Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

“Alaska exchange” which took place on March 18 is the recent trending topic in foreign affairs.

The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, together with national security adviser Jake Sullivan exchanged confrontational speeches, in front of the world’s media, with Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi, the Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs of Chinese Communist Party, effectively the highest-ranking official of the governing party in charge of diplomacy and Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister.

The State of Alaska, the U.S. northernmost state which is stretched adjacent to the Russian Far East, has been long away from international spotlight. It was a symbolic place during the 1970s and 1980s when the world was divided into the Western and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War era.

Alaska’s state capital Anchorage was a name well-known for international travelers in the Far Eastern countries U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea. The airspace over the territories of the Soviet Union was restricted for airlines of countries which belonged to the Western Bloc. The cruising distance of aircraft at that time was short and airlines which links Japan and the U.S. or European cities have to find a refuel point between them. Anchorage was the favorite refuel point and its airport was thrived with transpacific and transcontinental travelers.

That’s the gone past. Since early 1990 after the Cold War era, airspace over Russia was opened and long-range aircrafts are linking connecting between Far East and U.S. and the Europe directly and people forgot about Alaska except when the former governor Sarah Palin occasionally drew media attention as an anti-establishment right-wing politician who is understood as a precursor of the rise of Mr. Trump. 

Now, the new type of great power rivalry is on the rise between the U.S. and China, the Anchorage is again situated on the frontline.

Mr. Blinken’s first overseas meetings were dedicated to reassuring allies in the East Asia, Japan and South Korea and avoided visiting China. Mr. Blinken stopped over Anchorage on the way back and spent two days with Chinese highest diplomatic authorities who had to travel all the way to the U.S. soil of Alaska to have opportunity to talk face to face with the U.S. counterpart.

It clearly showed Biden administration’s diplomatic priority is on China and alliance in the Far East which has strong ties with U.S. but vital economic interest with China have to adjust themselves to this tense situation.