U.S. Dilemma In Encircling And Targeting China
July 17, 2012
Clinton trip highlights weak points of US return to Asia
By Liu Zongyi*
Countries like the Philippines and Vietnam attempt to grab islands and waters which don’t belong to them by riding the back of the tiger. They hope to get massive military assistance from the US, which the US can’t afford to provide.
India and Japan have their own strategic considerations. The US sees India, the biggest democracy in the world, as a mainstay of its Asia-Pacific strategy and a chess piece to balance China.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a trip encircling China recently. From Japan to Mongolia then to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, Clinton mainly focused on three things: backing Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in disputes with China over maritime territorial sovereignty, balancing China’s economic influence in Asia by enhancing trade and economic ties with Southeast Asian countries, and promoting support for democracy and human rights as the core of US Asian strategy while attacking China’s development model.
Her every topic targeted China by insinuation. It seems the US is tightening its encirclement of China, but on the other hand we can see the weakness of the US “back to Asia” strategy.
The Obama administration’s “back to Asia” strategy covers political and military fields as well as trade and the economy. But the strategy seemingly is gradually losing its edge.
From the military perspective, in recent years the US has enhanced its deployment in the Asia-Pacific region and interfered in territorial disputes between China and relevant countries. The South China Sea disputes and the Diaoyu Islands dispute have been intensified as the US wedges in. But the US aims at checking China by taking advantage of these disputes rather than directly confronting China. Getting involved in an armed conflict with China is the least desirable option.
But things won’t happen as the US wants. Countries like the Philippines and Vietnam attempt to grab islands and waters which don’t belong to them by riding the back of the tiger. They hope to get massive military assistance from the US, which the US can’t afford to provide.
India and Japan have their own strategic considerations. The US sees India, the biggest democracy in the world, as a mainstay of its Asia-Pacific strategy and a chess piece to balance China. However, India has clearly demonstrated that its policy approach toward China should be a balance of competition and cooperation, which greatly frustrates the US.
On the Diaoyu Islands issue, the US claims the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan is applicable to the Diaoyu Islands. But it also states it won’t adopt any stand in the dispute. The US takes an ambiguous attitude and hopes to maintain tension between China and Japan. Meanwhile, it worries that extreme right-wing Japanese politicians might unscrupulously trigger an armed conflict.
As for most East Asian countries, they neither want to see instability caused by the US Asian strategy nor to choose sides between China and the US. All these suggest that the US is facing a dilemma.
Clinton’s Asian tour mainly focused on promoting trade and economic relations, catering to some Asian countries’ pleasure. Clinton visited Southeast Asian countries like Laos and Cambodia to enhance economic assistance to these countries. The US hopes to block the economic integration of East Asia and compete with China for economic influence. But if the US could really shift its competition focus with China from the political and military fields to the economic field, this would benefit regional stability and prosperity in East Asia.
Enhancing economic and trade ties could be taken as an insightful strategic choice, but value diplomacy has been outdated. The empty remarks on democracy by Clinton and attacks on China’s development model mirror the weak US economy and its stranded politics. Realizing democracy needs certain conditions. However, an undisputable fact is that many countries fell into chaos as the US imposed its democratic model on them.
Some countries become victims of populism after adopting the democratic system, like Mongolia, which is rich in natural resources while greatly lags behind economically.
Even developed Western countries are deeply mired in financial and economic crises because social and economic reform cannot be promoted due to factionalism.
China’s development model is not sound, but China is on the path of economic and social reform and development, which makes the Chinese model more attractive against the backdrop of the global economic crisis.
The US Asian strategy has its deficiencies and constraints from military, economic and ideological perspectives. More questions and doubts will be poured out on the sustainability of the US “back to Asia” strategy.
China advocates establishing a new type of relationship between China and the US in which the overall pattern cannot be influenced by specific problems. Clinton also stated that the US is willing to have constructive relations with China in a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Phnom Penh, Cambodia recently. Avoiding conflicts is the first step. The Sino-US relationship should develop based on mutual respect, mutual promotion, and peaceful competition.
*The author is a research fellow of the Center for South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.