The US and China have been locked in a tense struggle for dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, especially since the 2000s, in what former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and others have described as a “Pacific Cold War.”
Both countries are relentlessly pursuing policies to exert their influence in the region and beyond, particularly by gaining allies through treaties and pacts.
“Building connections within and beyond the region” was one of the five pillars of the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy unveiled in February last year.
The strategy clearly spells out why the region matters to the US: it is home to more than half of the world’s population, accounts for nearly two-thirds of the global economy, and has seven of the world’s largest militaries.
“More members of the US military are based in the region than in any other outside the US. It supports more than three million American jobs and is the source of nearly $900 billion in foreign direct investment in the US,” reads the document.
“In the years ahead, as the region drives as much as two-thirds of global economic growth, its influence will only grow – as will its importance to the US.”
Besides sealing agreements and alliances in the region, the US also maintains a presence in other important regional forums.
Just last month, it co-hosted with India the 13th Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC) in New Delhi, where tacit references were made to “challenges” posed by China.
In July this year, Lloyd Austin became the first US secretary of defense to visit Papua New Guinea (PNG) to take forward the US-Papua New Guinea Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), which was signed in May.
PNG Prime Minister James Marape had to defend himself against those who accused him of compromising the country’s sovereignty after a leaked draft document reportedly suggested it gives US personnel and contractors legal immunity and allows aircraft, vehicles and vessels operated by or on behalf of the US to move freely within its territory and territorial waters.
The country’s civil society groups protested that it will upset China, which warned against the introduction of “geopolitical games” to the region.
The “geopolitical games” alluded to by China have intensified in recent years, with the signing of several regional defense pacts, most of these by the US.
Here is a list of some of the most significant treaties that Washington has in the Asia-Pacific region:
2021: AUKUS Defense Pact
Under the Australia, US and the UK (AUKUS) defense pact announced in September 2021, Washington and London will give Canberra the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.
China and North Korea called the pact a peace disruptor, while Indonesia has expressed fears that it may trigger an arms race in the region.
2007: Quadrilateral Security Dialogue
Initiated in 2007 by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as the Quad, is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the US.
China has labeled the Quad an “Asian NATO.”
1960: US-Japan Security Treaty
The US signed a defense treaty with Japan on Jan. 19, 1960. The content of the treaty is similar to the ones signed with other regional countries but with a caveat: this treaty covers the territories which are under the administration of Japan, thereby meaning a disputed island which is also claimed by Russia.
1954: Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty
The US, Australia, France, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, and the UK signed a treaty on Sept. 8, 1954, whereby each party “recognizes that aggression by means of armed attack in the treaty area against any of the parties would endanger its own peace and safety and each will in that event act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.”
1954 to 1977: Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
Also in September 1954, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) came into being under the Manila Pact, signed in the capital of the Philippines.
The eight-member multinational organization of France, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Pakistan, Thailand, and the US stood for what it called “collective defense” in Southeast Asia.
It primarily appeared to be a bloc to halt further communist gains in the region. However, it did not withstand internal bickering and disputes, resulting in its demise on June 30, 1977 as many of its members withdrew.
1953: US-South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty
The US signed a treaty with South Korea on Oct. 1, 1953, under which the two countries recognized that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be “dangerous to its own peace and safety.”
“Each party would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes,” according to the text of the treaty.
The US has maintained some 28,500 troops in South Korea since the Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953.
1951: US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty
The US signed a treaty with the Philippines on Aug. 30, 1951 in which each party recognized “that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety.”
1951: Australia, New Zealand, US Security Treaty
The US, New Zealand and Australia signed a pact on Sept. 1, 1951, which was almost similar to the one Washington signed with Manila a month earlier.
The three states recognize that an armed attack in the Pacific area on any of them “would be dangerous to its own peace and safety.”
1941: ‘Five Eyes’ Alliance
‘Five Eyes’ is an intelligence-sharing alliance between the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand that was founded in 1941.
The grouping has its origins in the 20th-century Cold War era and is now increasingly believed to focus on countering China.
It was recently in the spotlight when Canada cited inputs received from Five Eyes to accuse India of involvement in the killing of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil in June this year.