The COVID-19 pandemic poses significant geopolitical challenges and presents opportunities for the United States in the Indo-Pacific. The Trump administration bungled the crisis, damaging the U.S.’s standing as a paragon of competence in public health, and functional governance more generally. The international face of the U.S. response deepened preexisting concerns—especially significant in the Indo-Pacific—that the U.S. had retreated from its post-Second World War and post-Cold War role of providing international public goods and leadership and supporting international institutions.
Opportunities for the U.S. amid the crisis and in its aftermath stem primarily from shortcomings or unappealing features in China’s handling of the epidemic, and stumbles in China’s self-presentation as a provider of foreign assistance and international cooperation, and from U.S. policies—many of them embraced by the Biden administration—that could correct missteps and ameliorate trends that have diminished U.S. standing (especially during Donald Trump’s presidency). For the U.S. to reap potential gains, it also must adapt its policies to the implications of some Indo-Pacific states’ comparatively successful responses to the pandemic, and the pandemic-spotlighted nature of contemporary international problems.