Against the backdrops of China’s rising military power and accompanied assertions in territorial disputes with other Asian countries, Washington has taken a series of measures and issued statements to maintain its influence in the region.
It announced the “pivot” strategy in late 2011, but later changed the term to “rebalancing” due to the impression this might give that it attempts to contain China and leave other parts of the world alone by themselves.
It has reaffirmed ties with allies and called for peaceful settlement of disputes by multilateral means while carefully avoiding the unnecessary actions that would lead to security dilemmas.
Washington’s engagement includes US Marine Corps visits to ports in Asia, the marine deployment in Darwin, 60 percent of naval forces in the region by 2020 and enhancement of military ties with Southeast Asian countries.
The US also demonstrates its commitments to allies with treaty obligations. It has agreed to install an early warning radar system in Japan and to assist the Philippines in monitoring coastal waters, and could send a radar system in the future in response to North Korean threat and tensions with China respectively.
In 2010, when the sovereignty of islands in the South China Sea was hotly contested, then-US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US has “national interests in freedom of navigation” and, before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit last month, stated that “we oppose any unilateral action that would seek to undermine Japanese administration [over the Senkaku Islands], and we urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means.”
In spite of the above measures and statement, the US has not launched an all-out balancing against China. Washington takes into account Beijing’s doubts of another containment of the Cold War model.
According to the China Post, US Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear said on Feb. 1 in a telephone news conference that there will be no new bases in Asia and the rebalancing strategy will aim to strengthen the existing ties with the US allies in the region.
The rebalancing is “collaboration and cooperation” and expects no settlement of disputes by military means.
When the US expresses support for allies with treaty obligations amid territorial disputes, it also sends the message that it does not intend to go that far at this stage.
On Abe’s visit to Washington late last month, the joint statement only highlights the trade issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In the published press video, US President Barack Obama only briefly mentioned the overall security partnership it has had with Japan for a long time, while it was Abe and Japanese media who addressed specifically the security issues involving China in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
The Japan Times reported on Feb. 7 that Washington was concerned about provoking Beijing and told Tokyo not to raise the issue of the amendment of Article 9, which renounces the use of force, during the upcoming visit.
Abe made the trip after US Secretary of State John Kerry succeeded Clinton and before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) officially replaced Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) as president.
The timing may lead to the interpretation that Washington publicly toned down the sensitive territorial issues either because of the new official appointee or because the US and China both wanted to focus on a cooperative and peaceful relationship to get off to a good start.