Cold War Gains Momentum
Over time, Beijing will try to convince other states in the region to abandon ties with America, and Washington will almost certainly resist those efforts. An intense security competition will follow.
-Harvard Professor Steve Walt
When US president Barack Obama announced in Canberra that he was refocusing US military attention in the Asia-Pacific region, he was in effect sounding the bugle cry for a new Cold War – this time with China. Just the other day, Obama urged China to “grow up” and act responsibly on the world stage. In the meanwhile, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Friday that “outside forces” had no excuse to get involved in a complex dispute over the South China Sea, offering a veiled warning to the United States and others not to stick their noses into the sensitive issue.
As per Damian Grammaticas, China Correspondent of the BBC,
“The message is that America is ensuring it is strategically poised to project power over the vital trade routes that pass through the South China Sea, and it wants to reassure its partners in Asia it is cementing that position”.
In our post USA, China and India – The New Cold War , last year,we had articulated that in America’s quest to establish its supremacy over the Asia Pacific it will meet China halfway. The words of the post ring true after the APEC 2011 and EAS 2011 summits recently held in Honolulu and Bali. The jostling for a larger share of the economic pie finally led to America entering into a military alliance with Australia for positioning 2,500 marines in Australia to prove that the Pacific was “America’s sphere of Influence”and that America “was here to stay”. This was strongly objected to by China as was the formation of a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which does not include China. President Obama also asked China to “play by the rules” or face dire consequences. To display its strategic interests in South China Sea, United States and Singapore are in the final negotiating stages of an agreement to base some of the U.S. Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships at the Changi Naval Base as per a Washington Post report of date. This leaves the regional countries confused as thus far they have been living under the umbrella where China is their economic partner and USA the security provider who guarantees peace.
As per an analysis in Asia Times, such a dichotomy is understandable. “It captures the comparative advantage for Southeast Asia that each outsider has to offer: China’s booming economy, America’s matchless military. It avoids the risk – manywould say the folly – of entrusting regional security to the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, let alone the PLA”.
It further argues that whether China seeks hegemony over the region is a matter on which many disagree. But ASEAN will not willingly invite China to replace the American security role in Southeast Asia, not if Beijing continues to assert forcefully its control over nearly the entire South China Sea – or, as some Vietnamese and Philippine activists would like it to be called, the Southeast Asia Sea.
During the two summits, thus, USA was clearly seen pushing China along with members of the ASEAN. Any dispute that China has in the region with members of ASEAN buttress American interests as it attrites Chinese power to the benefit of America. As per conclusions of SIPRI Paper 26, as China’s global reach has expanded, so has the range of issues debated as potential core interests. The wording of China’s foreign policy objectives, summed up as a pursuit of a ‘harmonious world’, are often so lacking in specificity that it is possible to justify any sort of action.This assumes added ambivalence to the foreign policy when all stake holders defining the foreign policy, especially the PLA are keen to keep America at bay, regionally. This explains a series of belligerent actions in the neighbourhood which run counter to the ancient Chinese mantra of a peaceful rise.
Ravaged by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, USA wants a collaborative regime to counter Chinese influence in Asia Pacific through its “friends”. The new Cold War is based on the historic Soviet model of squeezing China’s budget through military encirclement, while hoping for internal uprisings by Chinese workers and intellectuals against austerity and repression.
In a commentary on the subject, Huffington Post articulates that Obama’s new Cold War approach includes an emphasis on continued bilateral cooperation with China while adopting a more aggressive and confrontational policy. Obama asserts that the United States is a “Pacific nation,” which intends to play “a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.” However a reverse strategy by China on the Californian coast might be catastrophic.
As per an analysis, if the first cold war had any lessons, the primary one was that these wars were fought more by the proxies and never by the militaries. Finally USSR broke down under the pressure of the proxy wars, the financial breakdown and on the ideological levels. Today USA seems to be in an economic crisis while being militarily stretched. And all the while that the US sent its troops to far-off continents to wage wars, China has been single-mindedly building up its industrial and military prowess. More here.
The Chinese discourse till late was, “Tao guang yang hui” variously translated but essentially means “hide brightness, nourish obscurity”. The exhortation was to keep a low profile when in an adverse situation and wait for a suitable opportunity to reverse fortunes. The other advice was “yield on small issues with the long term in mind.” All this has begun to change as China’s influence began to rise and the US was perceived to be in decline. There is an exuberance and global self-confidence accompanied by a global outreach that was not visible earlier.
When viewed in context, our earlier post on China and South Asian dynamics, had heralded the official proclamation of a cold war in the Asia Pacific last year. This new found US bravado and Chinese assertiveness led by PLA and PLAN annunciates a new era of proxy wars in which the regional grass is going to be trampled upon by these two elephants jostling for influence.
In the Indian context, USA wants to thin down Chinese influence for which it needs India’s support. The theory of String of Pearls may well be a part of this public diplomacy initiative to let India and China keep each other engaged. Dr Manmohan Singh’s assertion of India’s interests in South China Sea being “totally commercial” and that of re examining the “specific grievances” of Nuclear Liability law as per “four corners” of India’s laws is a step in the right direction. It would now be prudent to “engage and act east” firmly with Indian characteristics. More here.
As America finds new bogeymen, India needs to follow the path of pragmatic realism and charter a deliberate and long thought out path towards it’s rightful destiny – that path does not envision conflicts with neighbours and allies – at least not for now.
- US marine base for Australia irritates China (sayou.wordpress.com)
- U.S.-China tensions risk spilling over into Asia summit (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Gillard hails ‘Asian century’ as ASEAN begins – ABC Online (abc.net.au)
- Obama tells Asia US “here to stay” as Pacific power – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Obama Says U.S. Presence a Crucial Part of Pacific Security (businessweek.com)
- Obama Sending Clinton to Myanmar (maboulette.wordpress.com)
- A growing Chinese threat, Capitalism threatens Libya (wrtgonthenytimes2011.wordpress.com)
- Obama to Asia: U.S. Is Here to Stay (usnews.com)
- A look at the top issues at Southeast Asia meeting (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- A New Cold War? (notesandobservations.me)