As a presidential candidate in early 2020, Joe Biden wrote an article describing his foreign policy vision in which he said that the Indo-Pacific is the "region that will determine the United States' future."
Asia will be a priority for the Biden administration because it is crucial to American economic recovery and growth and also because of the immense security threats from North Korea and growing Chinese assertiveness.
Biden's foreign policy will be different from Obama's because the world has changed and the United States has changed. After four years of "America First," opinion polls show America's image and credibility is badly damaged. After four years of "Make America Great Again" populism, American society is dangerously polarized. The failed response to Covid-19 has left 400,000 Americans dead, millions unemployed and triggered an economic recession.
Biden's foreign policy will need to reflect these new and unfavorable realities. Problems at home require his urgent attention. But this makes the Asia-Pacific more important to him, not less. Rebuilding America's economy and creating high-quality jobs in the United States will require Biden's active engagement in the region that drives global growth.
Restoring American leadership requires recovering the trust of allies in Asia that Donald Trump dismissed as "free-loaders." Biden's plan to sharpen America's competitive edge to deter adversaries and protect a decisive lead in technology necessitates closer cooperation with Japan and other advanced economies like Taiwan.
As much as the world has changed since Obama and Biden took office in 2009, remember that the United States at that time also faced a massive economic crisis. Despite that challenge -- or perhaps because of it -- Obama and Biden initiated the "Rebalance to Asia." It was no accident that the new administration's first White House meeting with a foreign leader was with the Prime Minister of a close Asian ally, Japan. Then as now, Biden strongly recognized the importance of the region and the importance of democratic partners who share the vision of a secure, open and prosperous rules-based order.
It is revealing that Biden has choosen highly experienced foreign policy professionals for key cabinet posts, beginning with Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken who was deputy secretary of state under Obama when I served as assistant secretary for East Asia. Blinken was deeply involved in every aspect of Asia-related policy, ranging from North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea, to negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is a veteran of tough talks with Chinese interlocutors, long meetings with ASEAN counterparts and strategic dialogues with close Japanese, Australian, Korean and Taiwanese partners.
Also important is the selection of Kurt Campbell, my predecessor as Assistant Secretary for East Asia, to serve in the National Security Council as Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs. Campbell is a friend of Japan and a champion of strong U.S. engagement with Asia.
The new administration faces immense challenges at home, around the world, and particularly in Asia. North Korea's nuclear arsenal and missile stockpiles have grown dramatically since Biden left office. Relations between Japan and Korea -- key allies -- have badly deteriorated since the time when landmark agreements were reached on historical issues.
Democratic institutions and free speech have suffered setbacks in places like the Philippines and Hong Kong. Persecution has intensified against ethnic minorities like the Rohingya in Myanmar and Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Extreme weather caused by global warming has devastated coastal communities and threatens to wipe out some Pacific island nations.
But clearly the primary strategic challenge is dealing with the assertive behavior of an increasingly confident China.
Many Asian friends ask if Biden will be "tough" with Beijing. Some of them mistake Trump's bellicose rhetoric, insulting tweets and punitive tariffs as evidence that he stood up to China. The evidence proves otherwise. Trump tweeted support for Xi's handling of protests in Hong Kong and Beijing cracked down hard to stifle democracy. Trump imposed massive tariffs on China but failed to get more than empty promises to increase imports -- and China's trade surplus with the United States is higher now than the day Trump took office. Although he pushed Taipei and Tokyo to procure new weapons systems, Trump remained silent about China's escalating threats against Taiwan and growing incursions in the Senkaku Islands.
I've seen Biden as vice president be tough in face-to-face talks with Chinese leaders, like in 2013 when he went to Beijing and told Xi Jinping that the United States would not recognize China's unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone over Japanese-administered territory in the East China Sea.
But the key is that Biden will be strategic in his approach to Beijing. Strategic by first ensuring that the major democracies and industrialized economies agree on common priorities and a common approach to China. Strategic by rebuilding diplomatic channels of communication to ensure that the Chinese side understands his position and his concerns and to hear theirs as well. And strategic in recognizing that there are some areas of disagreement with China when the U.S. must show firm resolve, areas where those differences can be reduced or even resolved and other areas -- such as global health and climate change -- where both countries and the world would benefit from cooperation.
What Biden will not do is to fall into the trap of accepting Chinese "core interests" or "red lines" in exchange for Beijing's agreement to help with global priorities. In announcing his foreign policy team, Biden made clear that even while seeking cooperation on global threats, his administration will confront China's abusive behaviors and human rights violations.
(Daniel Russel is vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute. He served as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under President Barack Obama.)