Not so long ago, many of US President Barack Obama’s detractors were heaping criticism on his administration for its alleged lack of engagement with Asia, which is rapidly emerging as both a source of wealth and a potential military flashpoint.
In books, articles and on talk shows, specialists like Simon Tay(戴尚志) and others warned of a vacuum as the US was brought to its knees by the global financial crisis and military adventures from which it has had difficulty extricating itself.
While analysts argued that the US had been displaced in the Asia-Pacific by its own weaknesses and the rise of China, they also warned against what they perceived as signs of isolationism in Washington under an administration that has been weighed down by intractable domestic matters.
It was that inattention — a continuation of former US president George W. Bush’s selective engagement of Asia, focused almost solely on the “war on terror” — that allowed China to expand its power in the region, to such an extent that the US genuinely fears its own influence there may be a thing of the past.
The unstable mix of nationalism and expansionism that has characterized China’s rise in the past few years, however, is now forcing many of its neighbors, which until recently had bought Beijing’s “peaceful” rise, to revisit the assumptions that underpin their national security policies. As a consequence, what is emerging is a rebirth of the “spokes” or bilateral agreements that marked US engagement in Asia for the past half century.
The most striking symbol of this development is the burgeoning military relationship between the US and a country that 35 years ago was its sworn enemy after years of traumatic war — Vietnam.
Washington and Hanoi are cozying up on a number of issues, from civilian nuclear fuel and technology to handling claims by China and other countries over the South China Sea.
As China’s power relative to its neighbors continues to increase, the many countries that have disputes with Beijing over islands, natural resources or territory, have had to devise a mechanism to address the China challenge.
One would be to gang up on Beijing, at regional forums such as ASEAN. The problem with this approach, is that Asia’s regional organizations have little experience addressing security issues, and its constituents are too disparate to converge into a single voice likely to make Beijing reconsider its position.
The other option is to turn to Washington as a security guarantor, a role it has performed, with much success since the end of World War II. The distraction of Bush’s “war on terror” and military adventurism gave every indication that the US was on its way out in Asia. Obama’s first year in office provided little to indicate a policy change was in the offing.
This situation might have held, as long as Beijing kept its part of the bargain and continued to behave as a responsible stakeholder. However, given recent signs that this may no longer be the case, Washington has little choice but to re-engage with the Asia-Pacific, as the region has become too important to the global economy to be left to its own devices.
Unfortunately, this development risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the US strategy exacerbates fears in Beijing that it is being encircled by US allies — the latest of which is Vietnam — in a bid to contain it.
A more multilateral approach to China’s rise might be a wiser course of action, lest containment compel the dragon to lash out and undo all the development that has made this region such a vibrant and promising one in recent years.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
There is no ambiguity when it comes to war. Ambiguity begs for certainty and a lack thereof has historically led to war. History is full of examples: Europe’s and the US’ ambiguity as to how they would respond to Hitler’s growing territorial expansion in Europe was certainly a contributing factor to World War II. In the same vein, US ambiguity toward Japan’s expansionist militarism in the 1930s clearly led to the Pearl Harbor attacks that started the war in Asia in 1941. Ambiguity in a world with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will inevitably