On the diplomatic front, the US has been actively participating in various regional multilateral organizations, such as APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit.
In the economic field, the US has vigorously promoted ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations for facilitating deeper and broader economic integration in the region.
The above efforts suggest that as a relatively weakened hegemon, the US has not relinquished its leading role in East Asia. It has strived to reinforce its influence by taking comprehensive and far-reaching strategic moves to maintain its leadership.
Inevitably, the US’ pivot to Asia is not perceived well by China, especially by Chinese military leaders who tend to view it as a devious US strategy of containing China.
It is not surprising why China, as an emerging superpower and a future challenger to US domination in the world order, is suspicious of US intentions behind this policy. After all, China has been deliberately left out by Washington’s military and economic initiatives.
In both US-led multilateral military exercises in the Pacific Ocean and the TPP negotiations, China was not invited.
Furthermore, on both territorial disputes, the US has not taken the side of China by announcing that the US-Japan military alliance covers the disputed islands and by asserting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, undermining China’s territorial claims.
In the eyes of China, the US has been regarded as an instigator behind the scenes in encouraging other countries to gang up on China to prevent its ascent to its “righteous” place in the global system.
From a power politics perspective, it seems unavoidable that Sino-US competition may eventually lead to confrontation. Nevertheless, the complexity of global economic interdependence may constrain more adventurous military actions and attenuate the likelihood of military conflict.
Since most East Asian countries have adopted a two-pronged policy by pursuing economic benefits from China and seeking security and peace from the US, the cool-headed economic calculation is likely to mitigate a frenzy of nationalist sentiment.
This is why China has punished Japan and the Philippines through economic sanctions in the past, but has not launched a decisive war to “teach them a lesson.”
Nevertheless, facing a more assertive China, many East Asian countries have decided to take a military hedged or balancing strategy rather than a bandwagoning one.
Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe has not only vowed to take a tough stance against China, but also revitalized so-called “values-based diplomacy” to elevate Japan’s moral and strategic weight in comparison with China’s.
Furthermore, Myanmar, which had been regarded as a close partner of China, has made some remarkable reforms recently.
Not only has former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton paid an unprecedented visit to the country, but Obama also became the first US president to meet Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi last year.
Myanmar’s latest political U-turn toward the West undoubtedly embarrasses Beijing, which not only reveals that US influences have openly penetrated China’s backyard, but also suggests that US-promoted values, such as democracy and human rights, have successfully gained ground in this isolated “hermit country.”