Sunday, October 30, 2011

Confrontation Between China, US, India Continues in East Asia

Since the conclusion of the Cold War, Asia has provided a platform for the "soft confrontation" between China, the United States, and India, especially between China and the United States. These three nations have extensive common interests and tremendous potential for cooperation in the aspects of politics, economy and trade, regional security, and global governance. If they could agree to disagree and handle their bilateral and trilateral relations from a strategic perspective, there is a possibility for them to form positive and interactive strategic relations to achieve a win-win and mutually benefiting situation. This will, in turn, play a critically important role in the stability and development in Asia.
The United States has made corresponding strategic arrangement and policy adjustment in three aspects to prevent itself from being excluded from the process of regional integration, particularly to stop any potential newly emerged country from becoming a strategic competitor of the United States and the dominant player in the process of regional integration. This is to protect the political, economic, and security interests of the United States in East Asia.
In the aspect of security, the United States strengthens and develops the existing "axis and auxiliary security structure" centered round the United States by stepping up and adjusting its relations with its allies like Japan and North Korea. Economically, the United States takes the initiative to encourage negotiation on bilateral trade. It earnestly participates in and attempts to spearhead the process of economic integration in East Asia by signing free trade agreements with East Asian countries. Ideologically, it advocates its democratic value diplomacy. It tries to establish an "alliance of value" that corresponds to the US value system by using ideology as the criterion, so that it could influence the value system of the integration of East Asian region.
The three aforementioned aspects constitute the US strategic framework in East Asia after the Cold War. The main objective of this strategy is to support its allies with its hegemonic power to further boost the US dominant power in East Asia.
The East Asian region includes Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. This article will focus on analyzing and elaborating the strategic maneuvers of China, the United States, and India in Southeast Asia and its influence.
Both US, India Aim at Countering Against China
China, the United States, and India have taken persistent efforts to strengthen their relations with Southeast Asian countries to garner more strategic interests. The United States has officially started to intervene into the affairs in South China Sea. Meanwhile, India is also working hard to strengthen its cooperation with Southeast Asian countries and making this region as a breakthrough point for it to emerge as a strong power in this region on a par with China and the United States. India intends to become a new power in between the United States and China, so that it could elevate its international status to realize its strategic goal of becoming a regional power.
The United States has refocused its attention on its ties with Southeast Asian countries. One can observe from this adjustment the US strategic agenda to counterbalance, contain and diminish China's rising influence in this region.
Meanwhile, India introduced its timely "eastward" policy, aiming at expanding its influence and activities to South China Sea and part of Pacific region. India sees Southeast Asia countries as its important partners and hopes to step out of South Asia with the help of Southeast Asian region as India has "extensive strategic interests" from the Gulf to South China Sea. India's concern over the safety of the environment and potential security issues covers the area "the west, south and east of India from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, middle Asia in its Northwest, China in its Northeast to Southeast Asia."
Southeast Asia is the focus of India's foreign policy, in terms of geographical strategy, economic, and political interests. India strives to strengthen its bilateral ties with Thailand, Burma [Myanmar], Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos through bilateral economic and trade cooperation with these countries to expand its influence to Southeast Asian region. Through the "eastward" policy, India expanded its influence and activity scope to South China Sea and part of Pacific region. Through the implementation of its "eastward" policy, India "improved its cooperation with Southeast Asian countries and even East Asian countries and bolstered its influence in Asia." By doing so, it has established an image of "big power" in Southeast Asia in time and at the same time; it counterbalances and diminishes China's influence in this region to a certain degree.
US Not Happy With India's Expansion of Maritime Influence
Yet, in its consideration of its global strategic interests, the United States would not allow India to become the world police in this waters and it will not allow India to be the dominant power in the Indian Ocean. Although the two countries have fostered increasingly closer cooperation in security, if India "goes overboard" to the extent that affects the US strategic interests in the Indian Ocean, the United States would definitely take action to contain India.
Nevertheless, in view of China's continuous emergence in politics and economy, the United States is thinking of developing closer bilateral ties with India and making India as its most important strategic ally in Asia to counterbalance China's rising influence in Southeast Asia. At the same time, following the expansion of China's political, economic and military powers in Southeast Asia, the United States is "back to Asia" to contain China. The strategic consideration behind the strengthening of economic cooperation between the United States and Southeast Asian countries is to counter China's expansion of influence in this region.
China should take more initiative to strengthen its ties with Southeast Asian countries and develop multilateral and bilateral ties with these countries to establish an image of a "big power" in this region. It should build up new security ties and bilateral cooperation in all aspects with Southeast Asian countries based on the principles of equality and mutual benefit. At the same time, China should handle its bilateral relations with the United States and India properly, including dealing with the border issue with India in an appropriate manner. It should seek common ground with other countries and put aside differences between each other to create a stable and peaceful environment for the modernization process in China. The policy of developing relations with Southeast Asian countries conforms to China's national strategic interests.
Southeast Asian Countries on Guard Against China
The relations between China and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have further improved thanks to the efforts in building up political trust, economic cooperation, and common security. Yet, because of their differences, ASEAN countries are still concerned and worried about China's economic growth and the boost in its military power, particularly when China's military actions in Southeast Asian region are deemed by certain countries as actions meant to expand its military power. The unfavorable influence of nontraditional security factors keeps arising and this has directly or indirectly undermined the efforts to develop more closer ties between China and ASEAN member states.
Although far Southeast Asian countries have not explicitly voiced out that China poses a threat to that region, the intensifying arms race in Southeast Asia, in fact, reflects Southeast Asian countries' strategic intention to stay on guard against China. Essentially, the cooperation in economic sector has not diminished Southeast Asian countries' "hostility" against China. Therefore, China should reinforce its mutual understanding and exchange with Southeast Asian countries to do away with this sentiment.
China's Strategies in Southeast Asia
As opposed to China's strategies in Southeast Asia, apparently the United States has failed to maintain consistent and coherent strategies in Southeast Asia. During the times of President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush, the United States did not pay adequate attention to the region of Southeast Asia. Despite its endeavor to advocate democracy in Southeast Asia, the United States has not implemented free trade consistently and persistently in that region.
China should make use of the good opportunity to develop China-US ties remain strategically strong. It should place more emphasis on East Asian region in devising its foreign policy and give more priority to the status and role of relevant East Asian countries and regional power in its diplomatic agenda. China should utilize various forms of media to publicize its policies to prepare the US mentally and attitudinally for the latter to accept a stronger China. As such, China, the United States, and India will be able to achieve a virtuous cycle in their interaction in Southeast Asia and this region could become a peaceful region that enjoys rapid economic development.

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