The rise of China and the growth of its economic and military power has not yet challenged US supremacy in maritime East and Southeast Asia as US strategic partnerships with regional allies are getting stronger and China still lacks the capability to build a powerful navy, a US scholar specializing in China-US affairs said at a conference in Taipei yesterday.
Robert Ross, executive board member and research associate of the Harvard-based John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies, made the comments yesterday at a forum entitled "The Rise of China and the Future of the Asia-Pacific Region," which was organized by the Asia Foundation in Taiwan and sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the forum, Ross said that although in recent years countries in East Asia have become more reliant on the Chinese, rather than the US market for economic growth, China's economic power has not caused these states to realign with China, rather they are enhancing their military cooperation with the US.
Ross pointed out countries such as Japan, which has recently allowed the US to station nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in one of its ports. Also Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia which have long been conducting annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises with the US in the region.
Apart from these countries, Ross highlighted South Korea and Taiwan as countries that are currently perceived as moving closer to China, the case for the latter due to the Taiwanese legislature's resistance to passing the arms procurement budget to purchase advanced US weapons, and the penetration of Chinese soft power into cross-strait economic and social contacts.
Nevertheless, despite the military superiority China possesses over Taiwan, Ross said nowhere is Chinese caution in using military power more evident than in the Taiwan Strait, and it has been exceedingly tolerant of Taiwan's movement toward sovereignty -- all because it wants to avoid a conflict with the US.
"For China to pose a threat to US security it must move beyond coastal sea-denial capability and develop a blue-water, power-projecting navy. However China faces considerable long-term constraints in pursuing such an objective," Ross said He added that no country would sell China a capable carrier and the necessary aircraft and support ships to achieve that end and China has yet to develop the personnel that can maintain the equipment.
The Chinese leadership is also aware of the "punishing" costs involved if it were to seek to develop its own aircraft carrier, he said.
In contrast to the views of Ross, Indonesian scholar Shafiah Muhibat said it will be in the best interests of Southeast Asian states to be an "honest broker," by hedging between China and other big regional powers such as Japan and the US.
"Southeast Asian states prefer not to perceive China as a threat that has to be fought against. Rather, their efforts have centered upon embracing China and bringing China into the heart of regional security cooperation ... however ASEAN's relations with Japan and the US are equally important and are part of a strategy of balancing the increasing power of China in the region," Muhibat said.
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