Of course U.S. rebalancing is about China

Posted on July 21, 2012


Brad Glosserman has penned a provocative article arguing that America’s rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific isn’t about “fear of China.” Fear may be too strong a word, but the argument is still wrong. Of course it’s about China.

It’s telling that Glosserman’s article itself is all about China. For instance, he mentions Washington’s support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. But the recent friction hasn’t been between Vietnam and the Philippines. It isn’t Malaysia claiming almost all the territorial waters there. No, the current panic in the South China Sea is all about China.

Glosserman concedes that the “lead story” at the ASEAN Regional Forum this year was the tension between Washington and Beijing, and that this tension was so powerful that it prevented ASEAN members from issuing a joint declaration.

But the problem is deeper than that: with Washington insistent on putting itself at the center of Asian disputes involving China, smaller, weaker ASEAN members are playing China and Washington off one another, trying to see which side values their support more. As the Thai scholar Thitinan Pongsudhirak remarked, ASEAN members “don’t want China and the United States to be in complete agreement. These tensions and rivalries give them leverage and bargaining power.” Similarly, Japan and South Korea have just allowed historical squabbles to scuttle closer defense cooperation. The reason they can let this happen, as Stephen Walt observes, is because Uncle Sucker is willing to help foot the bill for those countries’ defense.

The only paragraph in the article that offers possible alternative explanations for why we’re “rebalancing” consists of abstractions. The real reasons, according to Glosserman, are Washington’s desire to “counter a narrative of U.S. decline in the Asia-Pacific” and its “determination to play its historical regional role.” But what might produce this narrative of U.S. decline, and who would care about such a narrative, absent China? And what is our historical regional role?

Our historical role has been to infantilize our partners so we get greater control over East Asian politics. And as John Mearsheimer points out, our track record is quite clear: we don’t tolerate peer competitors. We didn’t tolerate the Soviet Union, we didn’t tolerate a Third Force in Europe, and there’s little indication that we want to tolerate China.

The usual rejoinder here is that we aren’t containing China because we’re trading with it. It’s true that we’re trading, but our military policy is clearly designed to contain China. Consider: if China were much more powerful than America, and Chinese leaders were reveling in their self-styled role as the preeminent Western Hemisphere power, cultivating allies and naval basing agreements in Cuba and Venezuela, and arming what we viewed as Hawaiian separatists (Taiwan), even if they traded with us, we’d call that containment. I andothers have worried about the contradictions of our “congagement” policy, but interdependence doesn’t mean there isn’t security competition happening, as the Great War showed clearly.

Despite protests to the contrary, we aren’t upgrading our relationships with Vietnam and the Philippines to deal with drug trafficking or piracy. We aren’t spending hundreds of billions on the platforms to back up our new “operational concept” AirSea Battle in order to better perform humanitarian relief. No, as the Chief of Naval Operations and Chief of Staff of the Air Force recently argued, AirSea Battle is needed because:

“Some rising powers that appear to be seeking regional hegemony hope to employ access denial strategies to isolate other regional actors from American military intervention, enabling them to more effectively intimidate and coerce neighboring states.”

Arguing that our Asia policy isn’t primarily about China is like arguing our Middle East policy isn’t primarily about oil and Israel. The danger of repeating over and over that our policy isn’t about China is that we may come to believe it ourselves, overlooking the important problems with the policy itself.


Clinton’s legacy for Asia hangs in the balance

If U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to leave a positive legacy in our region, she must make sure that her constant presence, smile and speeches do not further divide ASEAN and cause discord with other major powers and among countries.

Clinton has just made another tour of the region as her tenure in office nears completion. She is not going to take up any post in the next U.S. administration. Whatever she has done in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia, will be gauged carefully from now on.

Over the past years Clinton has brought the U.S. closer to Asia, after the previous administration focused more on the “war on terror” in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

At times one could say that the closeness has been too close for comfort because some countries have lost their strategic balance. She is charming and direct and very effective in communicating with Asia’s leaders. More than anything she genuinely likes Asia, with no need to pretend. Unlike her female predecessors as U.S. secretary of state, she has attended every ASEAN ministerial meeting and been very proactive. Indeed, her contribution has gone beyond what one could ever imagine of other American leaders.

Without her, the U.S. “pivot” to Asia would be just a slogan and the U.S.-Asia policy under the Obama administration little more.

But there is one caveat, regarding the aggressive U.S. moves in the region. Everybody knows Washington’s real intention, despite its officials’ beautiful rhetoric to hide their diplomatic manoeuvers.

The U.S. is a superpower with a global strategy, so it tends to see others as auxiliaries in its grand plan, and especially in its plans to counter China’s rise. So far, Washington has been quite successful because American leaders have been more enthusiastic and clear in their foreign-policy outlook ― something China has not yet matched. But China is also contemplating ways to win hearts in Asia, in the aftermath of America’s accomplishments.

One reality in the region we cannot deny is the role of China. Like it or not, China is here to stay and will become a permanent fixture in the scheme of things in this part of the world. In the next decade China’s role will be even more important given the current state of the world economy.

It is important for the region to engage with China and ensure that both sides understand each other. In the past, misunderstandings have caused great damage at the most unpredictable times. To prevent history repeating, all Asian powers must commit to consult and communicate fully with each other.

With November’s U.S. presidential election looming, the Obama administration is making great efforts to win votes at home and also support from overseas. After the election, the wooing will die down and the reality will set in. It is imperative that the countries in our region understand this new strategic environment. They must not allow themselves to be carried away, thinking that their own security could be better protected by larger superpowers.

Solidarity among countries in the region, especially in ASEAN, must be maintained, otherwise other major powers will exploit the region’s weakness to their advantage.

The Korea Herald

Clinton Engineers Expansion Of Asian NATO To Contain China

The global proconsul and plenipotentiary of the world’s sole military superpower began a two-week tour of her empire’s provinces, old and new, in Asia and the Middle East in Paris on July 5 and 6 where she lambasted Russia and China for not attending the third Friends of Syria regime change conclave, threatening they would “pay a price” for their lack of subservience to Washington’s agenda in Syria and by implication worldwide.

Having served notice to the U.S.’s two main challengers in Eurasia, and the world, in such an unequivocal manner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew into Afghanistan on the 7th to declare the war-ravaged country the U.S.’s latest major non-NATO ally, joining Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand in that category, then left for Japan to attend a Conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo.

On July 9 she was in Mongolia, on the 10th in Vietnam, on the 11th in Laos and from the 11th-13th in Cambodia.

She left the last-named nation for Egypt where she arrived on July 14, and from where she will depart for Israel to meet with the nation’s leaders on July 16 and 17.

The five Asian countries she visited are all near China, three – Afghanistan, Laos and Vietnam – bordering it. Her trip followed a nine-day Asian tour by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last month which took him to Singapore, Vietnam and India in the opening salvo of Washington’s strategic pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region.

Since her 13-day, seven-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific region two years ago, which took her to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, the 17th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Vietnam and from there to China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia, Clinton has softened the political ground for the Pentagon to follow up with basing and other agreements with nations in the area.

Her current trip pursues the same objective, particularly in Mongolia and Indochina, where Washington has now acquired four partners which during the Cold War era were allies of the Soviet Union. (Cambodia after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.)

The U.S. State Department and Defense Department work so thoroughly in tandem as to be indistinguishable most of the time, from U.S. Africa Command to the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership to the Global Peace Operations Initiative employed to train and integrate the militaries of scores of countries in Africa and Asia.

In visiting Laos on July 11, Clinton was the first secretary of state to do so since John Foster Dulles was the guest of King Sisavang Phoulivong in 1955.

Two years ago Clinton met with Laotian Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith at the State Department to hold the two nations’ highest-level talks since the Vietnam War. The visit was the first to the United States by a leading Laotian official since the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party came to power in 1975. The year before a similar initiative was launched by the White House and State Department with fellow ASEAN member Myanmar which culminated last November in Clinton visiting the country and switching it from the Chinese to the U.S. column.

During Clinton’s hosting of the Laotian foreign minister in 2010, then-State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley stated: “The United States is committed to building our relationship with Laos as part of our broader efforts to expand engagement with Southeast Asia.”

Nine days later at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi, Clinton openly challenged China in asserting that “The United States…has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” adding “The United States is a Pacific nation, and we are committed to being an active partner with ASEAN.”

That is, exploiting the ten-member organization (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) against China, particularly in respect to island disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea. In fact to add ASEAN members to mainstay American military allies in the Asia-Pacific – Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan, with whom Washington has mutual defense treaties – in forming the nucleus of a rapidly evolving Asian NATO that will also encompass Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Philippines of late has officially designated the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea, with the State Department likely to follow suit as it has with Russia’s South Kuril Islands, which it has referred to as (Japan’s) Northern Territories, and the Persian Gulf, frequently deemed the Arabian Gulf to taunt Iran. Cartographic aggression as it were.

The month after Clinton’s attendance at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Vietnam two years ago, Vietnamese officials were hosted by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier off the nation’s coast and the USS John S McCain guided missile destroyer arrived in Da Nang to lead a joint exercise in the South China Sea, the first between the U.S. and unified Vietnam.

While in Mongolia earlier this week, Clinton stated: “My trip reflects a strategic priority of American foreign policy today. After 10 years in which we focused a great deal of attention on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States is making substantially increased investments — diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise — in this part of the world. It’s what we call our pivot toward Asia.”

She praised the government of President Tsakhia Elbegdorj for being a model democracy “in territory surrounded by Russia and China” as the Wall Street Journal phrased it, and celebrated recent reforms in Myanmar, now a friend of Washington.

Next month the U.S. will launch the latest Khaan Quest multinational military exercise in Mongolia, which since 2003 have been conducted by U.S. Pacific Command to train local troops for deployment to, first, Iraq and afterward Afghanistan where they serve under NATO command.

In 2006 the exercise included, in addition to U.S. and Mongolian forces, troops from Bangladesh, Fiji, South Korea, Thailand and Tonga. South Korea and Tonga now have contingents attached to the NATO-run International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan along with fellow Asia-Pacific nations Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Mongolia itself.

Khaan Quest 2007 included over 1,000 troops from the U.S., the host country, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Tonga.

Khaan Quest 2008 added forces from India, Nepal and Thailand as well as NATO member France.

The next year’s exercise included troops from Cambodia, India, Japan and South Korea.

Khaan Quest 2010 involved troops from four NATO nations – the U.S., Canada, France and Germany – as well as five Asian states: Mongolia, India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Last year’s exercise saw American and Mongolian forces joined by those from Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

This March Mongolia became the first country to be granted the new NATO Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme and has since been identified as one of eight members of NATO’s new Partners Across the Globe program. The other seven are also in the broader Asia-Pacific region: Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Korea.

Last month The Diplomat reported that China is increasingly wary of U.S. and NATO engagement with and recruitment of Mongolia.

The magazine stated, “while Khaan Quest is becoming more infused with Asian powers, it remains a stage for Mongolia to display its strategic relationship with the United States and NATO,” noting that “it remains a stage for Mongolia to display its strategic relationship with the United States and NATO.” It mentioned that NATO granting the Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme to Mongolia “mark[ed] the formalization of a relationship that has blossomed within the past decade.

In reference to Mongolia becoming NATO’s outpost between China and Russia, the source added:

“Cooperation between the two is expected to focus on building up the capacity of the MAF [Mongolian Armed Forces] as well as improving interoperability with NATO troops. Mongolia has been steadily improving its ties with NATO through its commitment of troops during the Kosovo conflict and its current efforts in Afghanistan. There more than 100 MAF currently serving in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Mongolia also committed troops to the NATO mission in Kosovo from 2005 to 2007.”

Less than four months before Hillary Clinton arrived in Cambodia to attend the ASEAN heads of government meeting, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting and the U.S.-ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference, U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Army Pacific led the third annual Angkor Sentinel command post and field training exercises in Cambodia. The exercises are held under the auspices of the Global Peace Operations Initiative, managed by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Khaan Quest 2007 was also assisted by the Global Peace Operations Initiative – to train troops for deployment to Afghanistan – as were the second Shanti Doot exercise in Bangladesh in 2008 and the Garuda Shield 2009 exercise in Indonesia.

Angkor Sentinel 2010 involved over 1,000 military personnel from 21 nations, among them the U.S., Cambodia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia and the Philippines. That is, from five NATO member states and seven prospective Asian NATO nations. Mongolian troops participate in Angkor Sentinel exercises and Cambodian ones in Khaan Quest exercises.

Last year’s Angkor Sentinel included military personnel from 26 nations.

Next year’s exercise can be expected to include increased participation from fellow ASEAN member states like Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Other ASEAN members are also likely to join Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand in offering bases for the deployment of American troops, ships and aircraft.

The Obama administration and its NATO allies are constructing a military network throughout the length and breadth of the Asia-Pacific region to isolate and confront China and Russia. China in the first place.

Rick Rozoff

Posted in: Politics