US and China’s anxieties

Published Jan 14, 2013 08:01pm

AT a speech in New York in October 2011, American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that the United States would make an “important pivot” back to the Pacific.

At a time of increasing Chinese assertiveness, Asian nations naturally welcomed the pivot. But soon after, this pivot started to look like a poisoned chalice for the US, insofar as regional stability was concerned.

Last year, tensions flared up between certain Asean members and China over disputed territories in the South China Sea. Asian countries fretted over China’s rapid military development. And Japan’s expression of right-wing inclinations raised much concern across the region.

More importantly, the US move generated near panic among Chinese officials and analysts, who suspected Washington was practising an old-style containment strategy.

More than a year into the pivot, two truths seem increasingly evident: The US doubts China’s oft-quoted mantra of a “peaceful rise”. China, for its part, sees the US pivot as a bid to contain it.

This is not surprising, given that despite efforts by both Beijing and Washington, they face what is referred to as a persistent security dilemma — one country’s bid to boost its security leads to a diminution in security for another, which in turn prompts arms races and the outbreak of outright hostilities.

Prof Graham Allison of Harvard University alludes to the Thucydides trap. Coined after the Greek historian, the term refers to the dangers created when a rising power challenges a ruling power. In 11 of 15 such cases since 1500, war followed.

Three international relations experts have fielded three solutions.

First, the US could concede the field to China in the Asia-Pacific. This sounds elegant in theory, particularly at a time of fiscal contraction in the US. But one can only imagine the chaos that would ensue in the region should this actually occur.

Second, the US could resist or contain China’s rising influence. But given the interdependence between the two countries, this option would be tantamount to Uncle Sam cutting off his nose to spite his face.

Third, the US could share power with China.

In The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power, Prof Hugh White of the Australian National University suggested the US and China should be part of a “concert of powers” that would carve out respective “spheres of influence” in Asia.

His analysis is problematic. How would Vietnam — which has fought against Chinese domination for a millennium — react to Indochina being subsumed into China’s orbit? Also, Asian countries in their respective spheres would have to make a choice between the US and China — an option many of them find inimical.

And to its credit, the US already shares power with China. The emerging East Asia summit — which includes the US, China, Asean nations and another six countries — seeks to give China a say in the regional order.

The question, however, is whether China is satisfied with such an arrangement. The answer is “no”.

Speaking to The Straits Times last September, Major-General Zhu Chenghu, a professor at China’s National Defence University, admitted both China and the US were holding on to Cold War-era mentalities.

“If China doesn’t have a Cold War mentality, why does it see the US as the main threat? If the US doesn’t have a Cold War mentality, why does it deploy so many troops in Asia?” he said.

They should “sit down and talk at a deeper level” to maintain stability in their relationship, he noted.

Rather than divide up the Asia-Pacific, as suggested by Prof White, the US and China could adopt an incremental approach. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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Comments (5) Closed




Cyrus Howell
Jan 15, 2013 11:39am
The US will never go to war against China. That is pure speculation. Both are on the UN Security Council. Both have strong economic ties with each other. The matter was decided in 1950 that the US would not invade China. It is all just sword rattling. Much ado about nothing.
abbastoronto
Jan 15, 2013 01:17pm
China believes in the myth of the Middle Kingdom ? aloof, superior, civilized. India follows its own, self-centred. The remaining world follows the Abrahamic myths. Only the latest have a well developed myth of world hegemony ? Abraham?s progeny ruling the earth. Three Abrahamic versions were founded by a shepherd, an artisan in Fertile Crescent, a businessman trader for their different times. In the distant past in the pastoral age it was the yehud who held sway. Then later in the agrarian times the Christians. Now with Globalization and Free Trade it will be the Muslims. So it shall be. It is written.
raika45
Jan 15, 2013 02:09pm
What about China claiming the South China Sea and all in it as it's own at the expense of the ASEAN countries that have a legal claim to it?Who do they turn to if not America?I had written an earlier comment regarding this but was not allowed by the moderators with China being an all weather friend of Pakistan. Would not look good condemning China. With China now holding out a hand of friendship to India after the ASEAN countries came to India for talks, your fair weather friend like the weather can change as far as you are concerned.For China it is business first.
Talat Ali Hamdany
Jan 15, 2013 05:38am
The Americans always exaggerate a situation without really analysing the situation threadbare. Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind as does Viet Nam of yore. They are now so used to interfering in other countries affairs such as sending Qadri into Pakistan to get some leverage, that now they can't seem to see the world any different. It was a tragedy that the then USSR dropped out as a super power leaving the stage of the world to the Americans. Now 20 years on its a bit difficult to share the world with anyone. Of course no one is going to take on China physically.
Sandip
Jan 15, 2013 06:00pm
How do you expect that to happen? Well the issue is we south asians are so backward in there thinking especially when it comes to religion. People with money has moved on from religion but poor people from our region hold on to religion (Which is more then 2/3rd of the word). What a sad state of humanity, where religion and not common sense rules.