Instead, it complemented hub-and-spoke relations between Washington and the region with a multilateral approach. The unfinished Trans-Pacific Partnership was in retrospect its biggest failure in the region. It was the Trump administration which crafted a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" Strategy in 2017, now carried over to the Biden administration. But under Donald Trump, it often proved impossible to coordinate hard power initiatives with regional trade or economic policies. Relations with allies, whether in Asia or Europe, were largely bilateral and often unpredictable.
Meanwhile, several trends from China have converged in 2020, creating an international shockwave and rising to the top of foreign policy priorities. In human terms, the suffering inflicted on millions of Uyghurs (and also Kazakh and Kyrgyz people) has passed a threshold, with the issues of mass sterilization, forced separation of children from their parents and forced labor joining the already revealed existence of the so-called "vocational education centers". In Hong Kong, when a new extradition rule created mass protest, that mass protest set the Chinese government on a path to negate the terms of the 1984 handover Treaty. The deliberate prevention of a serious international enquiry into the origins of Covid-19 has been compounded by mask, and now vaccine, diplomacy, both used for political leverage and for profit. In the Taiwan straits, PLA flights across the median line have become a new normal, while China’s hybrid navy maintains a quasi-constant presence in the territorial waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands; China is now applying to the Sino-Indian border methods of grinding away the other side and moving forward slowly, while holding regular talks at intervals.
Nationalist and bombastic statements have become a fixture of China’s controlled media, matched by "wolf warrior" diplomacy and threats abroad. President Xi’s personality cult has reached heights unknown since the passing of Mao, while China’s foreign minister Wang Yi promises: "the first 100 year is just the beginning of an eternal success (千秋伟业，百年只是序章)" of the CCP. Finally, China’s post-pandemic economic policies have largely relied on supply side support, while industrialized economies massively subsidized their demand side: the result is the most unbalanced growth for China in decades, which is likely to continue in 2021. In other words, China is now combining large economic gains with political rigidity and aggressive behavior. This can no longer be explained by regime insecurity, even if CCP leaders have always placed the continuation of their rule as a priority overriding all other issues.
Why does this litany matter? Because it has created, for the first time, a collective awareness that the PRC is the biggest challenge of the 21st century. In three key regions of the world, the tide is turning on China. That is evident of the United States, where a new administration with every reason to loath the previous President is nonetheless placing itself in the footsteps of its China policies, and even hardening its stance (on tech bans and on PRC media presence) while promoting better in-team coordination and consultation of partners. It is in evidence across much of Asia - from Australia to India, from Japan to Vietnam, there are few countries which haven’t been antagonized by China in recent years.