After decades of accepting US supremacy in Asia as the foundation of its foreign and security policies, finding the right distance between the U.S. and China is the most important strategic choice facing Japan today. “Getting it just right” with these two powers will require both military and economic readjustments. But it will not be easy. Some in Japan fret about a Washington-Beijing “G-2” condominium. Others doubt U.S. capabilities and commitments going forward. There are also those who insist that unless Japan accommodates to Chinese power, it will lose influence in the region and globally. Still others are concerned that rivalry with China is unavoidable. Because the debate is often so clamorous, and because the Sino-Japanese relationship is so frequently punctuated by tension, the possibility that improved relations with China might be compatible with sustained close relations with the United States is often lost in the noise.
Read the full Policy Brief here.Continue Reading →
In advance of the G8 and G20 meetings held at Camp David, Maryland, and in Los Cabos, Mexico, in May and June 2012, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted two workshops to examine the pressures placed on international institutions as a result of changing international power dynamics. Approximately forty thought leaders from the private sector, government, civic sector, and academia, including RPI Co-PI Deepa Ollapally, came together in New York and Chicago as part of an ongoing Chicago Council research project on Rising Powers and a New Emerging Order. This working paper by Ambassador Richard S. Williamson, Chicago Council senior fellow on multilateral institutions, and Jana Chapman Gates, project director, summarizes the findings of the two workshops. These workshops were made possible by the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Learn more and download the working paper.Continue Reading →
By Shawn McHale, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, George Washington University
The South China Sea is one of the great connecting oceans of the world, acting as a major conduit of Asian and global trade. It has also been a worrisome site of conflict. In recent years, disputes over territorial claims have led to armed clashes involving China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It has also led to demonstrations. Arguments have spilled into cyberspace: on YouTube, Google Earth, online newspaper articles, and chat rooms, nationalist tempers have flared over their country’s claims to these tiny islands, atolls, and reefs.
Most of the territorial claims over the South China Sea are surprisingly weak, and none is incontestable. Here we must distinguish between arguments over the Paracels, the far-flung cluster of islands, reefs, and atolls closest to China, and those over the Spratlys, a similarly widely spread set of islands further to the south. Only China and Vietnam contest the Paracels, whereas six countries have claims to the Spratlys. Finally, the contemporary bitter arguments over sovereignty in this area repeatedly invoke historical evidence. It is the latter issue that will be the focus of this Policy Commentary.
Bluntly stated, we cannot impose contemporary notions of sovereignty on historical practices before the twentieth century. Despite much misinformation and inflamed rhetoric to the contrary, historical evidence overwhelmingly supports the view that states did not, traditionally, claim exclusive territorial rights over the vast majority of the South China Sea. To the contrary: the area has historically been an Asian maritime commons. What, then, does the historical evidence suggest? And how has argument over this evidence shaped Asian identity politics today?Continue Reading →
Can India sustain Iran policy?
17 February 2012
As the situation in the West Asia careens towards war between Israel, US and Iran, India finds itself in perilous policy waters again. New Delhi’s refusal to take cognizance of the fast changing situation in the region, its return to an increasingly ideological foreign policy template coupled with a tendency for strategic procrastination is leading it into a no-win strategic situation.
Iran’s nuclear advances are reaching a stage where something has to give. A prominent essay published recently in the New York Times by the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman suggested that Israeli leaders are coming close to a decision on attacking the Iranian nuclear programme. Indeed Bergman concluded after his interviews with Israeli decision-makers that Israel would strike Iran this year. Of course, as Bergman himself admitted in a subsequent interview, some of this might be strategic posturing by the Israeli leadership to put pressure on the US, but it is also true that Israel is increasingly feeling the pressure to act. Once Iran crosses the nuclear ‘capability’ threshold, it does not matter whether it actually builds nuclear weapons. And the favourite parlour games in capitals from Washington to New Delhi about whether Iran has the international legal right to walk up to the edge of the cliff is going to matter little because Israel’s worry is an existential one, and much more important to Israel than abstract points of law.
In our previous blog post, we examined Asian reactions to the economic aspects of America’s “pivot” back to Asia strategy. Today’s post looks at what China, India, and Japan are saying about the geopolitical implications of US plans to strengthen its presence in Asia.
Official commentary specifically on this topic was expressed by the Foreign Ministry spokesperson during a regular press briefing: “In handling Asia-Pacific affairs, one should comply with the basic trend of peace, development and cooperation upheld by regional countries, and respect the diversity and complexity of the region.”
Similarly, the press has stressed China’s commitment to peaceful development and coexistence with neighbors. Commentaries characterize US intentions as reflecting a “Cold War mentality” aiming to encircle China, then explain why such plans are likely to fail:
- In general, the entire region is suspicious of US motives. An article in the People’s Daily says Asian countries are “unlikely to approve of the US attempt to impose its values on them or the so-called ‘leadership’ it aspires to exercise in Asia.”
- Specific countries such as Australia cannot be counted on either, because Australia [is] currently swaying between China and the US,” says a Global Times editorial. Li Hongmei, editor of the People’s Daily Online, also cites a former Australian defense official who said the plan “was a very risky move” for his country.
- Economically, strategic encirclement of China is not truly possible because of Chinese economic clout. “Any country which chooses to be a pawn in the US chess game will lose the opportunity to benefit from China’s economy. This will surely make US protection less attractive.“
- China may also retaliate economically at neighboring countries, such as the Philippines, for cooperating militarily with the US. The Philippines is “walking a very fine line,” warned a Global Timeseditorial that recommended economic “punishment” such as postponing the implementation of investment agreements and decreasing imports from the Philippines. In the meantime, “China should enhance cooperation with countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, allowing them to benefit more from the Philippine vacuum.”
For reactions by Chinese netizens, the Dutch nonprofit foundation Global Voices has a report here.
Across the board, commentary in India is welcoming of America’s plan to strengthen its presence in Asia, and sees this renewed attention on the region as a chance for India to assert its strategic role. (more…)Continue Reading →
By Brad Glosserman, Executive Director, Pacific Forum CSIS
Americans tend to be skeptical about or troubled by the notion of regional integration in Asia.
There is some basis for concern, but the advantages of integration are likely to exceed the cost to the United States. An integrated Asia, the process of which has been shaped by the United States and like-minded partners, should strengthen the international system that Washington has labored to build over the last half century, reinvigorating and strengthening the norms and principles that have provided its foundation.
Defining “Asian integration” can be problematic for functional and geographic reasons. For my purposes, the term refers to East Asia, which I equate institutionally with ASEAN Plus Three. That narrowly conceived geographical scope allows me to demand more when it comes to functions. Meaningful integration means more than the loose confederation that defines ASEAN (its ambitions to create “communities” notwithstanding) but it doesn’t require the detailed legal framework of the European Union. At a minimum, it includes a regionwide free trade area, a political superstructure to express its collective will (no matter how sharp its teeth to demand conformity with its pronouncements) and recognition by the rest of the world that it is a meaningful political unit. Even that scaled-back objective may be too much. For many, Asian nations are too diverse, too committed to their (relatively) new sovereignty, and the benefits of integration are too diffuse to justify the costs. But if those formidable obstacles can be surmounted – and integration is proceeding, fitfully for sure, but there is progress nonetheless — most US observers worry that integration would come at their expense.
The Case Against Asia
There are three main objections to Asian integration. The first is that a regional economic unit would divert trade from the United States. Fred Bergsten (in “China and Economic Integration in East Asia: Implications for the United States”) estimates that “the United States could immediately lose as much as $25 billion of annual exports as a result of the initial static effects of the tariff discrimination that would result from truly free trade in East Asia (on the “10+3” model). These numbers could increase over time as dynamic economic effects, especially with respect to new investment patterns, are triggered.”Continue Reading →