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A Dangerous Game Is Underway in Asia

This month, President Biden threw one of the most lavish state dinners in Washington’s recent memory. Celebrities and billionaires flocked to the White House to dine in honor of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, posing for photos in front of an elaborate display of Japanese fans. Jeff Bezos dropped by; Paul Simon provided the entertainment.

The spectacle was part of a carefully orchestrated series of events to showcase the renewed U.S.-Japan relationship — and the notable transformation of the United States’ security alliances in Asia. The next day, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines was also in the U.S. capital for a historic U.S.-Japan-Philippines summit, during which a new trilateral security partnership was announced.

Both events were directed at the same audience: China.

Over the past several years, Washington has built a series of multilateral security arrangements like these in the Asia-Pacific region. Although U.S. officials claim that the recent mobilization of allies and partners is not aimed at China, don’t believe it. Indeed, Mr. Kishida emphasized in a speech to Congress on April 11 that China presents “the greatest strategic challenge” both to Japan and to the international community.

China’s recent activity is, of course, concerning. Its military has acquired ever more potent ways to counter U.S. and allied capabilities in the Western Pacific and has behaved aggressively in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere, alarming its neighbors.

But Washington’s pursuit of an increasingly complex lattice of security ties is a dangerous game. Those ties include upgrades in defense capabilities, more joint military exercises, deeper intelligence sharing, new initiatives on defense production and technology cooperation and the enhancement of contingency planning and military coordination. All of that may make Beijing more cautious about the blatant use of military force in the region. But the new alliance structure is not, on its own, a long-term guarantor of regional peace and stability — and could even increase the risk of stumbling into a conflict.

The security partnership rolled out this month in Washington is only the latest in a string of new defense configurations that reach across Asia and the Pacific. In 2017 the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as the Quad, was revived, promoting collaboration among the United States, Japan, Australia and India. In September 2021, Australia, Britain and the United States began their partnership, known as AUKUS, and the United States, Japan and South Korea committed to closer cooperation in a summit at Camp David last August.

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