THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION is a very strategic area in this 21st century as the world’s balance of economic and political power shifts.
Many nations in the region are taking the lead as the world seeks economic recovery after 2008’s financial crisis. Most notable is China. Its unprecedented economic growth has spurred its military growth and its influence in the region.
Because no other nation in the region or elsewhere has given China much of a challenge over the last two decades, its economic and military growth have been spectacular.
Only the US could have challenged China’s growth and influence in the region but, for the last two decades, the US was so preoccupied with the former USSR and then the crisis in the Middle East that it seemed to forget China and, apart from Afghanistan, the region.
So China grew to become a world power without opposition. Many now come to agree that China has attained superpower status peacefully.
However, after much consideration, the US recently declared its foreign policy of ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific. Soon after, the US started to implement this new policy by diverting about 60% of its navy to the Pacific.
One action was to open a US marine base in Australia in 2011; another has been Obama’s re-energised quest to forge new and reinforce old relationships with nations in the region. This included Obama’s visit to Myanmar late last year.
Despite the genuine efforts of the US to compete for influence in the region with China, I do not perceive US strategy as being effective.
How I see it is that the US is using the same techniques it used during the cold war with the USSR. That is, the US is responding militarily to compete with China by setting up bases in the region, when in fact China’s real source influence is its vibrant economy.
Further, it appears that the US pivoted to the Asia-Pacific a decade late. It would have been better if the US pivoted to the region in the year 2000 when Bush was in power.
China appears to have learnt its lessons well from the USA-USSR cold war. The US is responding to China’s ever-growing influence militarily just like it did during cold war but China is not so much concerned about that.
Instead it is adamant to continue to advance economically and overtake the US as the world’s number one economy within the next two decades.
Countries do not need war but they do need economic prosperity. They want to lead their population out of poverty. That is an inherent desire of all nations.
So they are willing to establish relationships with any country that can promise them the universal goal – prosperity.
Since China is giving a lot of aid and making a lot of investments in the region, including papua New Guinea and the smaller Pacific Island nations, its presence is more tangible than that of the US.
The US should include in its Asia-Pacific pivot policy not only military but economic aspects. It would be better if the US promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership and such similar agendas.
Unless the US’s Asia-Pacific pivot policy is expanded to include economic aspects, more countries will be drawn towards China’s sphere of influence.