Biden aims to bolster America’s influence in Asia to counter China, North Korea

President Biden is halfway through a five-day trip to South Korea and Japan in an effort to expand American influence and rebuild economic ties in a region where China and North Korea’s power remains significant. In Seoul Saturday, he and South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol agreed to expand joint military exercises. Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America joins Geoff Bennet to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    It is good to be with you. We begin tonight in South Korea where President Biden continued his first presidential trip to Asia today, as he aims to bolster ties with one of America's strongest allies in the Indo-Pacific Region.

    In Seoul today, President Biden committed to strengthening a decade's old alliance, meeting for the first time with his new South Korean counterpart. In bilateral talks, the two presidents agreed to expand joint military exercises on and around the Korean peninsula. And at a news conference later in the day, President Biden pledged to deter the threat posed by a nuclear armed North Korea.

    Joe Biden, (D) U.S. President: Today, President Yoon and I committed to strengthening our close engagement and work together to take on challenges of regional security, including addressing the threat posed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    But President Biden also said he would consider meeting with North Korea and potentially provide vaccines to the country, as it reports yet another 200,000 cases of what it calls fever.

  • Joe Biden:

    Would I provide vaccines for North Korea? Would I prepare to meet? The answer is yes, we've offered vaccines, not only to North Korea, but to China as well. And we're prepared to do that, immediately. We've gotten no response.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    President Biden is halfway through a five day trip to South Korea and Japan. It's an attempt to strengthen American influence and rebuild economic ties in a region where China and North Korea's power remains significant.

    And joining us now to discuss President Biden's trip to Asia and more, I'm joined by Anne-Marie Slaughter, she CEO of New America, and she's also the former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department during the Obama administration.

    It's great to have you with us. And President Biden's trip is aimed at making strides in countering China's military advances, countering China's saber rattling and its economic influence in the Indo-Pacific region. So what are some of the biggest challenges he'll face? And how should he address them?

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America:

    Biggest challenge he's facing probably right now is that whatever we do in Ukraine, which we have to do to help Ukraine push the Russians back that is pushing Russia closer to China. And that is not actually what we want in terms of the configuration of power in Asia.

    The second big challenge is that our Asian allies actually don't want to choose between us and China and it was very striking in the vote to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council that Singapore and Malaysia and Indonesia, all abstained. So we have this double situation where we don't want China and Russia closer together. We do want our allies closer to us. But actually, they really don't want to have to choose between China and us.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    I want to draw you out on that, because I've been talking to White House officials to make this point that after four years of Trump foreign policy, which included a trade war with China, those two splashy summits with Kim Jong-un that failed to really rein in his nuclear program, the ditching of the Iran deal, and so on, that left a leadership vacuum that China quickly filled. And I hear you say that the region isn't really willing to have America back in a leadership position. Is that the case?

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter:

    Not quite, the region is perfectly happy to have America leading. Indeed, they want the United States engaged in the region. What they don't want, is the United States that essentially says it's us versus China, you really have to line up with us. I mean, that's changed somewhat with Australia, which is, has had its own issues with China and has moved closer to us. But by and large, those countries want to be able to pursue their interests. They want us to balance China, but they are not going to line up with us against China.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Got it. I also want to ask you about Sweden and Finland pursuing NATO membership, which was a major headline this past week, President Biden said that both countries have the full total complete backing of the U.S. Turkey, as you know, opposes NATO membership for both countries and could use its vote to really torpedo their bid. I've also heard from White House officials who say that Turkey really is in this for some concessions.

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter:

    I definitely think that Turkey understands leverage, and that it has a moment so where it can extract things. And then Turkey has been on the outs with NATO in terms of being much closer to Russia, then and particularly around arms deals than making many NATO members comfortable. I doubt though, that Turkey will actually block the accession of Sweden and Finland.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    What does Sweden and Finland being NATO members mean for Vladimir Putin?

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter:

    Well, it is a pretty clear sign of a massive strategic mistake, if you believe Putin, that part of the reason he went into Ukraine was because of NATO expansion, I think we could debate that. But what he's now gotten is not only Finland and Sweden joining NATO, but — and I actually think this is a potential problem for NATO. It's now going to be very hard for NATO to say yes to Sweden and Finland, but no to Ukraine, because Finland has 1000 kilometer border with Russia. The — certainly if you look at Finland and the Baltics, the other Nordic states, why would you bring those countries into NATO but not bring the country that you are spending $40 billion, helping defend against Russia in as well.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Anne-Marie Slaughter is CEO of New America. Thanks so much for your time and for your perspectives.

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter:

    Thank you.

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