Washington embraced.

Two decades ago, Australia began making a fortune exporting natural resources to China and importing students and tourists. Without the kind of manufacturing base that alerted the Japanese public early on to Chinese misbehavior in the global market—stealing intellectual property, dumping exports at below-market prices, and restricting foreign investment—Australians mostly saw upsides to their economic relationship with China. The Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, found in 2013 that 76 percent of Australians thought their economic future lay with China rather than with the United States, an outlook that mirrored the United States’ growing optimism about China at the time. Whereas successive U.S. administrations spurred Beijing’s request for a “strategic partnership”, Canberra formed a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Beijing in 2014.

Beijing’s expansion into the South China Sea in 2014 and 2015 alarmed members of the Australian national security community just as it did their U.S. counterparts. But for most Australians, the wake-up call came in 2018, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that China was trying to build a submarine base in the Pacific Island of Vanuatu—a development that would have put potentially hostile forces in Australia’s neighborhood for the first time since World War II. Then, in 2019, an influential Australian news program exposed vivid details about the Chinese Communist Party’s extensive operations to influence Australian politics and society, prompting Parliament to draft tough laws against foreign interference.

When the Australian government called for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020, the Chinese ambassador in Canberra threatened a massive consumer boycott of Australian goods. Chinese imports of coal, copper, barley, and wine from Australia soon fell to a trickle as Beijing tried to use economic interdependence as a tool for coercion. Australian journalists were detained inside China, and Chinese propagandists launched a disinformation campaign in the region with provocative charges of Australian racism and war crimes. Beijing escalated tensions further by delivering a list of 14 demands that Canberra had to meet before relations could improve, including silence on Chinese human rights abuses and an end to funding for think tanks critical of Chinese military activities.

The Chinese gambit failed spectacularly. This year’s Lowy poll found a stunning reversal in views of China, with 75 percent of Australians saying that China will become a military threat to Australia in the future. Australia became the first country to ban the Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from its telecommunications markets, and a new foreign investment review board is limiting Chinese acquisitions of strategic assets in Australia. The government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who took office in August 2018, defied China’s demands by agreeing to build nuclear-powered submarines and develop other advanced capabilities with the United States and the United Kingdom under the AUKUS pact. Australia has also expanded defense cooperation with Japan, signing an agreement this year that provides reciprocal access to military facilities in the two countries and inviting increasing numbers of Japanese forces to participate in military exercises in Australia. The country has also signed new defense agreements with India. Like Japan, Australia has moved faster than the United States to manage competition with China.

South Korea is the latest U.S. ally in Asia to join the dance. In its case, China’s proximity left it with much less flexibility than Australia and Japan. Japan has thwarted one Chinese invasion, in the thirteenth century, and Australia has faced none, but South Korea’s history is scarred with dozens of invasions from its giant neighbor to the north. Moreover, China’s influence on North Korea—the most important security challenge for South Korea—is only increasing as Pyongyang has come to rely on China for 90 percent of its trade.

At times, Seoul’s efforts to manage relations with the great powers around the Korean Peninsula have only incited greater suspicion, jealousy, and pressure. The governments of the previous two presidents, Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in, both fell into that trap. Park solicited Beijing’s support despite her pro-alliance bona fides with Washington, and her government implicitly endorsed a U.S.-Chinese structure to Asian geopolitics by proposing a trilateral dialogue for the United States, China, and South Korea, much to the chagrin of Tokyo. In response to a multibillion-dollar Chinese boycott of South Korean companies to punish Seoul for accepting U.S. Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) batteries in 2016, the Moon government promised Beijing that it would limit future military cooperation on missile defense with the United States. This unparalleled accommodation of China with respect to the U.S.–South Korean alliance invited suspicion in Washington and raised ambitions in Beijing.

The South Korean public, however, was souring on China even faster than Australia had. The THAAD boycott, sympathy with Hong Kong’s citizens after Beijing’s crackdown, and mounting troubles for South Korean companies operating in China all cratered that country’s approval ratings. By 2021, 77 percent of South Koreans said they did not trust China. When the conservative politician Yoon Suk-yeul became president in May 2022, he realigned South Korean diplomacy with the United States and even Japan despite lingering tensions with Tokyo over painful historical issues. Yoon will still be constrained by geography and the North Korea problem. When Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited Tokyo after her contentious visit to Taiwan in August, for example, she met with Japan’s prime minister, but when she stopped in Seoul, Yoon was conveniently on vacation. Nevertheless, Seoul’s growing alignment with the United States is now tracking that of Australia and Japan.

In the larger tapestry of U.S. relationships in the Indo-Pacific, the Biden administration is rightly focused on expanded engagement with India through the Quad, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, longtime treaty allies such as the Philippines and Thailand, and, now, with the Pacific Island countries. Many of the nations the United States is courting have dynamic populations poised to play leading roles in the future of the region and the world. Some compete with China but in measured fashion, such as Vietnam and India. All are debating their future trajectories, including their longer-term relationships with the United States and China. That soul-searching makes deeper U.S. engagement all the more important.

At the same time, for the foreseeable future, Australia, Japan, and South Korea will be in a league of their own. These are the alliances that the United States will need most in any regional crisis, and the Biden administration has been right to prioritize them. But it will have to begin thinking of allies not just as instruments of U.S. policy but as strategic innovators who see clearly the gaps in Washington’s own approach.


One subtle but crucial difference concerns the long-term vision for relations with China. Abe’s strategy was premised on resetting relations with China, not containing or decoupling entirely from the Chinese economy. In April 2022, when the LDP’s hawkish Research Commission on National Security prepared the ruling party’s framework for Japan’s next defense plan, its members called for a doubling of defense spending to two percent of GDP in five years and an expansion of Japan’s strike capability. Still, the document clarified that the country’s ultimate goal was a “constructive and stable relationship” with China. Even after Beijing’s economic boycott, the Morrison government in Australia expanded funding for exchanges with China through organizations such as the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, and the new Labor foreign minister, Penny Wong, has spoken of her desire for relations to be “stabilized”. Although South Korean President Yoon promised to back Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy and to be less deferential toward China, his foreign minister, Park Jin, pledged in Beijing to support regional and global cooperation.

One could interpret these stances as duplicitous accommodation, but a more accurate reading would be that all three major allies seek to work with Beijing on issues of concern from a position of strength backed by closer alignment with the United States and other like-minded countries in the region. Put another way, U.S. allies in Asia still hope for some version of the strategy that U.S. presidents from Richard Nixon to Obama pursued in the region: a combination of balancing and engaging China, but with a longer-term aim of integrating the country under rules favorable to the advanced industrial democracies. The idea is to compete with China, but with a clear end state in mind.

There is broad consensus in Canberra, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington that Xi will present geopolitical and economic challenges for the next decade and that U.S. allies need to cooperate to blunt his worst ambitions. But where the allies differ from Washington is on the need for a framework that does more than isolate Beijing. Although much of the United States’ post–Cold War strategy explicitly sought to shape China in the belief that a combination of engagement and counterbalancing could bend Beijing toward a more durable relationship for the long term, the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy clearly abandons that mission: “Our objective is not to change the [People’s Republic of China] but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates, building a balance of influence in the world that is maximally favorable to the United States, our allies and partners, and the interests and values we share”, the document states.

Xi’s China is a much tougher counterpart, and competition across all domains, from military to technology, will be intense. But the current U.S. approach has left allies and partners wondering what the American endgame is for relations with China. If they haven’t given up on shaping China, neither should the United States.


Asian allies’ well-known frustration with the lack of a U.S. trade strategy since the Trump administration is rooted in this longer-term search for a workable equilibrium with China, the top trading partner to most of the region. The TPP appealed to the United States’ Indo-Pacific partners not only because it integrated them into the attractive U.S. market but also because it set the stage for more successful negotiations with Beijing over economic rules going forward. The original vision for the TPP was that the weight of so many open regional economies would propel talks on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe and put enormous pressure on Beijing while providing it with incentives to negotiate along similar lines with all the member states. 102 In Sydney in 2007, the United States and other leaders attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum agreed that the TPP would be one building block for a broader free-trade area in the Asia-Pacific that included China. (The U.S. delegation insisted on the term “area” rather than “agreement” to avoid triggering congressional notification before the table was set for taking on negotiations with Beijing.) When the momentum behind the TPP was at its height in 2015, Obama briefed Xi on the pact, and prominent Chinese officials pointed to it as external validation of economic reforms, just as Premier Zhu Rongzi used the agreement creating the World Trade Organization in the 1990s to restructure China’s state-owned enterprises.

Whether that original vision for TPP as a counterweight to Beijing could ever have been realized is now a moot question, since the Trump administration withdrew from the partnership, and the Biden administration is adamant that it will not return. This leaves U.S. allies, the U.S. business community, and even many Chinese businesses in a much weaker negotiating position vis-à-vis the Chinese state. More alarming to those depending on a U.S.-led order is the vacuum created by Washington’s retreat on trade policy. In 2022, an index of regional power maintained by the Lowy Institute upgraded the United States to the top regional diplomatic influence but noted that its economic sway had declined ever more since the Trump years. Xi underscored the point in 2021 when he announced China’s intention to join the successor to the TPP—an agreement Washington had once championed.

Understanding the geopolitical ramifications of its absent economic strategy, the Biden administration announced the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in May 2022 in Tokyo. The IPEF brings the United States together with 13 other regional economies for dialogue on topics including digital trade, the environment, and corruption. Although the participation of countries that have previously avoided trade pacts with the United States, such as India and Indonesia, is a geopolitical plus, Biden administration officials insist that the IPEF is not a trade agreement and that there will be no market-access provisions characteristic of the TPP. India and Indonesia agreed to participate precisely because they were not being asked to open up their markets in any significant way. The IPEF certainly addresses important modern issues such as digital trade, and it is possible that the talks could gather momentum and yield meaningful agreements short of trade liberalization or market access. But it is a shell of what the TTP would have been.

Recognizing that the quarter loaf of the IPEF is better than no loaf at all, U.S. allies are publicly championing the framework as evidence that the United States is back in the economic rule-making game in Asia. Privately, however, there is still great concern that the framework is insufficient to blunt China’s growing economic clout. The obvious way to make the IPEF more substantive would be to negotiate a digital trade agreement based on existing provisions in the U.S. pacts with Canada, Japan, and Mexico that the Trump administration negotiated and in comparable deals that Australia and Singapore signed. This is not likely to happen soon, given the protectionists in the Biden administration and Congress who worry that the IPEF might be a gateway drug to the TPP, but the pressure from allies and business to deliver substantive agreements will continue to build.


Just as close allies need the United States to lead constructive engagement with Beijing and meaningful economic initiatives for the region, they also require U.S. backing to strengthen deterrence capabilities in the face of a more menacing China. (That may sound contradictory, but allies in the region have to deal with both realities.) U.S. allies are making big moves and taking on new risks. Japan’s recognition of the right of collective defense and its introduction of strike capability put Tokyo directly in Beijing’s cross hairs. Beijing now regularly releases satellite images of testing ranges shaped like Japanese bases that have been destroyed by ballistic missile attacks. In addition to committing to AUKUS, Australia has pledged to expand weapons production with U.S. firms through the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise, a multibillion-dollar program. In response to growing Chinese military challenges, Australia is developing new initiatives to host more U.S. troops and give the U.S. military greater access to the north and west of the country. And in South Korea, despite threats from Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang, Yoon has sought to increase readiness by resuming regular defense exercises with the United States that Trump and Moon had paused.

These developments have all been embraced by the Biden administration and Congress. Yet even though U.S. allies are making major changes in their defense production and operations, the mechanics of alliance management in Washington are still based on antiquated designs. True, the United States has upgraded its security cooperation with Japan by creating new military-to-military working groups, but the U.S.-Japanese alliance lacks anything like the combined commands that characterize the U.S. alliances with South Korea or NATO—alliances on the frontline that were designed during the Cold War to “fight tonight”, a readiness level still maintained by the U.S. Command in South Korea. Nor was the U.S.-Australian alliance designed for joint warfighting in the Indo-Pacific, despite the close operational relationship that U.S. and Australian forces developed fighting together in the Middle East. Integrated command and control is critical for these alliances because North Korean missiles and Chinese naval deployments have put Japan and even Australia on the frontlines of a potential war for the first time. It also matters because Japan’s deployment of long-range strike capabilities could trigger escalation by China or North Korea if that deployment is not well integrated into U.S. military planning.

Australia, meanwhile, is counting on the Pentagon and the State Department to share military technology in ways that follow through on Biden’s commitment to help build nuclear-powered submarines and other advanced military capabilities. In 2017, Congress expanded the definition of “the national technology and industrial base”, a legal concept demarcating countries whose companies are given national security priority, adding the United Kingdom and Australia. But in parts of the Pentagon and the State Department, the rules governing export licensing and technology transfer continue to be implemented case by case, as if the addition of Australia and the United Kingdom had not occurred, and “buy American” provisions in U.S. legislation continue to obstruct efforts to transfer technologies and integrate production between trusted allies. Without reform, AUKUS and other Australian investments in deterrence will be difficult to realize. That would be a setback for Australia’s defense, its alliance with the United States, and the overall balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.

Allies have big decisions to make as well. For Japan to actually increase defense spending to two percent of GDP, the government would have to cut social welfare programs or issue much more debt than it has. And if it is to further integrate itself into U.S. military planning, it will have to improve its protection of information to the levels of Five Eyes intelligence partners such as Australia that can be trusted not to leak the most sensitive intelligence and technical information. Australia’s initiatives will require increased spending or hard choices about priorities. South Korea under Yoon has pledged to support the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy in Southeast Asia but is sticking to its excuses when it comes to Taiwan contingencies closer to home, preferring to remain neutral rather than upset Beijing. Without more proactive reform from Congress and the Biden administration, however, these choices may remain too hard for U.S. allies to make, which would put all the participants’ security at risk.


The United States has one advantage in the unfolding geopolitical contest with China that Beijing cannot replicate: a network of security alliances with democracies spanning the Pacific Ocean. Although China can claim growing influence in parts of the global South, Beijing’s closest security partnerships are limited to a flailing Russia, an isolated Iran, and a provocative North Korea. The United States, in contrast, has well-established treaties with the region’s most advanced economies and militaries.

In 1991, James Baker, then the U.S. secretary of state, wrote in these pages that Asian security was underpinned by the “hub and spokes” of America’s bilateral alliances in the region. Today, that structure is shifting more and more toward the hubs. Australia and Japan are establishing deeper security cooperation with each other and building partnerships and capacity in other countries in the region, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Greater U.S. investment in its closest alliances will pay dividends not only in the integration and readiness of those bilateral relationships but also in the ability of U.S. allies to bolster cooperation and resilience across the region.

The strengthening of these broader alliance networks will also help reset China’s expectations about American staying power and the durability of regional security networks. The economic interdependence of all U.S. allies with China makes a NATO-style collective security arrangement a nonstarter in the absence of major military moves by Beijing. But the Quad, AUKUS, and the burgeoning security ties among Asian democracies serve as useful reminders to Beijing that its coercion has consequences and that collective security arrangements that constrain China’s choices are indeed possible.

At the same time, some in Beijing may also find that the U.S. emphasis on allies helps stabilize U.S.-Chinese relations. Abe’s strategy for competition with China helped define U.S. strategy under both Trump and Biden. Abe’s search for a sustainable equilibrium with China should also shape thinking in Washington. After all, from Canberra to Tokyo, there is a deep consensus: that beyond the immediate task of defending against China’s coercion, the long game is achieving a productive relationship with Beijing.

Michael J. Green is CEO of the United States Studies Centre in Sydney. He served as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.

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