Tag Archives: ASEAN

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Asia and the Rest: Lines, Circles and Triangles

In this brief reflection Marco Pellerey explains why the international political chessboard should be understood as a set of straight lines, circles and triangles: a place where different forms of thought and expression intersect to form an intricate web of actual interests and perceptions which are, to say the least, ambiguous.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the perpetual conflict between realists and the various schools of constructivism in international relations, the former are often accused by the latter of oversimplifying reality, cynically reducing and shaping every situation to strip political protagonists of every psychological dimension that is not rational, calculating and clearly self-serving. Here I would like to propose an extension of this reasoning, adopting a geometrical perspective in order to underline certain cultural aspects that I believe hold great relevance to the current international context.

I invite the reader to imagine the importance that the straight line (and the ideal of total inflexibility that it represents) have had in the development of the so-called “West”. Consider the Macedonian phalanx, with soldiers arranged in neat rows ready to confront the enemy standing directly before them. And so too it was in the trenches of the First World War and in the skies of the Second World War: courage, glory and victory only spring forth from head-on and decisive conflict. The game of chess embodies the epitome of the West in its binary arrangements: blacks and whites, ‘winning’ or ‘captured’ pieces, aristocracy and humble pawns. Nature’s metaphor would be that of the majesty of an oak, whose straight and unyielding trunk defies the elements, splitting rather than retreating.

The eastern equivalent could be represented by the bamboo. A flexible plant which, rather than resist with head held high, instead bends to the wind, adapting in order to then raise itself once more, tracing a wide circle in the air. The superlative quality transforms itself from rigidity to flexibility; a quality which is inherent to the Chinese strategy of war, as Sun Tzu stated in some of his most celebrated aphorisms:

The art of war lies in subduing the enemy without having to confront him;

In every conflict regular manoeuvres lead to confrontation, whilst unexpected manoeuvres lead to victory

This asymmetry is incompatible with linear European logic and has often been interpreted-especially by travellers in the 19th century-as a sign of unreliability, almost genetic ambiguity and therefore inferiority with respect to Europeans. On the battlefield it has been interpreted as cowardice typical of those wishing to avoid exposure to conflict.

The perceptual differences are primarily cultural and have deep implications for daily life. Whilst Asia seeks harmony between forms, always seeking to establish a cosmic equilibrium between the parts (Yin and Yang), avoiding verbal and physical conflicts as far as possible, on the contrary Westerners believe that from direct confrontation –above all in politics-new and innovative ideas arise, denouncing anything which does not proceed in a direct and unambiguous manner. Could we not term America the country of straight talk?

To these geometric metaphors, on which numerous scholars have commented at length, can be added a third, which is essential in order to better understand the political games in Asia: the triangle. How to resolve conflicts between individuals or nations without being too overt and therefore running the risk of causing offence, or worse, causing one ‘to lose face’ to the adversary? The solution is to delegate to third parties who act as intermediaries. It is a game which enables parties to lessen their exposure to risk but which allows greater efficiency and frankness. There is a need, however, to find a reliable interlocutor who enjoys the confidence of both sides.

The recent strengthening of regional agreements in East and South-East Asia should also be understood in this context. The ASEAN (The Association of South-East Asian Nations), for example, counts among its members nations who have gone to war with one another in the last thirty years. Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea in 1978 was particularly bloody; the centuries-old conflict between Thais and Burmese; border disputes which continue to this day between Thai and Cambodian control of a temple which lies on the border, or even the invasion of East Timor by the Indonesian Army from 1975-1999. Although it is perfectly normal that an air of reciprocal mutual mistrust still lingers, ASEAN serves an additional purpose for its members, as it is able to act as a lubricant on the area’s political tensions, offering an ideal forum in order to abate conflicts between governments and institutions.

Other similar regional forums have been created with the intent of promoting a multilateral solution to problems regarding rival countries. The Mekong River Commission and Sustainable Development (MRC), based in Vientiane, is another sub-regional body, used as a diplomatic support to heal conflicts by way of intermediaries.

It would not, therefore, be incorrect to depict the international political chessboard as a geometrical set of straight lines, circles and triangles, where different forms of thought and expression intersect to form an intricate web of actual interests and perceptions which are, to say the least, ambiguous.

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Original Article: Asia and the Rest: Linee, Cerchi e Triangoli

Translated by Lois Bond

Photo Credit: Present&Correct

Asia and the Rest: Linee, Cerchi e Triangoli

In questa breve riflessione Marco Pellerey spiega perché lo scacchiere internazionale andrebbe inteso come un insieme geometrico di linee rette, cerchi e triangoli: un luogo dove forme di pensiero ed espressione diverse si intersecano formando un’intricata tela di interessi reali e percezioni quantomeno ambigue.

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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ell’eterno scontro tra realisti e le varie scuole del costruttivismo nelle relazioni internazionali, i primi sono spesso accusati dai secondi di semplificare troppo la realtà, cesellando col cinismo ogni situazione e denudando i protagonisti politici di ogni dimensione psicologica che non sia quella razionale, calcolatrice e lucidamente egoistica. Vorrei proporre qui un’estremizzazione di questo procedimento in chiave geometrica per sottolineare alcuni aspetti culturali che credo abbiano grande rilevanza per l’attuale contesto internazionale.

Invito il lettore ad immaginare l’importanza che la linea retta (e l’ideale di totale inflessibilità che rappresenta) ha avuto nello sviluppo del cosiddetto Occidente. Si considerino le falangi macedoni, con i soldati disposti in file ordinate pronti a fronteggiare il nemico che gli sta esattamente davanti. Così pure nelle trincee della Grande Guerra o nei cieli della seconda guerra mondiale, è solamente lo scontro frontale e decisivo dal quale scaturiscono coraggio, gloria e vittoria. Il gioco degli scacchi riassume in sé la quintessenza occidentale nelle sue disposizioni binarie: bianchi e neri, pezzi ‘vivi’ o ‘mangiati’, aristocrazia e umili pedoni. La metafora naturalistica sarebbe la possenza di una quercia, il cui tronco dritto e inamovibile sfida gli elementi, spezzandosi pur di non indietreggiare.

L’equivalente orientale di quest’ultimo potrebbe essere rappresentato dal bamboo. Una pianta flessibile la quale, anziché resistere a testa alta al vento dapprima si china, adattandosi, per poi rialzarsi descrivendo un ampio cerchio nell’aria. La qualità suprema si trasforma da durezza a flessibilità; una qualità inerente alla strategia di guerra cinese, come indicato Sun Tzu in alcuni dei suoi più celebri aforismi:

L’arte della guerra consiste nello sconfiggere il nemico senza doverlo affrontare

In ogni conflitto le manovre regolari portano allo scontro, e quelle imprevedibili alla vittoria.

Questa asimmetria è incompatibile con la logica lineare europea ed è stata spesso interpretata- specie dai viaggiatori dell’800 – come indice di inaffidabilità, ambiguità quasi genetica e quindi inferiorità rispetto agli europei, mentre sul campo di battaglia come codardia tipica di coloro che non vogliono esporsi.

Le differenze percettive sono innanzitutto culturali ed hanno un risvolto profondo nella vita quotidiana. Mentre l’Asia cerca l’armonia tra le forme, cercando sempre di stabilire un equilibrio cosmico tra le parti (Yin e Yang) evitando il più possibile conflitti verbali o fisici, gli occidentali al contrario credono che dal confronto diretto- soprattutto in politica- scaturiscano idee nuove ed innovative, puntando il dito contro tutto ciò che non va in modo diretto ed esplicito. L’America non è forse il paese dello straight talk?

A queste metafore geometriche sulle quali numerosi studiosi si sono espressi in dettaglio se ne aggiunge una terza, che è essenziale per comprendere meglio i giochi politici in Asia: il triangolo. Come risolvere conflitti tra persone o nazioni senza essere troppo espliciti e quindi rischiare di offendere o peggio, di far ‘perder la faccia’ all’avversario? La soluzione è quella di delegare a terzi che fungano da intermediari. È  un gioco di sponda che consente di esporsi di meno ma permettendo maggiore efficacia e franchezza. Occorre trovare però un interlocutore affidabile che goda della fiducia di entrambi gli schieramenti.

È anche in tale ottica che dovrebbero essere compresi i recenti rafforzamenti degli accordi regionali nell’Est e nel Sud-Est Asiatico. L’ASEAN, per esempio, conta al suo interno membri che negli ultimi trent’anni sono entrati in guerra tra loro. Particolarmente sanguinosa fu l’invasione vietnamita della Kampuchea nel 1978, i secolari contrasti tra Thailandesi e Birmani, dispute di confine tuttora in corso tra thailandesi e cambogiani per il controllo di un tempio sulla frontiera, o ancora l’invasione di Timor-Leste da parte dell’esercito Indonesiano dal 1975 al 1999. Sebbene sia perfettamente normale che un alone di diffidenza reciproca aleggi ancora, l’ASEAN rappresenta un valore aggiunto per gli stessi, poiché è in grado di agire da lubrificante sulle tensioni politiche dell’area, offrendo un foro ideale per affievolire contrasti tra governi e istituzioni.

Altri forum regionali simili sono stati creati nell’intento di promuovere una soluzione multilaterale a problemi che riguardano pasi rivali. Il Mekong River Commission and Sustainable Development (MRC) con sede a Vientiane è un altro organo sub-regionale, usato come sponda diplomatica per sanare contrasti tramite intermediari.

Non sarebbe quindi sbagliato raffigurare lo scacchiere internazionale come un insieme geometrico di linee rette, cerchi e triangoli dove forme di pensiero ed espressione diverse si intersecano formando un’intricata tela di interessi reali e percezioni quantomeno ambigue.

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Photo Credit: Present&Correct
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Reportage dall’Indonesia #2

Lo studioso francese Dominique Moisi menziona l’Indonesia come uno dei Paesi ‘della speranza’, caratterizzato da una forte fiducia nel futuro.

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Segue la seconda parte del reportage dedicato all’Indonesia. Qui la prima.

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]al punto di vista strategico, la geopolitica regionale sta volgendo sempre più a favore dell’Indonesia. Non a caso, la sede dell’ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) si trova a Giacarta. L’arcipelago sta aprendo ad investitori stranieri per lo sfruttamento controllato delle sue grandi risorse naturali, minerali (Papua-Irian Jaya), dei giacimenti petroliferi (Giava e Sumatra), delle piantagioni e delle foreste (Borneo, Kalimantan e Sulawesi); l’industria turistica, da sempre, considera Bali una meta internazionale, come lo stanno diventando Lombok, Flores e le Moluccas. Il settore manifatturiero di Giava traina l’economia nazionale, che sta intraprendendo un faticoso processo di ammodernamento sia all’interno dell’amministrazione pubblica sia ai margini più estremi dell’arcipelago.

L’esercito rimane un attore preponderante nella scena politica. Rassegnatosi a consegnare le redini del Paese alle autorità civili, esso mantiene intatti molti dei privilegi accumulati durante le dittature di Sukarno e di Suharto. L’esercito e l’aviazione continuano ad essere tra i più grandi proprietari di terreni in Indonesia, mal sopportando inchieste, giornalisti e interrogazioni parlamentari, sebbene l’attuale Presidente, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono –per gli amici SBY- sia un ex generale di Suharto. Le famiglie degli ufficiali e delle reclute professionali vivono e maturano all’interno di speciali ‘compound’, al cui interno viene impartito un insegnamento semi-autonomo dalle scuole, dove la polizia risulta assente, e i soldati si ritrovano piuttosto isolati dal resto della popolazione: un’amica, cresciuta in una famiglia di ufficiali, mi ha confessato personalmente che, fino all’età di dieci anni, credeva che in Indonesia vivessero solo militari in divisa.

Charles de Gaulle si lamentava dell’impossibilità di governare un Paese con 246 diversi tipi di formaggi (in Italia ce ne sono oltre 300- sic). A chi si pone la stessa domanda oggi sull’Indonesia, il Paese risponde che, nonostante le 726 lingue e dialetti differenti, e oltre 300 gruppi etnici sparsi su un totale di 17.508 isole, è riuscito a mantenere l’unità territoriale lustrando allo stesso tempo le proprie credenziali democratiche. Una forte decentralizzazione ha delegato molti poteri alle autorità locali, con risultati perlopiù positivi. L’indonesiano medio andrà a dormire stasera sapendo che domani il suo futuro sarà inevitabilmente migliore. A tal proposito, lo studioso francese Dominique Moisi menziona l’Indonesia come uno dei Paesi ‘della speranza’, caratterizzato da una forte fiducia nel futuro, certamente in controtendenza rispetto agli altri stati islamici, specie del Medio Oriente, che lui dipinge nella morsa emotiva dell’umiliazione, causata da un mancato assestamento politico e alla stagnazione economica.

La ricetta indonesiana per lo sviluppo, come alcuni piatti tipici locali, è servita in agro-dolce. Ci sono carenze strutturali e di sistema che zavorrano la crescita e che, se sommati agli elevati indici di corruzione ed inefficienza amministrativa, continueranno a rendere tortuoso e poco lineare il progresso economico e sociale. In ogni caso, sembra che l’Indonesia sia destinata ad assumere un ruolo sempre più determinante nello scacchiere politico del Sud-Est asiatico. In parte per merito proprio, ed in parte – un tributo al teorico Kenneth Waltz- in ragione del varco aperto dalle modifiche strutturali del sistema internazionale che, nell’attuale momento di prosperità economica  caratterizzante l’Oriente, risulta più che mai favorevole all’Indonesia.

Per chi volesse comprendere quali siano le forze del presente che attraversano, stimolano e vivificano l’Asia, l’Indonesia deve essere un punto di riferimento, sia per lo studioso di relazioni internazionali che si specializza in questa parte del globo, sia per chi, invece, coltiva studi di tipo economico e finanziario. Estromettere l’Indonesia dal contesto geopolitico in cui insiste, o peggio dimenticarsi della sua rilevanza geopolitica, sarebbe una grave omissione, e non consentirebbe di apprendere appieno ciò che di rivoluzionario e travolgente sta accadendo in Asia.

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Reportage dall’Indonesia #1

Luogo di incontro tra le grandi dinastie asiatiche per via del suo vasto mercato interno, l’Indonesia ha assorbito nel corso dei secoli le principali influenze storiche, religiose ed intellettuali dell’Asia, rimodellando induismo, buddhismo e Islam, inserendosi nel commercio regionale e liberandosi dal giogo coloniale con la sofferta conquista dell’indipendenza dall’Olanda nel 1945-49.

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]e ne parla poco ma conta sempre di più. L’Indonesia è un grande arcipelago che si estende per cinquemila chilometri vantando migliaia di isole che fanno da collana tra l’India e la Cina. Nonostante la sua immagine sia stata storicamente eclissata nelle menti degli occidentali dagli sfarzi delle corti indiane, i magici templi degli Khmer e la sfarzosa monarchia thailandese, l’Indonesia è stata e rimane crocevia degli scambi commerciali nel Sud-Est asiatico. Luogo di incontro tra le grandi dinastie asiatiche per via del suo vasto mercato interno, l’Indonesia ha assorbito nel corso dei secoli le principali influenze storiche, religiose ed intellettuali dell’Asia, rimodellando induismo, buddhismo e Islam, inserendosi nel commercio regionale e liberandosi dal giogo coloniale con la sofferta conquista dell’indipendenza dall’Olanda nel 1945-49.

Nel più recente passato, la crisi economica che ha scosso l’Asia negli anni ‘90 ha scardinato gli equilibri interni e le alleanze politiche che inchiodavano l’Indonesia ad un passato autoritario. I dirigenti del partito Golkar, cui faceva capo il dimissionario Generale-Presidente Suharto, furono costretti a concedere elezioni politiche vere e libere, e di conseguenza anche a cedere il potere accumulato in oltre quarant’anni di dittatura.

A distanza di quindici anni da questi avvenimenti, la società Indonesiana può vantare numerosi successi. In primis, dopo il tracollo del 1998 che fece regredire il PIL di oltre il 13% in un anno, oggi il quadro economico è in forte crescita ed estremamente promettente. Negli ultimi dieci anni, si è registrato un incremento stabile su base annua di oltre il 6%. L’Indonesia ha continuato a crescere nonostante la crisi economica globale, attraendo al contempo un elevato ammontare di investimenti esteri (i cosiddetti Foreign Direct Investment aumentati, dal 2008, del 30% su base annuale). La crescita si registra soprattutto sull’Isola di Giava, ed in particolare nella grande area urbana di Giacarta.

La non uniformità di questa crescita sta creando discrepanze economiche, sociali e politiche all’interno di questo vastissimo arcipelago, e che saltuariamente scaturiscono in proteste e forme di dissenso violento, seppur circoscritto, e caratterizzato, a volta, da forti contrapposizioni etnico-religiose. Nonostante questo, la classe media indonesiana crescerà fino a contare 130 milioni di consumatori entro i prossimi 15-20 anni, mentre le classi sociali benestanti risultano già considerevolmente le più ricche e numerose del Sud-Est asiatico. Gli squilibri demografici in termini di censo e distribuzione geografica della ricchezza aumentano l’emarginazione e la distanza culturale di comunità che fino a pochi anni fa vivevano con modi e costumi tradizionali, all’interno di ecosistemi intatti. Infatti, anche in questo si cela il lato affascinante e originale dell’Indonesia: un giorno si può passeggiare in un grande e lussuoso ipermercato di Giacarta, quello successivo ci si ritrova a spasso per la giungla impervia, tra popolazioni autoctone che vivono sugli alberi (i Dayak in Borneo), tra gli oranghi di Sumatra o ancora sulle creste degli oltre 120 vulcani attivi.

Politicamente, nonostante le divisioni, l’Indonesia (che è anche il Paese mussulmano più popoloso in assoluto) è riuscita ad indire, ad intervalli regolari, elezioni a suffragio universale adempiendo ai più alti standard in vigore, rappresentando un esempio per gli altri Paesi a maggioranza islamica (si veda cosa succede in Pakistan, Egitto o Libia di questi tempi), così come per quelli dell’area ASEAN. A tal proposito, ritengo utile offrire uno sguardo più ampio: in Malesia -che pure ha un Indice di Sviluppo Umano più alto di quello indonesiano-  le elezioni dello scorso mese hanno nuovamente consegnato la vittoria allo stesso partito che governa ininterrottamente da cinquant’anni, in una tornata elettorale caratterizzata da brogli e sotterfugi. L’igienica e corporativista Singapore, che imprigiona dissidenti da anni, e che non ha mai coltivato la pretesa di rientrare nei normali parametri politici e civili dei Paesi democratici. La Thailandia, avvinghiata su se stessa nella lotta tra i monarchici e i populisti dell’ex premier in esilio Thaksin Shinawatra, è politicamente immobile, preoccupata solo di perseguire reati di lesa maestà erodendo, quindi, numerose garanzie sulla libertà di espressione; in più, Bangkok non è riuscita nemmeno a garantire l’incolumità dei rappresentanti dell’ASEAN riuniti a Pattaya nel 2009: dopo che alcuni manifestanti avevano violato il cordone di sicurezza del summit, ministri e delegati furono evacuati in elicottero mentre altri fuggirono via mare. L’esecrabile episodio ha gettato discredito sul Paese ospitante, suscitando inquietanti interrogativi sulla sua capacità di mantenere e garantire l’ordine pubblico. La Birmania, infine, che languiva in un torpore che durava sin dal 1947 (cioè da quando la giunta militare ha assassinato il Generale Aung San, padre della più nota Aung San Su Kyi) è in rapida ascesa, ma afflitta da gravi piaghe e conflitti etnici tuttora da sanare. Il Laos e il Vietnam, i due Paesi restanti del Sud-Est asiatico, competono invece per l’ultimo posto nelle classifiche globali di Freedom House e Reporters sans Frontiers, mentre la Cina, pur offrendo numerose opportunità imprenditoriali e d’investimento, non contempla ancora la possibilità di critica alle proprie istituzioni governative.

Pertanto, parafrasando Andreotti, se è vero che l’Indonesia garantisce la tutela dei più fondamentali principi democratici, a livello regionale addirittura primeggia, data l’assenza di campioni in tal senso.

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Photo Credit: yohanes budiyanto

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The Hard Promise of China’s Peaceful Rise

The analysis below confirms an on-going change in the distribution of power in the Asia-Pacific. This shift not only discourages any optimistic expectations on China’s peaceful rise but is helpful in explaining the new American Strategy for the area, based on a massive redeployment of both US military forces and financial resources in order to contain China’s rising assertiveness.

{Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science}

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Introduction

The debate over the Chinese economic and international rise in world politics in the last two decades has been characterized by growing concerns about the nature of its peaceful purposes. In particular, with the deepening of the world economic crisis since 2008, several military and diplomatic operations have been aiming at containing the rise of Chinese assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific area, such as the strengthening of the American commitment to Japan’s defense, formation of Japan-South Korea alignment, the redeployment of Japanese forces, naval cooperation between the United States and the Vietnamese and Philippines forces, and, finally, the Asia-Pacific Security Strategy announced by President Obama and the former Secretary of State Clinton in the last weeks of 2011.[1]

At first sight, these concerns could seem exaggerated, given that on the 9th of December 2003 Chinese premier Wen Jiabao reiterated the concept of a new phase in China’s approach toward its neighboring countries, pointing out the peaceful nature of Chinese rise and the developing status of its economy, adding that hegemony and expansion never would have been pursued in the area, even with the full development of the country.[2]  Despite the attempt of reassuring further their neighbors and the United States by substituting the term “rise” with the more neutral “development” only a year later, several questions about the new role of China in world politics have emerged in the political and academic debate. In fact, according to Zheng, both “rise” and “development”  “were attempts to counter the ‘China threat’ theories by emphasizing the peaceful way in which China could emerge as a world power[3]: however, the sole fact of the emergence of China as a world power has been sufficient to raise relevant points about its political effects.

From a theoretical point of view, international relations theory provides some helpful insights in order to understand whether the growing power of the Asian giant is able to affect the current international system and US interests in the Pacific region in the foreseeable future. Power transition theory, elaborated by AFK Organski in 1958, accounts for the existence of four different kinds of state-units, organized according to a hierarchal distribution of power: on the top stands the dominant nation, followed by great, middle and small powers. However, this distribution of power is not unchangeable and those states not completely satisfied with the status quo are willing to modify the hierarchy: “peace is threatened when challengers seek to establish a new place for themselves in the international order, a place to which they believe their increasing power entitles them.[4] In addition, Gilpin offers a more precise definition of revisionist and status quo orientations, by identifying some crucial components such as the distribution of power, the hierarchy of prestige and those “rights and rules that govern or at least influence the interactions among states[5]. Finally, according to Mearsheimer, all great powers are intrinsically revisionists because the anarchical system compels them to maximize their own power in order to achieve security.[6]

Within these conceptual frameworks, and in the light of the increase in international tension in the Asia-Pacific region in the last years, in this essay I will be presenting the two main academic positions about the evaluation of the Chinese role: can China be considered as a status quo power or, rather, as a major threat by virtue of being just a great power, and therefore revisionist, dissatisfied with the current American-dominated international system?

China as a status quo power: the importance of economic growth

In 2003, an article by Johnston clearly addressed the question about China’s role in the international system, stating its basic status quo character by underlying Chinese pro-globalisation attitude (given its priority in economic development and the growing economic interdependence) and by recalling Chinese increasing interest in joining regional institutions such as APEC, ARF, SCO, WTO through a comprehensive acceptation of their working rules.[7] Furthermore, China is more concerned about its domestic problems and, according to its own strategic plans, until 2050 its ruling class will be facing three big challenges on the road of state modernization, in order to become a medium-level developed country. Accordingly, the most compelling issues on the Chinese agenda are the shortage of natural resources, the environmental pollution and a lack of coordination between economic and social development.[8]

As a matter of fact, China’s primary objective is to avoid a confrontational foreign policy because it could threat its economic growth, the stability of the Communist Party and the country’s path to modernization: “China’s leadership appears rational, calculating, and conscious not only of China’s rise but also of its continued weakness”, finding more convenient a whole assimilation into the international system than being its worst challenger.[9] This wise and prudent behaviour is confirmed by the Chinese effort into developing friendly relations with the major states on its periphery (Russia, Japan, India, and the Central and Southeast Asian states) also for securing stable energy sources. In addition, Chinese leaders have become aware of the importance to promote China’s values and culture abroad in order to benefit from soft power’s advantages.[10]

Considering China as a status quo power contrasts with the theoretical frameworks previously mentioned. Those who apply power transition theory to evaluate contemporary China’s rise as a potential challenger to the US, rely on flawed historical analogies based on power relations between Germany and Britain in the early twentieth century.[11] According to Ikenberry, China will not “repeat the experience of post-Bismarck Germany” as it faces “a very different type of status quo international order than that faced by previous rising powers[12]: for such a reason, China will continue to work within the rules and multilateral institutions of the current international order. Along with the liberal idea on the Chinese role in international relations, Overholt and Shambaugh sustain that China does not represent a threat to their neighbours nor to the United States: on the contrary, it is the most supportive and helpful country for both of them, because China assures stability in the Asia-Pacific area and can represent a good ally for the US in facing the big regional political and economic issues.[13]

Against this backdrop, Kang, according to constructivist arguments, claims that a neo-structural perspective is too static and does not adequately depict the realities of Asia, where states do not seek hegemony or expansionist policies, even when they achieve great economic power and have the capabilities to expand. His main argument is that Chinese power created a degree of stability, and conflict has only resulted when China began losing power rather than when it was gaining power.[14]

To draw a first conclusion, the thesis that asserts future optimistic expectations on the Chinese peaceful rise lies to its economic growth, as Bijian bears out affirming that “China’s emergence has been driven by capital, technology and resources acquired by peaceful means[15]: but what if peaceful means are no longer sufficient to guarantee such resources? What could be the effects if the Chinese growth, so decisive in maintaining domestic and regional stability and cohesion and so interdependent with the international economic and political order now in crisis, comes to an unexpected slowdown after 30 years of uninterrupted rise?

The economic crisis and the role of Chinese nationalism

According to Buzan, the next 30 years of China’s peaceful rise have no likelihood to look like the past thirty, because the international order that China has joined so far has been deeply affected by the economic crisis in 2008. Such a crisis has been having a huge impact on Chinese strategy of export-led growth while the advanced capitalist economies are “no longer be able to sustain … their previous levels of imports from China”.[16] Chinese economic growth, so necessary to maintain its socio-political stability, commercial openness and the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, has revealed to be little sustainable.[17] As a matter of fact, Yue underlines three major factors which have characterized China’s peaceful rise in the last ten years: accession to the WTO in November 2001 (thanks to which its international trade volume ranked the third and foreign exchange reserve overtook Japan’s to be the largest by the end of 2006); Chinese massive investments in resource-rich countries located in Central Asia, Latin America and Africa, where China’s political influence in those areas is rising as well; spillover effect in East Asia generated by China’s globalizing economy that drew China and ASEAN countries closer in geo-economic terms.[18] Having revealed the rhetoric on peaceful rise its dependence on the US-dominated international system and given that most of the resources imperative to China’s economic growth are distributed in areas under US domination[19], Yue does not deny that the competition for securing them could “heighten tensions and even increase the likelihood of conflicts between China and the developed world which would in turn be destabilizing to the international system.”[20] As a result, the new economic challenge has pushed China to turn toward a neo-mercantilist position: massive intervention in its economy through a deeper state control on critical industries, by building corporations like PetroChina[21] and increasing Chinese military expenditures in the last years to an impressive 1,97% of its GDP in 2009.[22]

Chinese more assertive approach to foreign policy, recently reiterated by warning the US to stay out of any disputes about the South China Sea, coincides with the emergence of the so-called geopolitik nationalism since 2008. Hughes, by analysing a number of popular Chinese texts all published in the last few years and after the deepening of the economic crisis in the US, such as Wolf Totem, Unhappy China, China’s Maritime Rights and China Dream, has discovered how concepts of lebensraum, ’maritime interests’, ‘sphere of influence’ underpin and foster Chinese domestic discourse on foreign policy.[23] As PLA Senior Colonel Liu Mingfu’s 2010 China Dream asserts, the Chinese national “grand goal” will be “to become number one in the world” by displacing the declining United States. Liu rejects the concept of a “peaceful rise” “arguing that China cannot rely solely on its traditional virtues of harmony to secure the new international order. Therefore, China needs a “military rise” in addition to its economic rise”.[24]

In substance, the rise of China is unquestionable and, as Buzan sustains, is necessarily transitional.[25] For such a reason, China can be at best defined as a reformist revisionist country[26]  whose major aim will be to continue its peaceful rise in the next thirty years, international economic restraints and the onset of nationalistic ideologies notwithstanding, reshaping the Asia-Pacific without provoking a Gilpinian hegemonic war in order to re-establish a new hierarchy of power and prestige.

Conclusion

The Chinese awareness of being militarily weaker than the US on the one hand, and the need to harness external threat and nationalistic ideologies in order to obtain domestic cohesion and reinforce the Party legitimacy undermined by the economic crisis on the other[27], have caused increasing concerns and serious doubts about the peacefulness of China’s rise. Indeed, as the 2011 Global Military Balance reported for the first time, the shift in economic power is already beginning to have a real military effect: while Western states’ defense budgets are under pressure and their military procurement is constrained, Asian Pacific nations and particularly China, are increasing defense spending by double digits annually. According to the report, “combined with its more muscular regional diplomacy, China’s increased defence budget has continued to provoke concern over the implications of its defence modernisation.[28] Furthermore, IISS Director General John Chipman echoes Mearsheimer’s temporal and theoretical predictions[29] when states that  “if current trends were continued it would still take 15-20 years for China to achieve military parity with the U.S.[30]

In conclusion, these data seem to confirm an on-going change of distribution of power in the Asia-Pacific and, accordingly, they not only discourage any optimistic expectations on China’s peaceful rise but are helpful in explaining the new American Strategy for the area, based on a massive redeployment of both US military forces and financial resources in order to contain China’s rising assertiveness.

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Photo Credit: Pan-African News Wire File Photos

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Footnotes 

[1] Hughes, Christopher. Class Lecture. East Asia: Primed for Rivalry?, LSE, London, 6 February 2012.

[2] Bijian, Zheng, “Globalization and The Emergence of China”, opening remarks at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., 13 November 2003.

[3] Zheng, Yongnian, “China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’: Concept and Practice”, China Discussion Paper – Issue 1, Nottingham: China Policy Institute, November 2005, p. 3.

[4] Kugler, Jacek, and A.F.K. Organski . 1993. “The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation.” In Handbook of War Studies, edited by Manus I. Midlarsky, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 174.

[5] Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, CUP, 1981, p. 34.

[6] Mearsheimer, John, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York, W.W. Norton, 2001, p. 29.

[7] Johnston, Alastair Ian, “Is China a Status Quo Power?”, International Security, 27/4, Spring 2003, pp. 5-56.

[8] Bijian, Zheng, China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status”, Foreign Affairs, Sep/Oct 2005, Vol. 84, Issue 5, pp. 18-24.

[9] Brzezinski, Zbigniew, “Make Money, Not War”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005, p. 47.

[10] Tellis, Ashley J., “A Grand Chessboard”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005, pp. 53-54.

[11] Jeffery, Renée, “Evaluating the ‘China threat’: power transition theory, the successor-state image and the dangers of historical analogies”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 63:2, 2009, p. 314.

[12] Ikenberry, G. John, 2008, “The Rise of China: Power, Institutions, and the Western Order”, cited in Jeffery, ibidem, p. 316.

[13] Jeffery, Renée, ibidem, pp. 318-319.

[14] Kang, David C., China Rising – Peace, Power and Order in East Asia, New York, CUP, 2010, pp. 198-202.

[15] Bijian, Zheng, ibidem.

[16] Buzan, Barry, “China in International Society: Is ‘Peaceful Rise’ Possible?”, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 3, 2010, pp. 19 – 21.

[17] As Cox predicted just two years ago: “The present Chinese model, with its severe inequalities, regional disparities, environmental problems and unsustainable growth, could itself easily become fairly unsustainable”, in Michael Cox, “Power Shift? Not Yet”, World Today, 66 (8/9) 2010, p. 22.

[18] Yue, Jianyong, “Peaceful Rise of China: Myth or Reality?”, International Politics, 2008, 45, p. 442.

[19] Yue, Jianyong, ibidem, p. 450.

[20] Yue, Jianyong, ibidem, p. 439.

[21] Kurlantzick, Joshua, “The Asian Century? Not Quite Yet”,  Current History, 110 (732) 2011, p. 27

[22] The Military Balance 2011, London, IISS, p. 198.

[23] Hughes, C., “Reclassifying Chinese Nationalism: the geopolitik turn”, Journal of Contemporary China, 20 (71) 2011, pp.601-620.

[24] Kissinger, Henry, On China, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2011, p. 507.

[25] Buzan, Barry, ibidem, p. 32.

[26] Buzan, Barry, ibidem, p. 29.

[27] Levy, Jack S., “Domestic Politics and War”, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 4, Spring, 1988, pp. 653-673.

[28] The Military Balance 2011, London, IISS, p. 195.

[29] Mearsheimer, John, “Showing the United States the Door”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005, p. 49. The scholar, in responding to Brzezinski, asserts that “it is true that China does not have the military wherewithal to take on the United States. That’s absolutely correct – for now. But again, what we are talking about is the situation in 2025 or 2030, when China has the military muscle to take on the United States.”

[30] Apps, Peter, “East-West military gap rapidly shrinking: report”, Reuters, 8 March 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/08/us-world-military-idUSTRE7273UB20110308

 

Bibliography 

– Apps, Peter, “East-West military gap rapidly shrinking: report”, Reuters, 8 March 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/08/us-world-military-idUSTRE7273UB20110308

– Bijian, Zheng, “Globalization and The Emergence of China”, opening remarks at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., 13 November 2003.

– Bijian, Zheng, China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status”, Foreign Affairs, Sep/Oct 2005, Vol. 84, Issue 5.

– Brzezinski, Zbigniew, “Make Money, Not War”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005.

– Buzan, Barry, “China in International Society: Is ‘Peaceful Rise’ Possible?”, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 3, 2010.

– Cox, Michael, “Power Shift? Not Yet”, World Today, 66 (8/9) 2010, p. 22.

– Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, CUP, 1981.

– Hughes, Christopher., “Reclassifying Chinese Nationalism: the geopolitik turn”, Journal of Contemporary China, 20 (71) 2011.

– Hughes, Christopher. Class Lecture. East Asia: Primed for Rivalry?, LSE, London, 6 February 2012.

– Jeffery, Renée, “Evaluating the ‘China threat’: power transition theory, the successor-state image and the dangers of historical analogies”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 63:2, 2009.

– Johnston, Alastair Ian, “Is China a Status Quo Power?”, International Security, 27/4, Spring 2003.

– Kang, David C., China Rising – Peace, Power and Order in East Asia, New York, CUP, 2010.

– Kissinger, Henry, On China, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2011.

– Kugler, Jacek, and A.F.K. Organski . 1993. “The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation.” In Handbook of War Studies, edited by Manus I. Midlarsky, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

– Kurlantzick, Joshua, “The Asian Century? Not Quite Yet”,  Current History, 110 (732) 2011.

– Levy, Jack S., “Domestic Politics and War”, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 18, No. 4, Spring, 1988.

– Mearsheimer, John, “Showing the United States the Door”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005.

– Mearsheimer, John, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York, W.W. Norton, 2001.

– Tellis, Ashley J., “A Grand Chessboard”, Foreign Policy, No. 146, Jan-Feb, 2005.

– The Military Balance 2011, London, IISS.

– Yue, Jianyong, “Peaceful Rise of China: Myth or Reality?”, International Politics, 2008, 45.

– Zheng, Yongnian, “China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’: Concept and Practice”, China Discussion Paper – Issue 1, Nottingham: China Policy Institute, November 2005.

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A Karen Family Flees from Their Village in Northern Karen State

Threats To Stability As Myanmar Awakens

The recent economic opening of Myanmar is a huge chance for the country. However it has also given rise to threats to its stability, and especially to populations in areas affected by ethnic conflict. International actors will need to be careful not to exacerbate the situation further.

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A Karen Family Flees from Their Village in Northern Karen State

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Sitting at the crossroads of India, China and South East Asia, military-dominated Myanmar (known by many in the West as Burma) is under transformation. March this year marked two major milestones: 50 years since the military first seized power, and 12 months since the incumbent quasi-civilian government was inaugurated. The months following have seen the country all but shed its burdensome pariah status, with high-level diplomatic dialogues becoming an almost weekly occurrence, and most Western sanctions being lifted or indefinitely suspended.

While Myanmar remains a deeply fractured state along geographical and ethnic lines, the country appears to be rapidly entering a new era, one that will be defined primarily by a military-heavy centralised elite, aiming to play off Western and Asian interests in pursuance of economic growth. While many benefits will be felt throughout society and further transformation should certainly be encouraged, a new set of security risks are emerging, most acutely for populations in areas affected by ethnic conflict.

Economic and Strategic Imperatives

In the public sphere, the West’s shift in approach has largely been attributed to the allowance of the country’s most popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi into the parliament, alongside half-baked efforts to implement less draconian policies on matters such as freedom of speech, expression and association. The government has also been praised for the signing of preliminary ceasefires with many of the country’s pro-democracy armed opposition groups and the release of hundreds of political prisoners.  Perhaps most encouraging has been the 180 degree shift in leaders’ rhetoric on such issues, with former generals not only admitting the downfalls of their autocratic approach to governance but stating commitment to genuine reform.

Such ameliorations have been crucial to fostering greater engagement and should not be overlooked. However, the causes are rooted in the convergence of Western and Myanmar economic and strategic imperatives, most significantly those relating to China.

Pushing primarily to meet its vast energy needs, China has become a dominant force in shaping the economies of developing countries across the world. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in neighbouring Myanmar, which holds a wealth of natural resources and a key corridor connecting China’s landlocked south western provinces to the Indian Ocean. Somewhat aggressively permeating much of the country’s decrepit economy, China has attracted vicious opposition among much of Myanmar’s population as well as many of its military leaders. As a result, following the former dictator’s recession from power, progressive elements of the former junta led by President Thein Sein have come to the fore and are prioritising the reparation of relations with the international community in order to diversify their trade partners and political connections.

Concomitantly, the allure of the region’s burgeoning markets has gained the focus not just of multinational corporations, but of governments from across the globe, facilitating a new epoch of Western-Myanmar relations.

Free trade agreements in the region have formed an integrated economy more populous than NAFTA and the EU combined. 2015 will see the formation of the ASEAN economic community, allowing free-flow of goods, capital, services and labour across all ASEAN member states. Integral to these plans is Myanmar, as the region’s only link to the Bay of Bengal – key for seaborne trade with Africa, the Middle East and Europe – and across land to India and beyond. This geostrategic reality has not only made engagement with Myanmar crucial to Western states and their allies, it has also provided incentive for Myanmar’s military elite to come out of isolation and enlist the support of international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Asia Development Bank and the World Bank.

Shaping Reforms

So where does this leave the people of Myanmar, a devastatingly oppressed and poverty-stricken population, most of which have no regular access to electricity or clean running water and have experienced decades of persistent human rights abuse and conflict?

In many ways, Myanmar’s citizenry is already benefiting significantly from the transition underway, and that looks likely to continue. While for the most part, the country’s awakening has been orchestrated to suit the needs of the former junta and associated elites, it has been influenced unprecedentedly by a somewhat embryonic civil society movement, that has been on the rise since 2008. A vast array of actors, some well-connected with the existing political and military frameworks, others more in touch with the country’s poorest communities, have been instrumental in shaping reforms. While the priorities of government and business elites often differ to those held by civil society organisations, many unexpected dialogues are taking place on issues ranging from land management to freedom of the media.

In urban areas particularly, development of infrastructure is underway and many in the educated classes are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Western companies in the services, manufacturing and tourism sectors. Compared with most of those from Asia, Western companies offer better pay, labour standards and opportunities for career development. New products too are already available, and after years of dumping from neighbouring states, economists in the country have long-argued this is a crucial step. Perhaps most significantly, citizens now have unrestricted access to the Internet, while newspapers and journals no longer have to go through the censorship board. Though further steps still need to be taken, this has given people an unprecedented level of access to information on the politics and socioeconomics of their country. This is crucial if the government is to live up to claims that 2015 general elections will be free and fair.

Building Tensions

In rural areas, however, the socioeconomic trajectory appears less clear, particularly in the country’s peripheral States, which are home to the majority of the non-Burman population and a lion’s share of the country’s natural resources. Aside from coastal areas in the west, these areas are characterised by densely forested mountain ranges and remain home to a myriad of armed actors of diverse ethnic groups. The largest have been active in some form or other since the country’s independence, retaining arms in order to secure greater autonomy from the government. While some are driven by a political reform agenda, ultimately seeking the formation of a federal union, others are primarily concerned with holding territory in order to profit from local resources and govern people of their ethnic group without interference. To complicate the landscape further are an unknown quantity of small militia, some aligned with state, others remaining hostile, which typically man checkpoints or provide security for bribes from traders and construction companies. As the West ramps up support for the government, and substantive military cooperation becomes a realistic possibility, its overall impact on such an environment must be carefully managed.

Mapping out the actual political dynamics of many of these regions is an impossible task, not just for foreign developmental partners, but even for the government itself. Worryingly, supremacist ideologies that defined the doctrines of former regimes’ form a basis for much of the new constitution, which provides next to no local autonomy to administrative states and regions, particularly on matters pertaining to development and security. Nevertheless, concerted efforts are being made by the President to reach out to the most established groups and a noted change in tone when compared with former regimes has been rewarded with a series of unprecedented ceasefires.

On the ground though, these agreements remain fragile, with opposition groups and the government seemingly at odds with where to go next in order to reach a lasting settlement. The government’s strategy is reminiscent of those it used in the 1990s to buy groups out by allowing economic concessions and developing business partnerships. In theory, such an approach to counter-insurgency doesn’t only appease armed actors themselves – or at least large portions of them, encouraging divides to form – it also opens space for business to grow, benefiting local livelihoods and curbing their enthusiasm for supporting insurgents.  However, following decades of the Myanmar state forces targeting entire populations with brutal violence and devastation of livelihoods to achieve such ends, opposition groups’ political aims have gained widespread popular support and mistrust of the government is rife.

The majority of armed groups themselves have persistently called for comprehensive political dialogue to precede any major development programmes. This demand has been accepted in principle at the negotiation table by government delegates, but has not been referred to officially. Sources close to the delegation have confirmed that its primary aim is to get signatures on paper, with the hope that rebel groups will dissipate over time as the socioeconomic environment improves. Such an approach has left relations on a knife-edge, provoking diverse responses from different groups.

Most opposed to Government peace plans is Myanmar’s second largest non-state armed group, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which had held a ceasefire based on similar principles between 1994 and 2011. Along with a myriad of ethnic armed forces in the late 80s and early 90s, the KIO signed an agreement which gave them patches of territory in areas populated mostly by Kachin ethnics, and began cooperating on development programmes with the promise that political dialogue would follow. In reality, dialogue never materialised, and tensions came to a head in June 2011 when government forces infiltrated KIO territory to secure a dam construction site they felt was under threat. Ensuing events set in motion conflict that continues to this day, having displaced around 75,000 civilians and set the stage for horrific abuses to be committed by the state on locals, including an alarming number of women and children.

The government has extended an olive branch to the KIO numerous times, most recently in October 2012, when the delegation promised the group political dialogue and agreed to hold negotiations for the first time with a mil-pol alliance spearheaded by the group including all of the country’s pro-federal ethnic armed groups. However, while brutal attacks on rebel fighters and civilians alike continue in KIO territory and that of their allies that have signed ceasefires, confidence appears very low among KIO leaders. This was clearly indicated recently when low-ranking officials were sent by the group to negotiations.

International Intervention

With Western sanctions lifted, the floodgates are open for developmental assistance to the Myanmar government and the arrival of multi-national corporations. As a result, the country looks set to experience rapid economic growth, with the centralised quasi-civilian administration and its corporate associates at the helm. With military cooperation on the horizon too, international actors will need to be careful not to exacerbate fragilities further. As learned in Afghanistan, propping up a centralised regime is rarely conducive to lasting stability and can damage the reputation of Western powers among locals significantly.  A security framework capable of managing Myanmar’s complex geopolitical structure, and its abundance of point-source resources, must incorporate ethnic armed actors that are trusted and supported by the people, or it is doomed to perpetuate further conflict and instability.

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Photo Credit: Worldwide Impact Now (used with permission)

USS Essex near East Timor

The US & The South China Sea

While Europe is battling the Eurozone crisis, Asian nations are engaged in a territorial showdown over the sovereign rights for the South China Sea. US involvement in the recent South China Sea issue is a way to reaffirm its status as a regional power, but would its involvement guarantee harmony in the region?

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USS Essex near East Timor

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The South China Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean with small islands. It is situated between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. South China Sea has rich deposits of oil and gas reserves and fishery. The area has been a long disputed zone and it has been a source of tension between regional nations.

What is the role of the US?

Since the Second World War, the US has been a major player in Asia-Pacific politics, participating in regional forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), the Shangri-La Dialogue and East Asia Summit. During the Cold War US policies were driven by the Truman Doctrine to contain communism. The US concentrated its effort to establish and maintain support for states such as South Korea, Japan and ASEAN members to have stronger leverage in Asia-Pacific.

It is now the post Cold-War era but the US believes there is an outstanding issue that could thwart US influence in the region; the rise of China. China’s rise to power has alarmed other Asian nations, compelling them to turn to the US for support. China has the second largest economy in the world and throughout the history of Asia it has been the prominent leading power and it could reprise this role. As China has always been assertive in its claims for the South China Sea, the US perceives China wanting to expand its territory and influence in the region. Therefore, the US acts as an overseer to ensure Chinese territorial expansion does not happen.

A good example to show US intentions to limit Chinese expansion is supporting Taiwan. The US deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups to protect Taiwan from Chinese aggression in the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. During the Bush Administration, it perceived China as a greater threat than the previous Administration had done. Former President George W Bush announced he would “do whatever it takes” to protect Taiwan; former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice labeling China as a “strategic competitor”. Further, in 2010, the US made a US$6.4 million dollar arms deal with Taiwan.

In May 2011, the South China Sea dispute reignited when Chinese patrol boats severed the cables of a Vietnamese ship, stating that Vietnam’s operations in the area threatened Chinese sovereignty. Subsequently, the South China Sea debate was taken up at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the US urging China not to behave in a hostile manner that would threaten regional stability.

As of last year, China, Vietnam and the Philippines are the most assertive competitors for the South China Sea. Simultaneously, the US became more involved in assisting the smaller Asian states in joint naval programs. In July 2011, the US and Vietnam held joint naval exchanges which included noncombat training and China quickly questioned the nature of the activity. Further, in October 2011 the US held an assault exercise program with the Philippines navy near the Spratly Islands.

On December 2011, during the East Asia conference, the US supported ASEAN countries to argue absolute control over the disputed zone. This clearly indicates that the US intends to restrain China’s regional influence and interest. During the 2012 ASEAN Forum in Phnom Penh, the meeting has been unable to resolve the conflict. At the moment, ASEAN cannot concoct a united plan to maintain regional stability while the US is trying to implement its pivotal policy in the region. Prior to the meeting, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said China’s behaviour is a “recipe for confrontation”.

Dangerous Game?

While the US strongly justifies their involvement in Asia-Pacific as a defendant of stability, their actions towards China could spell disaster. From China’s perspective, they believe the US is instilling ASEAN nations to antagonise China’s position and role in the region. Given the past diplomatic strains that have happened between US and China, it is unlikely that China will relax its intentions in the South China Sea. The aim of the ASEAN Forum is to settle the dispute, and while it is almost impossible for this issue to be resolved in a regional discussion, US involvement is perhaps only adding fuel to the already tense moments. If the US wants to achieve its goal in regional peace, it is essential that it forms a more active working relationship with the other regional powers like China and Australia, rather than causing tension.