A dual balancing act

By An Gang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, October 25, 2013
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Forging ahead

As both a land and sea power, China has incomparable advantages in Asia due to its unique geopolitical and cultural influence as well as its growing direct investment in the region. The only card that Washington could play to counter Beijing would be its traditional military presence, using it to interfere with the territorial and maritime disputes between China and some neighboring countries to slow the pace of regional countries' drawing nearer to China.

As the rise of China in Asia has become a reality, China has gradually become the focus of the U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy. Washington's push to contain Beijing is becoming an impossible mission, and it increasingly needs the cooperation of Beijing when dealing with various Asian issues. The Obama administration realized the radical "pivot to Asia" strategy goes against its fundamental requirement of a generally stable Sino-U.S. relationship. The rebalancing strategy cannot pay off.

While two of China's top leaders visited Southeast Asia consecutively, Obama had to cancel his trip there to deal with the budget and debt crisis at home, missing out on a series of important summits. Additionally, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) summit, which was to be chaired by Obama himself, had to be cancelled.

First initiated by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore, TPP was later dominated by the United States after it joined the organization in 2008. It quickly became a tool for Washington to promote its values and practice new free trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region. TPP is widely known as a major project of the United States to contend with China's strong economic diplomacy in Asia. During the 2012 U.S. election campaign, Obama said that TPP does not include China, and that it could pressure China to follow basic international standards.

U.S. public opinion criticized Obama's cancellation of the trip to Asia sent a signal that the United States is unable even to fend for itself, let alone Asia. They claimed that Obama's absence has helped China get an upper hand in contending for dominance of regional cooperation in East Asia.

Obama admitted that cancelling the trip was not in line with the interests of the United States. He said in a recent media press meeting, "I should have been there. In the short term, I would characterize it as missed opportunity."

Unsustainable pivot

Some Asian observers noted that, due to the uncertainty of the U.S. domestic political and economic situation, the U.S. pivot to Asia strategy is not sustainable. Even if Obama hopes to focus on Asia, he would be constrained by the complicated domestic situation. They suggested that it is necessary for Asian countries to readjust their strategy gradually.

But for Chinese diplomats and analysts, the real problem of Washington's Asia strategy is not the lack of policy coherence caused by political instability, but reversing the regional agenda by force and bucking the trend to strengthen military alliances as well as imposing its values, institutional models and trade standards in the region.

During the consultation on Asian affairs between China and the United States, Beijing has frequently stated that Washington needs to respect the universal aspiration of Asian countries for sustainable economic development and focus its strategy on helping the development of regional countries and promoting open collaboration while not purposely highlighting security issues and sowing discord.

Asia is undergoing historic changes. While increasing input in Asia in their respective ways, Beijing and Washington should give full consideration to one another, steering their competitive factors to the track of cooperation while refusing to expand one's own influence in Asia by damaging or constraining the other. This also might be the message Chinese leaders want to send to Obama during the APEC and East Aisa meetings held in Southeast Asia.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review


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