ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Home >> Daily News >> ASEAN ANALYSIS ASEAN ANALYSIS
Obama returned to Washington on Sunday after taking steps to strengthen U.S. influence in a region increasingly under China’s massive shadow of economic and military might.
Obama portrayed his journey to Australia and Indonesia as a job-creation drive but also announced a military agreement to deploy more Marines and U.S. aircraft to Australia. At a meeting in Hawaii with representatives of several Pacific nations, he proposed an expansion of a trade pact that excludes China.
“It is believed that the aim of such a move by Washington is to contain a fast-growing China and to maintain its ebbing dominance in the region,” wrote Tao Wenzhao, a China-U.S. relations expert at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, in the China Daily, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party.
The official response from Beijing to Obama’s trip has been muted, though China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency issued a comment during the trip that portrayed the two nations as being at odds with each other.
“America feels China poses a growing threat to its hegemony,” said the Xinhua commentary. “Therefore, the aim of America’s strategic move east is in fact to pin down and contain China and counterbalance China’s development.”
In Australia, Obama said the U.S. would station 2,500 Marines in Darwin by 2016. Next month, Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Burma, also known as Myanmar and long a Chinese ally, in the first visit by a U.S. secretary of State for more than 50 years, Obama announced during the trip.
The United States offered support to Asian nations, such as the Philippines, that are raising their disputes with China over the South China Sea at the East Asia Summit, an annual meeting of Asian nations that China has always attended. Obama was the first U.S. president to attend this summit, on Saturday in Bali, Indonesia, and he held an unscheduled meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told reporters that Obama raised economic issues and said Obama and Wen briefly discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Xinhua quoted Wen as saying: “I don’t want to discuss this issue at the summit.”
China claims territory for its own in the South China Sea that is also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, and it demands the dispute be resolved between the Asia nations and not involve the United States. But many nations traverse the sea for shipping and military purposes and have an interest in keeping it free for navigation.
“By showing favor to related nations in tackling disputes with China, they are attempting to gain leverage to suppress China,” American studies professor Ni Feng, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences think tank, told the Chinese government-run Global Times.
Some analysts say China has acted too high-handedly in diplomatic matters with its neighbors who are responding by seeking stronger ties with the United States. A Gallup Poll released Friday showed 44% approve of U.S. leadership in nine countries that are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the East Asia Summit group, vs. 30% approval for China.
“China’s leaders are very much underprepared for this drastic development,” said Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at People’s University in Beijing.
Promising never to “seek hegemony,” Wen told an ASEAN summit on Friday that “China will forever be a good neighbor, good friend and good partner of ASEAN.” He backed up his words with a pledge of $10 billion in credits for infrastructure projects in the region, and highlighted their shared dynamism compared with the debt-ridden developed world.
Given that Obama is running for re-election in 2012, the Chinese government is wondering “is it due to Obama’s domestic political climate, or a substantial revision of Obama’s foreign policy towards China?” Shi Yinhong says.
Although China’s leaders may hope “it is just a campaign performance, Beijing must accept they will now face a more determined USA in the Asia Pacific,” he says.
Letters that do not contain full contact information cannot be published.
Letters become the property of AseanAffairs and may be republished in any format.
They typically run 150 words or less and may be edited
submit your comment in the box below