EDITORIAL: Time for Washington to act is now

Fri, Apr 08, 2011 - Page 8

Geostrategic defeat for the US in the Asia-Pacific theater is a scary, and quite real, scenario. Since World War II, the US has played the role of the linchpin in East Asia in terms of economic, political and military relations. This has allowed for the rapid economic growth of Japan and the Four Asian Tigers — Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan — as well as other nations. The growth of these countries in turn led to the astronomical growth of China once that country stepped out of the economic dark ages that began during the Cultural Revolution.

The US presence in East Asia has therefore benefited hundreds of millions of people. However, this role is coming under increasing threat by a resurgent China. Though China benefited from the half-century or more of stability that the US helped provide in its backyard, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never adopted the liberal politics of the West — democracy, rule of law, adherence to human rights. China’s booming economy provides an opportunity for Western corporations to quickly generate massive profits, but also sucks wealth out of its neighbors, makes countries dependent on China’s continued purchase of their raw materials (take Australia, for example) and leads to an atmosphere of fear in which politicians become overly careful lest they offend Chinese sensibilities.

Although US policymakers seem to be aware of the threat China poses, they seem powerless to do anything about it. The administration of US President Barack Obama has nearly written Taiwan off in terms of arms sales, which Taipei urgently needs to counter the growing might of the People’s Liberation Army just across the Taiwan Strait. Japan’s military is too dependent on the US to stand up to China, and South Korea is too concerned with its neighbor to the north.

The US’ passivity in the Asia-Pacific region has left a power vacuum that the CCP is eager to fill. As Li Thian-hok (李天福), a distinguished fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, has pointed out, China has always followed a policy of territorial expansion when it is powerful. Under the Qing Dynasty, it ruled vast tracts of Russia, Mongolia, India, Vietnam and Korea. In addition, Chinese rulers have traditionally thought of their country as the center of the world, while all other countries are barbarian states that must eventually fall under its rule.

With this attitude still guiding the CCP, as well as a feeling of hurt pride stemming from more than 100 years of humiliation at the hands of Western powers and the Japanese, it is hard to believe that China does not harbor expansionist intentions in Asia.

Taiwan’s absorption by China would be a geostrategic defeat for the US. If this happened, US forces would eventually find it impossible to stay entrenched in East Asia. With Taiwan as a forward operating base for the PLA, Beijing could threaten the survival of Japan and South Korea, thus making it possible to gain control over two of the Asian Tigers — it already has Hong Kong — and the third-biggest economy in the world. It would also provide the impetus for China to gain real control over the entire South China Sea. If that came to pass, the US would be unable to avoid the situation that a Chinese general suggested last year — that the US retreat to Hawaii and leave Asia to China.

The time for the US to act is now, not tomorrow. If Washington blindly accepts China’s intentions as peaceful, without developing a trump card to keep Beijing in check, it faces disaster in Asia.