President Joe Biden's maiden trip to Asia as commander in chief marks a long-awaited shift to the region, one that has been overshadowed by the president's deadly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Russia's bloody invasion of Ukraine.

Biden's five-day itinerary includes a stop in South Korea and then Japan to meet the countries' new heads of government, as well as a gathering of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue partners Australia, India, and Japan in Tokyo. While the leaders are expected to discuss the Russia-Ukraine conflict, topics likely to dominate the agenda are China, North Korea, and economic opportunities.

"President Biden has rallied the free world in defense of Ukraine and in opposition to Russian aggression," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday. "He remains focused on ensuring that our efforts in those missions are successful, but he also intends to seize this moment, this pivotal moment, to assert bold and confident American leadership in another vital region of the world, the Indo-Pacific."


Here are four developments of which to be mindful during Biden's trip:

Indo-Pacific Economic Framework

Biden's Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is poised to be the president's main deliverable from his first Asia trip, according to American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Zack Cooper. Biden is anticipated to promote the document while he is in Japan alongside new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in person and some of its "eight or nine" signatories virtually, he told the Washington Examiner.

Cooper advised the administration to be prepared for criticism since the framework is not the new trade deal desired by stakeholders seeking greater U.S. market access and tariff removal, including parties to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

"It's going to get a lot of attention from Washington, and there will be a bunch of other countries that sign on because they feel like they need to support the U.S., but there just isn't very much excitement about this framework in the region," he said.

"The critique of the United States in Asia is that the U.S. talks a lot and doesn't do that much," Cooper added. "The challenge for the Biden team is to dispel that notion."

Sullivan previewed the framework and its four pillars during Wednesday's White House press briefing, describing it as "ambitious."

"It is a 21st-century economic arrangement, a new model designed to tackle new economic challenges, from setting the rules of the digital economy to ensuring secure and resilient supply chains ... managing the energy transition [and] investing in clean, modern high-standards infrastructure," the national security adviser said.


China's "no limits" accord with Russia and Beijing's outreach to the Solomon Islands will be top of mind for Biden during his trip. But Sullivan downplayed speculation Biden is trying to demonstrate a cautionary tale to China amid Russia's incursion of Ukraine and its increasing antagonistic behavior in the South China Sea.

"The message we're trying to send on this trip is a message of an affirmative vision of what the world can look like if the democracies and open societies of the world stand together to shape the rules of the road, to define the security architecture of the region, to reinforce strong, powerful historic alliances," he said. "We think it will be heard in Beijing, but it is not a negative message and it's not targeted at any one country."

But China's reaction to Biden's presence depends on, for example, whether Japan and South Korea publish stronger statements concerning Taiwan, the Cato Institute's defense policy studies director, Eric Gomez, contended.

"Another thing that might make the Chinese a bit wary: if South Korea formally requests admission to the Quad," he said of the unlikely prospect. "They view it as a tool of containing China, so that could make them upset."

North Korea

While the Biden administration prioritizes China, Biden cannot forget North Korea given U.S. intelligence indicating "the genuine possibility" that Pyongyang may conduct missile tests while the president is close by, according to Sullivan.

"We are coordinating closely with our allies in both Korea and Japan on this," he said. "We are prepared, obviously, to make both short- and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as necessary to ensure that we are providing both defense and deterrence to our allies in the region and that we're responding to any North Korean provocation."

AEI's Cooper repeated that South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl has been "very clear" regarding his position that South Korea should not "focus too much on the Korean Peninsula." Cooper argued that the United States, Japan, and South Korea are "more and more aligned on China issues."

But for Cato's Gomez, that does not preclude the U.S. and South Korea from dispatching medical aid to North Korea as it grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak.

"The biggest thing potentially might be agreements to deploy certain U.S. weapons systems to the peninsula or to Japan — or both," he said.

Russia and Ukraine

Japan and South Korea have been "fairly forward leaning on Russia" over Ukraine, Tokyo in coordination with the Group of Seven, and Seoul in tandem with the broader coalition, according to AEI's Cooper.

"The point of this trip is really more for Biden to get to know his counterparts in Korea and Japan," he said. "I don't worry at all about those bilateral visits. The Koreans and the Japanese, they have a lot invested in making sure that these visits go well."

But Russia and Ukraine will be more pertinent to Quad conversations because of India's reluctance to pressure Russia over Ukraine. This is despite the U.S. proposing to spend $500 million to encourage India to buy American military equipment and not that of Moscow. India and Russia also have "deep trade ties," Cato's Gomez reiterated.

"If he pushes India too hard on the Ukraine stuff, that could backfire," he said of Biden. "The admin needs to do more to meet countries where they're asked rather than trying to get the countries to come fully along with the U.S. vision for how things are done."


"The constant refrain is: 'Don't make us choose, don't make us choose,'" Gomez went on, referring to Asia. "They want to have the ability to kind of be flexible and to work with both the U.S. and China as their interests demand."