Biden must not let the Indian Ocean slip away like the South China Sea

Biden must not let the Indian Ocean slip away like the South China Sea

Vital maritime area is strategically up for grabs

Joe Biden’s list of inauguration pledges on Jan. 20 will be long and largely domestic. But as he grapples over the coming months with his new administration’s many conflicting priorities in Asia, the United States President must focus attention on one lesser-heralded area: the pressing need for a new approach to the Indian Ocean.

Biden ought to be well aware of the risks of poorly formed maritime policies, given the many mistakes made over the South China Sea during his time as Vice President. Back in 2012, the Obama administration faced a tense standoff between China and the Philippines, as vessels from both nations massed around a disputed reef called Scarborough Shoal, not far off the Filipino coast.

U.S. officials, including Kurt Campbell, Biden’s recently appointed Asia czar, brokered what they thought was a resolution. Yet ultimately that deal did little to stop China pressing ahead with an island-building campaign that would change the region’s geopolitical balance, leaving the U.S. impotent in the face of Beijing’s determination.