Thu, May 17, 2012 - Page 8 News List

US, China play risky power game

By Sushil Seth

Apart from problematic relations neighboring states, China is also having more than its usual share of internal tensions; the most recent being the Chen Guangcheng affair.

China’s sensitivity over its domestic affairs was graphically illustrated during the Arab Spring when authorities blocked access to Internet information regarding the popular upsurge in north Africa, fearing the contagion may spread to China itself.

More recently, the sudden dismissal of Chongqing Chinese Communist Party boss Bo Xilai (薄熙來), who was removed from power at the same time his wife was arrested in connection with the murder of a British man, has shown that authorities are jittery.

It is such sensitivity and the resistance to any political reform which would compromise the party’s monopoly on power that give the US a certain moral and political advantage over China, but this only makes authorities within the country more resolute on maintaining and asserting party control. China’s leadership fears that the US is using democracy and human rights to foment internal trouble which could destabilize the nation. This remains as yet another problematic issue in the China-US relationship.

It is, however, the contest for primacy in the Asia-Pacific region, which remain the core issue.

Up until now, the US has been the dominant force in the hemisphere and militarily, the US is still the most powerful country on the planet. In the Asia-Pacific region, though, China is seeking to displace the US through a mix of economic, political and military muscle.

Indeed, China believes it is none of the US’ business to be poking around in its neighborhood where, in Beijing’s view, China’s historical and strategic primacy, is well established. Indeed, from this viewpoint, China’s loss of regional primacy over the past 150 years was a temporary glitch.

Therefore, a renewed and stronger China feels justified in laying claim its old domain: the Middle Kingdom, which helps explain its many sovereignty claims over both the South China and East China seas.

However, in a world full of competing nation states, historical claims of dominance by old or new empires are more an obstacle than a solution. This brings China into conflict with some of its regional neighbors and with the US as well, given that it is the dominant power in the region — in addition to being an ally of many of China’s Asian neighbors.

One way out of this complex situation may be to work out a power-sharing mechanism that bypasses countries in the region, but this also poses problems because none would want to be a pawn in US-China relations.

Whatever happens, neither China nor the US are likely to engage in any serious power-sharing deal. At some point either China or the US will have to make way for the other.

As the rising power China is unlikely to give ground on any of its “core” strategic interests while the US, on the other hand, wants China to be a responsible stakeholder, meaning that Beijing shouldn’t rock the boat.

These are irreconcilable positions and, ultimately, spell trouble for the region.

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