A clash of security interests in Asia
To offset rising American influence in the region, China is forming a new security concept in Asia.
Unveiled on his November 2011 Asia trip, U.S. President Obama’s declaration of America’s strategic pivot to Asia carried a core message: the United States is going to play a leadership role in Asia and will provide confidence to countries in the vast Asia-Pacific region, stretching from the Indian subcontinent through Northeast Asia, that they need not yield to potential Chinese regional hegemony.
To fulfill such a commitment, the Obama administration has not only decided to shift 60 percent of U.S. naval forces to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020, but also declared unequivocally that Washington will protect America’s security investments in Asia from any future cutbacks in overall U.S. military spending.
Another key element of Washington’s pivot to Asia is to strengthen its alliances in the region, including showing support for Japan’s decision to reinterpret its constitution so that it can engage in “collective self-defense” and putting much greater emphasis on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in U.S. policy.
“The pivot to Asia, at its heart,” says Danny Russel, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific and the Obama administration’s chief diplomat on Asia, “is a set of policies that reflects the priorities the administration is placing on the Asia-Pacific? And there is a widespread and bipartisan conviction that America’s future in economic and security terms is bound up in the Asia-Pacific.”
“China, not surprisingly,” writes Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution, “is worried about these new developments. They in many ways reinforce China’s abiding suspicions about the United States. In Chinese eyes, the United States has always been concerned primarily with protecting its own global dominance – which perforce means doing everything it can to retard or disrupt China’s rise? China in 2010 became the world’s second-largest economy has only increased Beijing’s concerns about Washington’s determination to postpone the day when China surpasses the United States to become the world’s most powerful country.”
As a result, “China is going to work out its own counterbalance strategy,” Sun Zhe, Director of the Center for U.S.-China Relations at China’s Tsinghua University, told Reuters’ Ben Blanchard.
At the recently concluded Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit meeting in Shanghai, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his “New Asian Security Concept.”
President Xi’s “New Asian Security Concept” can be boiled down to a single sentence: leave Asia to Asians. “Asia’s matters must be handled by Asians, Asia’s problems must be resolved by Asians,” declared President Xi, “and Asia’s security must be protected by Asians.”
“The new security vision for Asia proposed by President Xi,” explains Wang Yiwei, Director of the China-Europe Network at China’s Renmin University, “means that we cannot count on countries beyond Asia to guarantee Asian security. Asian security issues need to be resolved in an Asian way. The Western world is used to forging alliances and fermenting conflicts and confrontations to gain profits, which does not conform to the situation in rapidly developing Asia.”
“Security in Asia should be safeguarded by the wisdom of the Asian people,” China’s Global Times emphasized, “leftover issues including territorial disputes, internal conflicts caused by globalization and Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’ policy have been affecting the security landscape across Asia.” The New Asian Security Concept, according to the Global Times, “aims to build a future with a deep regional integration – the community of common interests, the community of common destiny and the community of common values.”
China’s “New Asian Security Concept” is backed by real policy actions, including a Chinese initiative to set up the $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Beijing’s efforts to resurrect the old Silk Road that once carried treasures between China and Central Asia.
As China is carrying out its own pivot of “Asia for Asians only,” Washington is paying close attention to China’s new approach to Asia.
“We noted President Xi’s statement at the CICA conference about Asia for Asians, the growing criticism of U.S. alliances and the Asian infrastructure bank,” a senior Obama administration official told the Reuters News, “It is raising serious questions about whether the U.S. vision and the Chinese vision are fully compatible.”
For the years ahead, Washington’s “pivot to Asia” and Beijing’s “New Asian Security Concept” will likely be colliding with each other in the Asia-Pacific. It remains to be seen which concept will win the hearts and minds of Asians.
Dr. Xiaoxiong Yi is the Director of Marietta College’s China Program.