Wed, Aug 08, 2007 - Page 8 News List

The strategy and logic of the US' Asia policy

By Sushil Seth

Sometimes it is difficult to understand the logic of the US' Asia policy. At one level the US is committed to prevent any other power from challenging its supremacy. In Asia, China is clearly seen as a strategic competitor, if not a rival. Therefore, a policy of containing China, even if it is not put that directly, is taking shape.

The strengthening of the US-Japan alliance is clearly a part of that strategy. Australia, a strong US ally, is being incorporated into it as part of a trilateral security structure; even though Canberra feels the need to emphasize that the expanded security relationship is not directed against China.

India's induction into this trilateral structure is developing into a quadrilateral arrangement, obviously reinforcing China's worries about a ring of containment around it under the US leadership.

Even as the US is strengthening its regional security architecture with these arrangements, it is also sending contrary signals about its commitment to the region in general. For instance, Washington has sought to sideline the ASEAN as a regional organization.

US President George W. Bush has canceled a scheduled summit meeting with ASEAN leaders in Singapore. And US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided not to attend another ASEAN ministerial meeting.

By doing so the US is not only snubbing ASEAN and its leaders, it is also signaling a waning of US interest in the region. The multiple problems in the Middle East are consuming all US energies, leaving it very little time to devote to Asia.

China has already made important political and economic inroads into the ASEAN countries. With a perceived lack of US interest and commitment to the region, these countries have no choice but to acclimate themselves to the `reality' of China's power.

But the emergence of a quadrilateral regional security system under US leadership is clearly an indication that the US is not planning to let China have its way in Asia.

There is, however, a view that Japan might not want to become part of a US strategy to contain or confront China. According to Mike Mochizuki, a specialist in US-Japan relations, there are two imperatives which "are likely to steer the Japanese government toward keeping relations with China cordial and stable. The first is the commercial imperative [as] Japan's own economic fortunes are now increasingly tied to the continuing expansion of the Chinese economy."

And the second reason is "the strategic imperative." Mochizuki argues: "Although Japan is now strengthening its security alliance with the United States, it wants to avoid an international situation in which it has to choose between its alliance with the United States and stable relations with China."

The point though is that Japan might not have that choice unless it is prepared to become part of China's sphere of influence. It is difficult to see Japan accepting a subordinate role; while Beijing is unlikely to share its primacy in Asia with Japan.

Besides, they have unresolved maritime disputes involving access to potential oil and other mineral resources. At the same time, there is the highly contentious issue of Japan's wartime guilt, which is, in some ways, becoming the litmus test of their relationship.

In the circumstances, it is quite a stretch to believe that China and Japan might be able to work out a stable relationship even as the US-Japan security alliance is constantly being reinforced and strengthened.

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