Fri, Mar 15, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Swerving from the rebalancing act?

By Chang Yu-Ping 張瑜玶

Without denying these factors, Washington still walked a fine line between its commitment to an ally and expectation of strong relations with Beijing.

Although Obama did not bring up the dispute over the Senkaku Islands — known in Taiwan as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — Kerry praised Japanese restraint from further escalation.

Abe did get a chance to publicly mention the issue and Japan’s concerns.

Therefore, more evidence would be needed to argue that the US is abandoning the rebalancing strategy, which will be discussed below.

So far, Obama’s second term has raised doubts about the realization of the US’ rebalancing strategy toward Asia.

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times bluntly reported on March 6 that the US administration would discard the pivot or rebalancing strategy.

He cited national security officials as saying that a Chinese government visitor was told that, in an effort to improve ties with China.

He also provided further evidence on how he sees the government to be avoiding direct implementation of the pivot strategy.

When asked about its future, officials including US Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel circumvented the question and only said the US would continue strengthening and deepening its engagement with and commitment to Asia.

Regardless of the confusion that the term of “pivot” causes, what the officials said about the US role in Asia is in line with what former US assistant secretary of State for Asia Affairs Kurt Campbell told the Asahi Shimbun about what the “pivot” or “rebalancing” means in an interview published on Feb. 9 before his departure.

He said that “they are meant to connote revitalization and a re-engagement at a deeper level of our key relationships with Asia.”

Elizabeth Economy from the Council on Foreign Relations writes that Kerry has appeared to turn away from the pivot strategy.

His remarks in the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing have won praise from major Chinese newspapers and academic institutes.

She added that Kerry’s Congressional voting record shows more support for bills that seek cooperation with Beijing than those intended to counter the rising power.

On the one hand, it does seem that Kerry has shifted away from talk about rebalancing toward Asia and places more emphasis elsewhere, as his first trip as secretary of state was to the Middle East, while Clinton chose Asia for her first overseas tour.

However, a different understanding emerges if we consider his history regarding China and Asia.

To some extent, Kerry has taken a middle road. For example, with regard to relations between the US and China, Kerry stated that the two nations are competitors and can form a partnership, but should not be adversaries.

This is consistent with the rhetoric of cooperative and strong relations with China in Obama’s first term.

He has revealed reservations about the US’ increased military ramp-up by drawing on Chinese concerns and the fact that the US has more bases than any country in the world, including China.

What he meant by military ramp-up is unclear.

We might find answers in his following statements: “I am not talking about retreating from our current levels whatsoever. I am simply trying to think how we can do it in a way that doesn’t create the reaction you don’t wanna create.”

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