United States President Joe Biden on Monday announced that 13 countries have signed up to its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

The members of the framework are the US, Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, the White House said in a statement.

Together, the partner countries represent 40% of world gross domestic product, it said.

“The United States is an Indo-Pacific economic power, and expanding US economic leadership in the region is good for American workers and businesses – as well as for the people of the region,” the White House said. “IPEF will enable the United States and our allies to decide on rules of the road that ensure American workers, small businesses, and ranchers can compete in the Indo-Pacific.”

The statement said that the top item on the agenda of the framework is to tackle inflation.

“This framework will help lower costs by making our supply chains more resilient in the long term, protecting us against costly disruptions that lead to higher prices for consumers,” it added.

Since Biden took charge as president last year, he has been pushing for trade alliances that were weakened under his predecessor Donald Trump’s regime, AFP reported.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework intends to offer partner countries an opportunity to counter China’s rising commercial presence in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the news agency.

China criticised the framework, calling it an attempt to “create a closed club”. But US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the framework is “by design and definition an open platform”.

“The United States and our partners in the region believe that much of our success in the coming decades will depend on how well governments harness innovation – especially the transformations afoot in the clean energy, digital, and technology sectors – while fortifying our economies against a range of threats, from fragile supply chains to corruption to tax havens,” the White House said.

Will defend Taiwan: Biden

Biden also said that he would be willing to use force to defend Taiwan if it was attacked, Reuters reported. Taiwan, which is a self-governed territory, is not part of the framework.

China sees it as its province that is to be unified with the Chinese mainland.

“We agree with a one-China policy,” Biden said. “We’ve signed on to it and all the intended agreements made from there. But the idea that, that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not, is just not appropriate.”

Biden added he expected such an event of China attacking Taiwan would not happen or be attempted by Beijing.

A White House official, however, later clarified that there was no change in policy towards Taiwan.

Biden had made a similar statement in October. Chinese President Xi Jinping had then warned Biden that encouraging the independence of Taiwan would be like “playing with fire”.

On Monday while the White House insisted that Biden did not mean a change in policy towards Taiwan, Grant Newsham, a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, told Reuters that the meaning was clear.

“This statement deserves to be taken seriously,” Newsham said. “It is a clear enough statement that the US will not sit by if China attacks Taiwan.”

The US is Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier, even as the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations. However, Washington has long maintained ambiguity on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in case of a Chinese attack.