16.01.2014 Author: Konstantin Penzev

ASEAN and the Struggle for Global Leadership

Global Leadership Poll-3China has not raised any claims in the debate about global leadership yet, and it did not want to deprive America of its exclusivity. On the contrary, Beijing has strongly demonstrated its peacefulness and aversion to any form of hegemony during all these years. At first, Washington affectionately treated Chinese declarations and even offered Beijing to reign over the world together, i.e., the G2. Beijing found the proposal interesting in theory, but in practice, it chose to develop economic relations with developing countries around the world, i.e., in Africa, Latin America and, primarily, in Southeast Asia.

This entire story reminds of an epic oriental battle of an eagle with a wise monkey, back in the days when a bear and the eagle were quarreling for the right to help poor nations in the development of their natural resources, and the wise monkey was sitting on a hill and watching these outrages. Then the bear decided that he was mistaken on the main points, and went to meditate on the top of the hill, and the monkey came down. It did not go at the eagle with a cry “Die, you bourgeois imperialist”, but did not scrap the red flag either. The monkey proposed the eagle to be friends. The latter made a rough calculation of all the pros and cons of this deal on a computer, and decided that it could beat the primate if anything cropped up, and agreed.

Yes, a very promising process of integration is under way in Asia now – ASEAN plus China and others. For example, all the trade between the countries of ASEAN-6 has become duty-free since 2010, and other countries of the league are to be involved in this scheme by 2015. All this is being done based on the model of the EU. In addition, the Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Partnership of ASEAN – China entered into force in 2010. Thus, a free trade zone was formed that is the world’s largest zone in terms of population of its member countries and the third largest zone in terms of the aggregate GDP. South Korea and Japan are also being involved into this process. In 2012, leaders of Southeast Asian countries officially announced the beginning of negotiations aimed at the preparation of the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership at a summit in Phnom Penh. It is assumed that in the future, this association will include Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, India, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. As it is expected, the signing of this agreement will result in the creation of one of the largest trade agreements in the world.

There is quite a reasonable question that arises – which country of the above will be the most influential one in the union being established? Washington seems to know the answer to this question, and it is as follows – any country, but not the United States. Obama’s administration suspects that it will be China. What is all the piquancy about this situation? Is it that the world’s largest economic union is being established, but the guys in the White House and the FRS who used to keep their fingers in all the pans, are now being “left out”. What a change!

Obama’s administration understands this, yes, and it certainly understands that it must do something, and not just read books on philosophy or engage in some silly domestic problems while a great game is being conducted in the casino. Any inveterate politician knows that if he has failed to lead a process, he should create an alternative project (even a fake one). Further, he should hold secret negotiations with hesitating members of the rival union, make promises, whisper, provoke, play off and use other techniques in the arsenal of a gentleman, being clever in all respects. In this case, loud assurances of one’s own prosperity and exclusivity also are employed, and the media and Hollywood are mobilized to cry down the obstinate. Indeed, purely Hollywood mores are in fact prevailing in Washington.

What is Obama doing in response to the “challenge” of China? (In reality, no one is challenging anyone; one should just come and trade). First, Obama has declared establishing an alternative trading project called the “Trans-Pacific Partnership”. The latter was established by the Washington administration specifically for trade in the Asia Pacific Region (in reality, all of this may be a sheer bluff). What is this “project” needed for, when a similar one exists, and what is the difference? The difference of the project proposed by Obama from the native Asian project is that the largest trading community will be headed not by a Beijing, but by Washington, which is wise in all respects, together with all its aircraft carriers the maintenance of which is getting expensive now.

In short, it is time for the eagle to give a smart thrashing to all wise monkeys and drive them to the top of the hill, where the strong bear is meditating, so that they may meditate together on “who is the boss”.

Second, Obama has declared the “Transatlantic Partnership” project, i.e., the coalition of the U.S. and the EU. It is hard to say definitely, as to what the difference of this new partnership from the old one is, but it seems that Washington is going to bridle its European partners and to put things right in Europe, to bring discipline, and to provide coverage for a part of the U.S. defense expenses. Obama has been spying upon his friends in Berlin and so on, not for nothing.

There are two ways of establishing economic conglomerates of such a scale, i.e., to take into account the interests of all such Bruneis, and not to take them into account. The comrades in Asia and Moscow are going the first way. How will Washington behave? A lot of time and effort are required to take into account the interests of all parties, but the structure being established will be solid. The good old big stick can help save time, but this method can prove to be too much for America now. Obama has proposed the concept of the “smart power”. I.e., Washington is still going to beat up, precisely, selectively, quietly, but painfully. It is for the sake of the selectivity and quietness that the White House is spending money on global surveillance worldwide. In addition, this was actually proven by the so-called “Snowden Case”.

Now you, the citizens, chatting on your cell phones in a carefree fashion, must know that Uncle Sam hears all. He does not care about you, but if one of you suddenly falls into the scope of his attention, the kind uncle will decompress a file, and the whole world will know everything about you, including videos. He is not interested in the low ranks, of course, but promising politicians, administrators and business owners should consider this fact.

And what about Moscow? What are its interests in the coming battle of the gods and other mythological creatures?

Judging by the very fact of the existence of the Snowden Case, the Kremlin has some interests in the new Great Game. First, Vladimir Putin is continuing the rearmament of the Russian Military. He is avoiding extreme methods, trying not to drop the living standards in the Russian Federation. Second, the Russian president declared the Far East to be the project of the century for Russia.

Third, the Kremlin wants to trade with both Europe and China. And why not? Since the U.S. is exerting pressure on its energy suppliers, China is diversifying its energy supplies with the help of Russia. Washington, as usual, wants somebody to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for it, i.e., it cherishes the idea of a deadly fight between the bear and the monkey, and that is why it encourages anti-Chinese propaganda in the Russian media. This it is the entire “big” policy – in brief.

Konstantin Penzev, author and historian, observer for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.