The United States has been implementing a rebalancing strategy in recent years. The Obama administration believes the country wrongly devoted itself to the war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wasted too many resources and too much energy of the United States, leading to a “strategic neglect” of Asia and China’s “invasion” of its sphere of influence in the region. Therefore, the Obama administration has been adjusting strategic focus and rebalancing its forces toward Asia. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent Asia tour is a reflection and continuation of the country’s rebalancing strategy. She was scheduled to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), among other events.
Stirring up tensions and conflict among Asian countries has been an important way for the Obama administration to implement its rebalancing strategy. Objectively speaking, there remain many unresolved territorial disputes in Asia, and certain neighboring countries are worried about and afraid of a rapidly rising China. U.S. policymakers have taken advantage of this situation to rebalance their national economic and security interests toward Asia.
In terms of security, the United States has taken advantage of the Cheonan incident and bombardment of Yeonpyeong as well as the trawler incident near the Diaoyu Islands and Japan’s earthquakes to strengthen its alliance with South Korea and Japan. Furthermore, it has portrayed China as “aggressive,” and incited the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian nations against China.
As for the rebalancing of its economic interests, the United States has adopted a strategic measure of using the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) for its own benefit. The TPP was initially just a trade and investment agreement among the four countries of New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, and Chile, but became highly influential after the United States joined in 2009.
According to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, the current goal of TPP members is to complete the next round of formal negotiations by the end of the year. Clinton recently said in Tokyo that the TPP is just one element of the United States’ increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, the TPP is a key element of the country’s rebalancing strategy.
Many small and medium–sized countries in Asia think the U.S. “strategic rebalancing” focuses too much on security and military affairs, and thus doubt the strategy’s sustainability. In fact, these countries are happy to see the checks and balances among major powers, but do not want to be forced to choose sides between China and the United States amid strained China-U.S. relations.
Strengthening mutual trust between China and the United States is easier said than done fundamentally because the two countries are worried about the rise of each other’s strategic position. Such worries are difficult to eliminate, while mutual doubts can grow quickly.
It should be noted that not every country in Asia welcomes the U.S. rebalancing practices. Cooperation and development probably have more supporters in the region than the rebalancing strategy. China and other Asian countries should have a deep and proper understanding of the regional and international situations, and avoid getting lost in the dazzling rhetorics and events.