RSIS Distinguished Public Lecture by Mr Richard Fontaine, Chief Executive Officer, Center for a New American Security
The United States in the Indo-Pacific: Pivoting or Pretending?
Even with war in Europe, much of US policy today focuses on the Indo-Pacific. The US Department of Defense identifies China as its “pacing challenge” and the Indo-Pacific as the “priority theater.” The Biden administration’s National Security Strategy identifies China as “the most consequential geopolitical challenge” for the United States. In Washington, a bipartisan consensus holds that the United States is engaged in long-term competition with China, one that will play out in the Indo-Pacific more than anywhere else.
A raft of new efforts aims to improve America’s competitive position, link Washington more firmly with allies and partners, and deal effectively with Beijing. From AUKUS and IPEF, to semiconductors and technical standards, to base access and enhanced defence ties, the United States is, at long last, pivoting to Asia.
Or is it? What does the flurry of American activity add up to, and to precisely what ends? What is the objective of Washington’s China policy, and where do its allies and partners fit in? What role will trade and economic agreements play—or not play—in the overall effort? And how can the United States focus on competition with China in the Indo-Pacific while remaining a global power active in multiple regions simultaneously?
This lecture will offer answers to these questions. It will assess the Biden administration’s approach to the Indo-Pacific, both broadly and with a focus on US-China relations. It will also consider how Russia’s war on Ukraine, along with US and allied support for Kyiv, have impacted US efforts in Asia. The lecture will conclude with thoughts on how the United States can compete with China over the long run, and heighten its engagement across the Indo-Pacific, while tending to its multitude of interests elsewhere.
About the Speaker
Richard Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer of CNAS. He served as President of CNAS from 2012-19 and as Senior Fellow from 2009-12. Prior to CNAS, he was foreign policy advisor to Senator John McCain and worked at the State Department, the National Security Council (NSC), and on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Fontaine served as foreign policy advisor to the McCain 2008 presidential campaign and subsequently as the minority deputy staff director on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Prior to that, he served as Associate Director for Near Eastern Affairs at the NSC from 2003-04. He also worked on Southeast Asian issues in the NSC’s Asian Affairs directorate.
At the State Department, Fontaine worked for the deputy secretary and in the department’s South Asia bureau. Fontaine began his foreign policy career as a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, focusing on the Middle East and South Asia. He also spent a year teaching English in Japan.
Fontaine currently serves as executive director of the Trilateral Commission and on the Defense Policy Board. He has been an adjunct professor in the security studies program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
A native of New Orleans, Fontaine graduated summa cum laude with a BA in international relations from Tulane University. He also holds an MA in international affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, and he attended Oxford University. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their four children.