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US needs to wake up to fast changing Asia
Wu XinboChina Daily  Updated: 2005-12-02 05:54

A succession of events taking place in Asia seems to indicate that the United States' Asia policy is failing to keep up with the developments in the regional political arena.

US-DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) relations have become a factor that affects the stability in Asia, with the talks on DPRK's nuclear programme issue travelling along a bumpy road. Revolving around the nuclear issue, disputes between the United States and the Republic of Korea crop up frequently, estranging the two allies.

Sino-US relations are getting increasingly complex and different schools of thought inside the United States clash with each other over how to deal with a fast "rising China." The China policy, to a certain extent, has evolved into a bottleneck for the United States' Asia policy. The Taiwan question becomes ever pressing in the post-Cold-War period, but the United States has so far failed to come up with an effective way to address the situation.

In Southeast Asia and South Asia, the US anti-terror campaigns have achieved little, and instead served to distance the United States from the Muslim masses in the region. Thousands upon thousands of US troops are stuck in the quagmire of Iraq. There seems no light at the end of the tunnel on the issue of Iran's nuclear undertakings.

In the face of all this, US Asia experts have voiced their dissatisfaction over US Asia policy. They generally come to the conclusion that the US Asia policy lags behind the developments and that the definition of the US role in Asia is disorientated. The conclusion is drawn against the background of Asia's fast changing political, economic and security situations.

Strong bias has always blurred the US analysis of international politics, often leading to misjudgement and miscalculation.

Confrontation, for example, dominated Sino-US relations for 22 years after 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded. This is because US policy-makers understood the event as an outcome of the Soviet Union's exporting of revolution, thinking China would go along steadily with the "Big Brother" concept for decades to come. The United States paid dearly for the confrontation.

The US involvement in Viet Nam offers another example.

Ho Chih Minh's drive for national unification was misread as the expansion of communism in Southeast Asia. Large numbers of American troops were committed to "contain" the "expansion." Again, the United States paid dearly.

The United States, it seems to me, is now misreading China's fast development.

China's high-speed economic growth is bringing wealth and prosperity to one-fifth of the world's population.

But some American political elite think the rise of China poses a threat and challenge to the US supremacy. They are haunted by how to come up with the best way to deal with China's rise, and hence the hesitation between engagement and containment. This, in turn, helps explain the volatility of US-China relations.

Apart from its misjudgement of the outside world, the wrong definition of its role in Asia is also responsible for policy errors.

Desire for hegemony has dominated US Asia policy since World War II. Seeking supremacy is at the core of policy-making considerations.

During the Cold War period, Washington claimed "containment of communism," but they were actually in pursuit of US hegemony.

Driven by these hegemonic impulses, the United States got involved first in the Korean War and then the Viet Nam War, taking upon itself commitments that far outstripped its strength.

After the debacle of Viet Nam, the United States had to reshape its Asia policy, seeking strategic balance instead of supremacy.

The change of role helped free it from a predicament.

When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the United States faced the test again in terms of defining its role in Asia. The Clinton administration wanted to use US values, US models of development and security concepts, the so-called "soft power," to shape regional politics, economics and security.

It can be interpreted as applying new tools to play a leading role in Asia.

After President George W. Bush assumed power, the United States' role was defined as a unilateral leader, which was intended to guard against any rising powers.

The advent of the September 11 terrorist attacks changed the priorities of the US strategic agenda, but not the Bush administration's yearning for US supremacy.

All this helps bring about the situation that the United States' Asia policy is increasingly distanced from the fast changing reality in Asia.

The United States' constructive role in Asian affairs would be in the interest of Asian countries as well as in its own.

Correct US assessment of the reality in Asia is thus called for.

First, it should be understood that Asian countries' co-operation in political and security affairs among themselves is being strengthened. They are increasingly reluctant to be told what to do by outsiders.

This kind of co-operation will help alter the political and economic landscapes of Asia and will also have a great impact on US-Asian relations.

The economic co-operation among the 10+3 (10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, Japan and the Republic of Korea) framework and the planned East Asia Summit are but just two examples in Asian countries' intention of forming a single community.

Second, China's development will not follow the old path of the newly emerging power replacing the old one, and will, therefore, not bring about the situation in which a hysteric arms race is set in motion because the parties involved fear to be left in a weaker position. Using the old-fashioned containment mentality to handle China- and Asia-related affairs is bound to end in tears.

Third, Asian countries are becoming increasingly interdependent, whether in terms of economic co-operation or anti-terror campaigns. On the other hand, the United States is getting more and more dependent on other countries in many ways. This requires it to adapt to the fast changing situation in Asia.

Fourth, the United States is powerful but not omnipotent. It won a war in Iraq but did not win peace. The United States cannot settle all the questions in Asia, let alone if it tries to do it all in its own way.

The author is a senior researcher at the Centre for American Studies affiliated with Fudan University in Shanghai

(China Daily 12/02/2005 page4)

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