Goals of US 'Return-to-Asia' strategy questioned

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail People's Daily, October 19, 2011
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton published an article titled "America's Pacific Century" in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, in which she has made it clear that the United States will shift its strategic focus to Asia in the future.

Clinton said in the article, "The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region"

Clinton's remarks appear to lack something new. She once proclaimed in Thailand last summer, "The United States is back." The United States has paid more attention to the Asian-Pacific region than ever, particularly military spending. The "return" of the United States will deeply involve the country in the issues concerning Asia's politics, economy and security.

"The United States is back" is a famous phrase of Douglas Macarthur. The U.S. general, who once lost to the Japanese army during the Pacific War, said the words to announce the success of the U.S. counterattack when landing the territory of the Philippines again. Today's Asia is totally different from what it was six decades ago because the United States has neither been defeated by any Asian country nor suffered a loss in Asia. The United States has achieved enormous returns from Asia's development over the past two to three decades. Certainly, Asian countries have also benefited greatly from their cooperation with the United States.

Since the United States has never left Asia, why will it need to "return" to Asia? Given rapid economic development of Asian countries over recent years and the gradual formation of a new type of cooperation pattern, the United States is afraid to miss the express train of Asia's development and accordingly lose its dominance of regional affairs. The U.S. move to "return to Asia" aims to gain more interests from Asia's regional development and cement its dominant position in Asia. Clinton has got it straight that the United States is willing to continue to get involved and play leading roles.

The United States faces at least two challenges as it "returns" to Asia.

First, it should learn to get along with China. Its "return" to Asia has drawn people's attention back to a possible confrontation between itself and China. Many Western scholars believe that the reassertion of the leading U.S. role in Asia is directed against China because only China's rise can pose a potential challenge to its hegemony. Furthermore, a few Asian countries hope to take advantage of the United States, especially its military power, to strike a so-called strategic balance with China. If the United States adopts this mentality in "returning" to Asia, it will face a zero-sum game with China, and will neither benefit from Asia's development nor play a positive role in promoting th regional security.

Second, a leading role requires more than ambition. The United States' status in Asia ultimately depends on its input. It should play a more constructive role in promoting the regional economic development and cooperation in multiple fields, instead of expanding its military presence to show off its irreplaceability because it has proven to be a dead end. Certain Asian scholars are worried that once the United States finds itself unable to maintain its leading role, it may extort more money from Asian countries in the name of protection and even stir up trouble by playing dirty tricks.

Asia's development is an unstoppable trend, and Asian countries will get closer and closer to one another during the process of development. Asia is a big stage and has enough space for the "return" of the United States. In this regard, the superpower's priority should be putting itself in the right place and working out an appropriate and practical strategy.

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