A choice no country should have to make

By Wang Chong
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, February 12, 2012
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Since the 1980s, experts have predicted that the 21st century is the Asian century and China would emerge to take the lead. As the G2 was proposed during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, the dream of "Asia first and the world second" seemed almost within reach.

Outlying party [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

China currently holds more than 3 trillion U.S. dollars in foreign reserves, while the U.S. economy remains sluggish. As a leading creditor, China should be more courageous and confident in dealing with the U.S., but in contrast it has acted passively on many occasions. When the U.S. proclaimed its high-profile return to the Asia-Pacific region, old and new friends embraced America's action. In contrast, the climate surrounding China's dealings with countries in its own backyard has been increasingly unfavorable.

At present, China's relations with Japan, India and ASEAN countries are slightly tense. At the same time, close allies like the North Korea, Myanmar and Pakistan are opening up to the West.

The North Korea is the county which China assists the most. However, it no longer treats China as a close friend. Instead, it wants to build direct relations with the U.S. The two countries have signed a mutual non-aggression treaty and established trade connections.

Compared with China, no other big country spends so much on its allies but gains so little reward or respect. China has mediated and promoted talks between the North Korea and the U.S., but neither of the two nations has embraced these efforts. As Kim Jong-Un becomes the country's new leader, how much the DPRK will respect China has yet to be seen.

A former staunch ally to China, Myanmar has also changed its attitude towards the U.S. Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a historic visit to Myanmar and has promised a "small gift" of 1.2 million dollars to support Burmese reform. Since then, U.S.-Myanmar relations have developed at an amazing speed - the two countries restored respective diplomatic missions at the beginning of 2012.

It's a natural move for Myanmar and the U.S. to approach each other. Before that, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released in November 13, 2011. Myanmar's military government lifted controls on foreign websites and dissident radio stations and engaged in talks with Aung San Suu Kyi. Later, the Myanmar government stopped China from investing in its Myitsone hydropower project.

If this trend continues, Myanmar will finally sink into the West's arms and become an important pawn for the U.S.'s deployment to China's borders. China has been pursuing opportunities to build railways, gas and oil pipes in Myanmar. If Myanmar cozies up to the U.S., it will be a setback for China's energy strategy. Energy development in Myanmar remains the best solution for China to avoid conflict with the U.S. in Malacca.

There's no doubt that Pakistan is China's best friend. For this reason, Pakistan has also become a focal point for the U.S. defense strategy. Last December, NATO aircraft and helicopter gunships attacked two Pakistani border posts. Some believe the attack served as warning to China's neighbor countries to remind them who they should be friends with.

Claiming to be "Asia first", Japan increased investment in ASEAN countries but also has tried to contain China by strengthening the Japan-U.S. security alliance. Recently, to better monitor and take stricter precautions against China, it announced military plans involving Yonaguni.

India, another big country in Asia, hasn't backed down in the dragon and elephant fight. Border negotiations with China have carried on for many years without any compromise. Furthermore, in late 2011, the Indian media reported that the Indian government plans to recruit nearly 100,000 soldiers and deploy them to the Chinese border in the next five years.

Fear of China's rise among ASEAN countries continues to grow, and tension has been evident in recent friction with the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries. A growing unity against China among ASEAN nations has become increasingly evident.

Although China's tremendous economic growth has given it a comparative advantage over other Asian nations, it hasn't achieved the level of political influence Chinese leaders have hoped for. A Gallup poll suggested that although China achieved rapid development during the global economic slump, the U.S. remains a strong influence in Asia.

Last November, the U.S. announced its high-profile "Return to Asia" plan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Asia-Pacific region will be the center of gravity of the U.S. diplomatic strategy in the future and the Asia-Pacific will become the world's strategic and economic center of gravity in the 21st century. U.S. President Barack Obama also said the U.S. will strengthen and maintain its long-term military presence in Asia-Pacific region.

One of the strategies for the U.S.'s return to Asia is to increase economic integration. For this reason, it re-introduced the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) to counter China's influence. In 2010, the GDP of TPP member countries accounted for 27.2 percent of the world. If Japan and Korea join the TPP, the area will become the world's largest free trade zone. With increased economic and trade cooperation, the U.S.'s influence in Southeast Asia will further develop into strategic cooperation. At that time, it will be able to affect the global political and military balance, thus strengthening U.S. influence in Asia.

Furthermore, the U.S. is carrying out its "Return to Asia" strategy in the military arena. It announced a new military strategy at the beginning of 2012 which aims to enhance its military presence in Asia, and counter "China's dominance in international waters in the South China Sea."

It's no longer a secret that the U.S. plans to strengthen its military presence in the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. intended to carry out the plan as early as the beginning of the 21st century; however it shifted gears following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Now seeing its largest competitor more powerful than a decade ago, it is trying to make up for its former lack of presence in Asia.

Ever since the Roman Empire, superpowers have tried to undermine potential competitors. In the face of these strategy adjustments, China should keep its cool. China and the U.S. remain interdependent. Their relations are both competitive and cooperative in political and economic aspects. In terms of military power, China still lags far behind America.

In addition to hard power, soft power also matters. The U.S. is able to use its universal values like freedom and democracy and Hollywood blockbusters to spread its influence abroad. It is able to use products like the iPad to make money. China has no such "Sunday punch." Nowadays, Asian countries have neither respect for Chinese culture nor recognition of Chinese values. Previously, they have engaged China mainly to look for trade opportunities. Once China's economic development slows, its attraction will disappear unless China is able to successfully win hearts through the purveyance of soft power.

The U.S. is never going to leave Asia. China and the U.S. must learn to live with each other at peace in the region. Meanwhile, China needs to find more ways to attract neighboring countries rather than simply trying to persuade its neighbors to weaken their ties to the U.S.

This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Li Huiru.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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