Earlier this month Chinese leader Xi Jinping made his first foreign trip since the coronavirus outbreak, joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The summit was Xi’s first in-person opportunity to win support outside of China’s borders for his new Global Security Initiative (GSI), which he launched in April. While the GSI remains notional and somewhat vague, Xi is on the offensive, seeking to position his vision of a new global security architecture as an alternative to the Western-led security order. In an era of heightened strategic rivalry between Washington and Beijing, Xi’s GSI campaign could amount to yet another challenge to the U.S.-China relationship and the two countries’ ability to peacefully manage differences.
Vladimir Putin is under increased pressure as Russia continues to lose ground inside Ukraine. Faced with the prospect of stark losses — potentially leaving Russia in a worse position than before its February 24 invasion — Moscow may be embarked on an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy. By raising the specter of a nuclear confrontation twice in recent weeks, Putin may in fact be seeking a way out of his dilemma marked by Russia’s strategic failure in Ukraine. The coming weeks will be critical as Putin pursues nuclear brinksmanship — possibly even repositioning tactical nuclear weapons — while actually seeking an exit.
As President Biden hosts a first-ever U.S. summit with Pacific Island countries, USIP’s Brian Harding says regional leaders “have some concerns” about growing U.S.-China competition — but they would rather “talk about their own interests and needs … If you ask them, their top priority by far is climate change.”
President Joe Biden will host leaders of Pacific Island countries for a summit at the White House from September 28-29, the latest U.S. effort to strengthen ties with a region that is increasingly the focus of competition between China and the United States and its partners. While China is a major force behind the United States’ effort to reengage with the Pacific Islands, strategic competition has also reawakened Washington to its fundamental interests in the region, which have existed for many decades, and long predate the current era of U.S.-China rivalry.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) resumed in-person summits last week in the wake of the COVID pandemic and at a moment of unprecedent change and challenge. Member states Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are at war over their border. So are dialogue partner states Armenia and Azerbaijan. All SCO members are dealing with the economic impact of the Russian war in Ukraine as well as climate disruptions like the floods overwhelming Pakistan. Mistrust between India and Pakistan, full members since 2017, make cooperation difficult on the SCO’s original core mission of counterterrorism. And India and China, which were building toward the “Wuhan spirit” of cooperation when India joined in 2017, are hardly on speaking terms despite recent progress toward deescalating a friction point along their disputed Line of Actual Control.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership are not irrational. Their primary goal is regime survival. To date, the Russian military’s poor performance in Ukraine does not present an existential threat to the Putin regime. Neither the Russian military’s failure to decisively defeat the Ukrainian military nor a Ukrainian victory that leads to complete expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory are likely to topple it.
Beijing’s strong reaction to U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan highlights how the island has become ground zero in major power competition, with U.S.-China relations at their lowest point in decades. Indeed, the Taiwan Strait is now the most plausible locale for a military confrontation between the United States and China. Most alarmingly, Beijing and Washington are prone to misread the signals of the other, especially where Taiwan is concerned. Misinterpreting rhetoric or actions can be extremely dangerous because it can trigger action-reaction cycles that can spiral into unintended escalation and unwanted conflict.
Upon entering office, the Biden administration was faced with a hemisphere in tumult. The COVID-19 pandemic had wrought havoc on health care systems and economies throughout the Americas — instigating new crises and aggravating others that have long plagued the region.
Around the world, Beijing is investing heavily in diplomatic, security, cultural, and economic ties in a bid to increase its global influence, strengthen its ability to protect and advance its national interests, attract support in multilateral fora and international institutions, and fracture the global consensus on key issues it views as unfavorable to its geopolitical ambitions. The Pacific Islands region—defined as the vast stretch of Pacific Ocean between Asian littoral waters in the west, Guam in the north and Hawaii in the northeast, and Australia and New Zealand in the south and southwest—has been no exception.
For much of the last 75 years, the Pacific region and in particular the Freely Associated States of the northern Pacific (FAS) — the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands — were not regarded as U.S. national security priorities.