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Sohu, China

US Forms Cliques,
East Asia Has Difficulty
Finding Peace

By Dingli Shen

Translated By Stefanie Zhou

22 January 2013

Edited by Molly Rusk

China - Sohu - Original Article (Chinese)

Obama has won re-election for the U.S. presidency. In his future four years in the White House, foreign affairs will constitute an important aspect of his leadership.

The United States is facing many thorny diplomatic problems. How to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan to allow U.S. forces a smooth withdrawal this year? How to stabilize the situation in the Middle East, especially in Egypt and Israel, and strive for a smooth transition in Syria? How to control the Iranian and North Korean nuclear problems, or freeze them at the very least? How to handle relations with the emerging powers, including promoting the stalled U.S.-Russian relations and balancing the complex relationship with China?

The majority of the external affairs that the United States will have to deal with do not affect its control over the world. However, its relation with China is quite special. China’s rapid development over the past 10 years, as well as its expected development in the next 10 to 20 years, has caused the U.S. National Intelligence Council to judge that, by 2030, the United States will no longer be the only superpower. If development is steady, the size of China's economy will have exceeded that of the United States by that time. Although a large gap still stills exists between China's per capita level of development and that of the United States, it will have entered the world medium level by then. With its huge population and land resources, by 2030 China's comprehensive competitiveness will have improved significantly compared to the present.

The U.S. government has long been aware that non-traditional security threats are no longer the main threats that the United States faces. The United States' focus in dealing with international relations has to return to traditional relationships between countries, and many of the main actors changing international social power are in the Western Pacific region at the present.

The target for the “return to Asia” proposed by the United States in recent years is clear. However, it may be beyond the reach of the U.S. to realize any sort of rebalancing. Many issues are swarming in the dark, and they may surge at any time and cause significant turbulence. Regional instability in the Middle East last year, for example, has already delayed the global redistribution of the United States' security resources; and its long-term financial imbalance has severely hindered the rebalancing of the Asia-Pacific region.

Even so, the United States is still doing its best to emphasize that its strategy of rebalancing the Asia-Pacific region is necessary. Although the official side denied that this strategy was aimed at China, its actions unmistakably demonstrated its target. The U.S. added provisions, applicable to Japan, to the U.S.-Japan security treaty in order to maintain control over the Diaoyu Islands; and the so-called “ideal” stance has been repeated by the U.S. administration many times. Regarding the South China Sea, similar high-profile initiatives by the United States will probably fail to achieve the wished-for balance, and are likely to provoke disputes in this region, making tranquility more difficult to reach.

It's no wonder that Kan Li, a senior research fellow at Brookings Institution, reminded the White House in his recently published Memorandum to President Obama that rebalancing cannot go too far, or China will only see it as intentional encouragement that the United States gives to countries such as Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines to suppress China. It will eventually cause China to react, making the region more turbulent, which should not be the goal sought by the United States. The truth is that if the United States wants stability, it needs to share the goal with China so that both sides have room for cooperation. If the United States is contacting other countries to encircle China because it is relatively weak by itself, the plan will inevitably backfire and lead to a real imbalance that even the United States does not want to see.

Currently, the United States' disregard for facts and bias toward the Japanese side regarding the Diaoyu Islands have caused the continued imbalance of Sino-Japan relations and Japan-Sino-U.S. relations. The United States’ effort at rebalancing — forming cliques — lacks self-confidence. It not only makes it difficult for East Asia to have tranquility, but may ultimately backfire, causing damage. With the gradual formation of Obama's new cabinet, people hope that the wise men in the United States can soberly reflect upon themselves. The change in Asia-Pacific is unstoppable. The U.S. will share the prosperity with the Western Pacific region only if it goes with the tide, respecting the emerging powers' legitimate and reasonable demands, and helping the region settle major controversies fairly and properly.

The author is a professor and the director of American Studies Center at Fudan University



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