DOI link for Conclusion
DOI link for Conclusion
In looking ahead when writing in the second edition in 2004 I conﬁdently suggested that ‘American pre-eminence is likely to endure for the foreseeable future’, although I recognized that it would not be on a scale that will allow the United States to dictate the character of politics in the region. Several reasons can be advanced as to why that forecast seems to have gone awry. First, is the debilitating eﬀects of the American-led long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the high material and psychological costs they entailed as well as the damaging eﬀect they brought about to America’s standing in the world. Second, is the damage wrought to the US and indeed to Europe and Japan by the 2008 ﬁnancial crisis and the resulting economic recession, whose eﬀects will be felt for some time yet. Third is the extraordinarily rapid rise of China to become a global player of signiﬁcance. Finally, there are the unpredictability, the ﬂuidity and the rapidity of change in the current era. Nevertheless, not all the forecasts of six years ago seem to have been overtaken
by events. For example, the boundaries of the region have continued to ‘become less precise’ as Central and South Asia increasingly impinge on Southeast and Northeast Asia. The pattern of competition and cooperation still characterizes relations among the great powers. In the absence of a clear structure for international politics, domestic politics continue to loom large in the foreign policies, causing inconsistencies in the policies of the major powers in particular. The diplomacy of the region continues to be shaped by ‘a complex mosaic of multilateral arrangements that are varied and multi-textured’. The ﬁnal point made then was that how the world, the region and the United
States come to terms with a rising China would be the most important factor to shape the evolution of the region. That is indeed proving to be the case. China has become the economic locomotive driving most of the economies of the region through complex supply chains of production. China’s trade with America’s most important allies and friends in the region exceeds in value their trade with the United States. That has led to a growth of Chinese political inﬂuence, making the resident states much more careful to avoid the appearance of disagreements, especially on such sensitive issues as Taiwan. They are also cognizant of the fact that although the rise of China is seen as a challenge to United States leadership it is they, as China’s neighbours, who will ﬁrst have to face Chinese new assertiveness.
China’s continuing rise as both an economic and a military power will continue to pose challenges as well as provide opportunities to the countries of the region and to the wider world. A disjunction has arisen between the region’s economic dependence on China and its strategic dependence on the United States. Ideally the states of the region would like the United States to play the role of an oﬀshore balancer that would provide a kind of insurance against China’s growing military power, without at the same time allowing its own relations with China to become too confrontational lest they be forced to choose between the two. At the same time the resident states would not like to see too close a relationship between China and the United States lest that lead to a condominium in which their interests might be neglected. Hence they were uneasy in the ﬁrst year of the Obama presidency, when it appeared that far from balancing China, America would establish a comprehensive partnership with China – a so-called G-2 – that would jointly exercise leadership over the region and manage global problems such as climate change. That American eﬀort appears to have been rebuﬀed by a more nationally
assertive China convinced of its own success amid American decline. China’s new-found assertiveness has not been conﬁned to words. In March 2009 an American surveillance ship was harassed within China’s EEZ oﬀ Hainan Island. The US claimed that according to international law the ship was in international waters, but the Chinese claimed that they had certain entitlements within the EEZ waters. This recalled a similar claim over the airspace of the EEZ in the 2001 EP-3 incident. The Chinese navy has carried out vigorous patrolling in the Sea of Japan, where Japanese ships were ‘buzzed’, and in the South China Sea. At the time of writing (July 2010) the countries of Northeast and Southeast Asia, with American participation and leadership, are confronting a China which is more assertive in pushing its maritime claims in the Yellow, Japan and South China Seas. In the ﬁrst six months of 2010 a greater wariness is evident in American
dealings with China. Moreover, the Chinese government has begun to show less regard than previously for the views and interests of its maritime neighbours. By appearing to condone the aggression of North Korea in sinking a South Korean ship and in seeking to prevent South Korea and the United States from conducting military exercises in the seas around the Korean peninsula (especially in the Yellow Sea) the Chinese deepened the concerns of Japan and South Korea, as well as the United States. This came on top of claiming for the ﬁrst time in March 2010 that the South China Sea was a ‘core interest’ (putting it on a par with Taiwan and Tibet) and that China was pursuing a strategy of ‘deep sea defence’. In response to that and to concerns expressed by regional states in Washington,
the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, declared at a meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum in July for the ﬁrst time that the US has a ‘national interest’ in resolving the disputed claims to islands in the South China Sea and that it
‘supports a collaborative diplomatic process’ to this end and that ‘we oppose the use or the threat of force by any claimant.’ Other states at the Forum joined her in calling for a collective approach to the South China Sea. The Chinese Foreign Minister, caught oﬀ guard, simply repeated Beijing’s long-standing opposition to ‘internationalizing’ the disputes. The immediate future is likely to be characterized by sharper diplomatic
exchanges and probes and counter-probes at sea. However, severe military clashes are unlikely, although the occasional skirmish is highly possible. The balance of naval power is strongly in America’s favour and the Chinese goal is essentially one of seeking to deny the American navy unconditional access to certain waters, rather than to challenge the crucial American interest of keeping the sea lanes open. In the longer term, new issues will arise as China seeks to protect its own trade routes. At issue, however, is not just the question of adapting to a rising power on
which there is a rich, but not particularly helpful, International Relations literature,1 but also how China will deﬁne itself as a nation and what entitlements it will claim. If the current trend were to continue, of a nationalism which emphasizes China’s grievances against the West and Japan and which accentuates its claims as the successor to the alleged domains of the Qing Dynasty, it will presage a period of contention.2 Such a China would see the world in terms of ‘us against them’ and it would be troubled by senses of insecurity at home as well as abroad. A China of this kind, especially as ruled by a Leninist party, would still be secretive and would be limited in its capacity to integrate with a world whose main powers and key institutions would still be guided by liberal principles. A further problem arising from Chinese nationalism is that it militates against a Chinese capacity to develop a sense of regional order that will appeal to the other regional states. If all Chinese maritime claims are ‘indisputable’, no space is left for the claims of others, or for a means of resolving the conﬂicting claims. The Chinese suggestion that resolution can be postponed in favour of joint development of resources in the disputed areas lacks appeal, because other claimants sense that China’s relative strength will grow with the passage of time and hence postponement will favour China. As against such pessimism, note should also be taken of China’s economic
interdependencies, the adaptability and sophistication of its diplomacy and its participation in the international system as a ‘responsible great power’. If the resilience of China’s ruling communist party is partly due to its embrace of nationalism and its presentation of itself as the inheritor of China’s past greatness, it also rests on the performance of the Chinese economy. The maintenance of high economic growth rates is seen as essential for social stability and hence for continued party rule. International trade and access to advanced technology are crucial to China’s economic growth. That in turn relies greatly on the public goods provided by the United States. Arguably China and the United States have become economically interdependent, especially as China holds a high proportion of American indebtedness, with currency reserves of over US$2.4 billion. These considerations go a long way in mitigating the potential for conﬂict.