Not long ago, the United States’ Asia Foundation released a report, titled “Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia: The Future of the Rebalance,” the purpose of which was to convince Trump to continue the “rebalance to Asia-Pacific” strategy. The study points out that many Asian countries think America’s “balancing” is targeting China. If that’s the case, how can they not find out what China, their rival, thinks? The author thinks that America’s “rebalance” strategy is “a bad move on the chess board” that harms others and does not benefit America itself, because America is not Asia’s balancer.
First, America is by no means an expert at “balancing.” Despite its claim of being the advocate of justice, it usually ends up being the meddler. In the early 1980s, to “balance” Iran after the Islamic Revolution, America began to cozy up to Iraq and support the country. But after the Iran-Iraq war, America turned to “balance” Iraq and ultimately waged the Gulf War and the Iraq War. Similarly, as it happened, to “balance” the Soviet Union after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in the 1980s America actively supported Osama bin Laden in developing the Islamic “Holy War.” However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, America and Bin Laden turned on each other and became enemies. After 9/11, America launched the war in Afghanistan.
Clearly, America’s “balance” strategy has been swinging, never for peace or justice but purely for its own interests. Otherwise, America would have volunteered to go to Rwanda to “balance” Hutus’ willful massacre of millions of the ethnic minority Tutsi. Unfortunately, they didn’t go, because they “wouldn’t get up early when there is no benefit,” as the Chinese saying goes. In his farewell speech, Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, expressed the criticism that the wars in his country could not end exactly because America did not want peace in the region.
Second, America has already lost its own balance. To continue its “balance” strategy would be unwise. The 2008 global financial crisis exposed the fact that the American economy had lost its balance and the 2016 presidential election revealed that American politics had also lost its balance. Additionally, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the frequent occurrence of terrorist attacks are a significant sign that American society has lost its balance. America itself is like a “Buddha statue made of clay” and will struggle to survive the turbulent river in its passing. Continuing to play world police may be beyond its capabilities. Trump, new in office, seems to understand this. No wonder he asks Japan and South Korea to foot their own bills for American troops stationed there.
On the surface, Trump, who pledged “America First,” seems to have dropped the phrase “Asia-Pacific rebalance,” but we should never delude ourselves into thinking that America will leave Asia alone, because its interests in Asia are deep-rooted. There has been comment that the Trump version of “Asia-Pacific rebalance” might even be more aggressive than Obama’s. But we needn’t worry unduly; as we Chinese say, “We will send generals for your soldiers and sandbags for your floods.”
Last but not least, America’s intention to “balance” China is not justified and will backfire. Why “balance” China? The reason is no more than two-fold. On the one hand, some of China’s neighboring countries think that China, once strong, will bully them. On the other hand, America does not want China’s rise to threaten its position as the world leader. But, since time immemorial, the Chinese people, by nature, have never indulged in warfare down to the last soldier. We do not identify with the belief that a powerful nation must dominate, nor do we believe that the Thucydides Trap is inevitable. The diplomatic actions China took in recent years were essentially defensive counter-measures, which were provoked. Therefore, the seemingly valid reason for the need to “balance” China does not stand, and it is in fact the result of America’s persecutory delusions, hegemonism and Cold War mentality.
Looking back, U.S.-led NATO actively worked with Ukraine with the intention of “balancing” Russia, but in the end it only gave Russia an opportunity to annex and occupy Crimea. Therefore, if in the future America continues to try all sorts of attempts in Asia at “balancing” China, regardless of reality, then it may well turn out to be a historic moment for China to achieve its goal of unifying our motherland’s territory and rejuvenating our great Chinese nation.
Past experience and lessons from history have taught us that, to resolve regional conflicts or disagreement, violent intervention by external forces will most likely backfire, especially an external “balance” measure that serves only the purposes and interests of the “balancer.” Only self-balance from within Asia itself is the solution that is sustainable.
The author is a Chinese national and an independent commentator and writer, living in Singapore.