Biden pledges NATO-like military presence in Indo-Pacific

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The US will “maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific” just as it does with NATO in Europe, and it will retain an “over-the-horizon” capability as it leaves Afghanistan in September, President Joe Biden has said in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

In a 65-minute speech to a chamber sparsely populated in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden recalled major accomplishments of his first 100 days in office such as a rescue plan and laid out his agenda for the remainder of his term that many experts described as the most progressive for a Democratic president in decades.

“America is on the move again,” he said as he started his speech that was focused mostly on domestic issues, such as the handling of the pandemic, economic recovery, healthcare expansion, gun rights reforms, immigration policy, eradication of child poverty, raising the minimum wage to $15, equal pay for women, among others.

Biden also spoke on key foreign policy issues such as America’s relations with China, the main competitor, and the pull-out of troops from Afghanistan that he has pledged to wrap up by September 11 – the 10the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks in the US.

“We will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific just as we do with NATO in Europe – not to start conflict – but to prevent conflict,” the US president said he told China’s President Xi Jinping when the latter had called to congratulate him.

Biden never fails to bring up that conversation, and he mentioned it again, saying it had lasted two hours.

No details were available immediately of plans to boost US military presence in the region, as the area of responsibility of the Indo-Pacific Command, with a look-in from the Africa Command and the Central Command in the Biden administration’s expanded vision of the region as the Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR).

Former US president Donald Trump had also spoken of a stronger military presence in the Indo-Pacific, but at the expense of American presence in Europe, by moving troops from Germany.

Trump didn’t stay long enough in office to get that done, and the redeployment was abandoned by the Biden administration.

Reasserting his tough stand on China, Biden, a veteran of foreign policy issues going back decades in the US Senate, said, “America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and industries, like subsidies for state-owned enterprises and the theft of American technologies and intellectual property.”

On Afghanistan, a major policy issue for the Biden administration that India is following closely, the American president said, “After 20 years of American valour and sacrifice, it’s time to bring our troops home. Even as we do, we will maintain an over-the-horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland.”

That should give New Delhi some comfort as worried as it has been with Biden’s decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan without a residual force, something that he himself had advocated against as a candidate for the White House.

“But make no mistake – the terrorist threat has evolved beyond Afghanistan since 2001, and we will remain vigilant against threats to the United States, wherever they come from,” Biden said.

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