America's Pacific Vector: I'll Come to Hug You

15:00 17.11.2011 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs



"THE FUTURE OF POLITICS will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in her article which appeared in the November 2011 issue ofForeign Policy under a powerful title "America's Pacific Century." The Editors were even more explicit when they put "Our Pacific Century" on the cover.

The American diplomat has gone much further than mere statements of the region's impressive economic growth which shifted the center of world economy to Asia. She has made it clear that America intends to dominate the APR. Diplomatically the formula "America's Pacific Century" is highly ambiguous; placed in the context of the coming presidential elections it looks like a gauntlet thrown down to that part of the American opposition that talks about "coming home" to address the economic crisis and financial instability.

Secretary Clinton is ready with an answer: We shall resist "the gravitational pull of these 'come home' debates" to regroup our forces and pivot our strategy on the region which promises prosperity.

China responded to ambiguity with scything rebuffs in Peoples Daily: "The Asia-Pacific Region belongs to all people of the region, and it is impossible that a top U.S. official who uses the term 'diplomacy' everywhere does not understand this. Even if there were really a 'Pacific Century,' it would be the 'Pacific Century' of all Asia-Pacific countries."

Beijing refused to accept Washington's critical statements about "unfair discrimination against U.S. and other foreign companies or against their innovative technologies" and puts its own arguments on the table.

"The United States has played up the RMB exchange rate and trade deficit issues" and "has restricted high-tech exports to China in many ways" says Beijing and asks: "Does China need only soybeans and corn from the United States?" While admitting that the U.S. is a global leader, China deems it necessary to remind that the late U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan had once said that the world would never accept a "single leadership center."

The response is highly important: Secretary Clinton has geared her article at Beijing which is rapidly widening its involvement in regional and global governance. Previously, the United States did not specify its strategic goals in the APR, at least at the official level.

In the past, the most perspicacious could see through; today no perspicacity is needed; the U.S. Secretary of State said in so many words: "Our challenge now is to build a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific that is as durable and as consistent with American interests and values as the web we have built across the Atlantic."

Transferred to the Pacific soil the U.S. Atlantic experience will strengthen the already existing military-political blocs and probably create new ones. This revives the old fears of a mini-NATO (the core of which will consist of the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia) in which India will be expected to outbalance China.

Secretary Clinton has made no secret of the plans of a wider American military presence in the region and stronger military might of its allies. This means that mini-NATO strengthened with the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand might develop into a fully-fledged Asian NATO.

The expert community was tempted to revive the memories of the Cold War against the Soviet Union to compare it with what America plans in relation to China. In the past the Soviet Union had been entangled in a web of military bases in the most sensitive parts of the world. The global security system added to Washington's political consequence and supplied it with an instrument to be used to put pressure on its European allies.

The Asian academic community wonders: determined but unable to shoulder the burden of leadership the United States might try to extortmuch greater remuneration for its security services or even fan conflicts deliberately.

On the whole, the historical parallels with the Cold War era are not absolutely correct. Indeed, at no time American economy depended on the Soviet Union and the Soviet market to the extent it depends on China; at no time the Soviet Union was a steadily growing trade and economic power which sold its products far and wide and cluttered the American market. At no time Moscow had dollar reserves comparable to those now available to Beijing.

Washington's strategy is inevitably contradictory: the U.S. seeks stronger military-political alliances in the sub-region and has formulated a "corporate solution" to its problems; America has gone far enough to speak about the "partnerships of the 21st century" in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Peoples Daily offered its own comment: "It [the U.S. - Ed.} should play a more constructive role in promoting the regional economic development and cooperation in multiple fields, instead of expanding its military presence to show off its irreplaceability because this has proven to be a dead end."

China and its Asian neighbors have already set up cooperation structures of their own; in many of them the leading role belongs to China. This means that rivaling political and economic alliances sitting side by side in the same region might create tension with unpredictable repercussions.

Europe and Russia have found themselves outside the U.S. Pacific concept; it seems that as soon as the ABM system has been put in place the American military band will play the finale of the Farewell, Europe! march. The EU and U.S. are rivals on the Asian markets.

Some people might wonder why Secretary Clinton never mentioned Russia in her detailed exposition of the U.S. APR policies even though in 2012 Russia would chair the next APEC summit in Vladivostok.

Washington obviously shares the conviction of some of the leading analytical centers: "Russia's resurgence in the international sphere has generated tremendous uncertainty. Russian actions reflect both Moscow's determination to reassert itself as an important strategic actor and increased national confidence. However, Russia's uneven set of international tools limits its ability to exert influence... to pursue its regional goals."

No matter what, Russia cannot remain a passive onlooker while the global political and economic center shifts from the West to the East. If

the logic of military blocs and military build-up pushes America in the ATP toward containing China, Beijing's responses will be easily predictable.

On the other hand, China's increasing military might and polarization of the alliances in the region means that Russia will need a much stronger Pacific Fleet and a higher level of defense capability on the territory stretching from the Pacific to the Urals.

Russia should be ready with an asymmetric response in the economic sphere which belongs not so much to the external as to the domestic sphere. Today, there are no alternatives to the economic development of Siberia and the Far East which can be described as Russia's most relevant stratagem and which might attract new allies.

The space between Lisbon and Vladivostok can, in principle, serve a bridge between the EU and the APR markets; Russia, India and China, three of the BRICS members, are Pacific powers. So far it remains a vaguely outlined scalene triangle; regional dynamics, however, revived activeness of the old players while the rapidly changing picture of the world might bring the countries closer together.

America's second advent to the region will not bring peace and stability; its presence might even increase uncertainty in the multi-layered and, therefore, far from stable regional structure of Asia.

Very much like in the Cold War era the alliances will be glued together by fear of a strong patron and a potential enemy; today, however, American economy is far from stable.

Michael Green, Japan Chair and Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think-tank, said: "One issue that will certainly be on everyone's mind is the budget woes facing the U.S. military. If the debt committee at Congress failed to meet its Nov. 23 deadline to find 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars in government-wide savings over 10 years, the Pentagon's budget will automatically shrink more than 20 percent."

Who knows, maybe a line from a popular song "I'll come to hug you" will not be that optimistic when applied to the Asia-Pacific Region; the Xinhua Agency was probably right when it said that the "coming home" calls made sense.


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