Subscribe Now! Get features like
US President Joe Biden has drawn a direct link between Hamas’s terror attack against Israel with the US-led efforts at regional integration in West Asia, hinting at the process to establish diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia-Israel and projects such as the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) as possible triggers for the conflagration in West Asia.
Biden also said that the US will continue to compete with China, pointing specifically to IMEC in the context of challenging the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). He hailed Quad as a mechanism that will contribute to peace and said he looked forward to attending the Quad Leaders’ Summit in India next year.
Biden was speaking along with visiting Australian PM Anthony Albanese at the White House, where the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and Aukus, the Australia-US-UK nuclear submarine deal that requires US Congress to pass the relevant legislation.
Speaking on the Israel-Hamas war, Biden said that he had spoken to several regional leaders, from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Egypt in recent days, “about making sure there is real hope in the region for a better future; about the need – and I mean this sincerely – about the need to work toward a greater integration for Israel while insisting that the aspirations of the Palestinian people will be part of that future as well”.
“I am convinced one of the reasons Hamas attacked when they did – and I have no proof of this; just my instinct tells me – is because of the progress we were making towards regional integration for Israel and regional integration overall. And we can’t leave that work behind.” On the day of the attacks, HT, in an analysis piece, had written about how the Hamas attacks appear motivated by a desire to ignite an Israeli response that would make it much harder, if not impossible, for its Arab neighbours to continue with the process of normalisation.
In recent years, the geopolitical landscape in West Asia has changed with the Abraham Accords between Israel and a set of its Arab neighbours, and intense negotiations between US, Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish normal diplomatic ties between Tel Aviv and Riyadh. It has also taken two new institutional forms which involve India, with the I2U2 coalition (of India, Israel, US and UAE) and the ambitious IMEC announcement during the G20 Summit which envisages rail and shipping corridors from India through West Asia all the way to Europe.
Biden, who had referred to the project during a speech last week as evidence of what US was attempting to do in the region, specifically mentioned IMEC in the context of China in his remarks on Wednesday.
Asked if Australia can trust China in the context of Albanese’s trip to China next week, Biden said: “Trust but verify is the phrase. And, look, China is having their own internal and external difficulties right now. China’s economic growth is stagnant compared to what it was. China has engaged in activities that Russia and many others have engaged in terms of intimidation and dealing with other countries.”
The Biden administration is engaging with Beijing as well, and China’s foreign minister Wang Yi is currently in Washington.
Biden said Xi Jinping knew that the US would compete with China on BRI, which had been a “a debt and a noose for most of the people that signed on”. He then referred to US’s own efforts on infrastructure with G7 countries, and mentioned IMEC. Biden said that the US was a “reliable partner”, and in his conversation with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi leader had expressed his desire for “reconciliation”. “It’s the idea that you’d have the nations of the Middle East cooperating economically and politically changes the dynamics significantly. And so, I just think that it it’s something that it’s in everyone’s interest – including, long-term, in China’s interest.”
On a separate note, while hailing the US-Australia relationship as an anchor of peace an anchor of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, Biden said, “We see this through our work of the Quad partners – India and Japan – to ensure the Indo-Pacific remains free, open, prosperous, and secure.”
Biden said that China neither liked Aukus nor Quad. Claiming that Xi had asked him why the US was trying to “surround China”, Biden said, said he had told him that US wasn’t surrounding China. “We are just making sure that the sea lanes remain open, he doesn’t unilaterally… change the rules of the road in terms of what constitutes international airspace and water space, et cetera. And so, that’s what this is all about.” Biden added that the Quad was a “very important piece” too. “It’s about maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait, the Indian Ocean, that whole area. And I think it’s going to increase the prospects for long-term peace rather than do anything else.”
Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.
Subscribe Now! Get features like