The US ambitious “pivot” to Asia is not working the way it would have wanted it to. Not only is is facing strong competition and resistance from potential ‘enemy’ states, but its own so-called ‘allies’ have also started to become a source of trouble rather than comfort. In his latest visit to Asia, President Obama failed to secure the US’ vital objectives which were otherwise of crucial significance for strengthening his ties with its erstwhile ‘allies’ in South and East Asia, especially in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and geo-political upheavals in Europe (Ukraine crisis) and the Middle East. Timing of the tour, in the wake of these crucial geo-political circumstances, was therefore of critical significance. And the tour, if it had been ‘successful’, would have helped the US in tightening geo-strategic circle around China and Russia. The US’ “Asia Pivot”, which is supposed to run parallel to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, stumbled across a number of serious setbacks when President Obama failed to secure certain vital deals with its ‘key’ allies in South-East Asia.
Apart from issuing statements of solidarity, the visit did not bring forth any meaningful advance for the US. President Obama had hoped to use his visit to sign a trade agreement with Japan which would otherwise have been a critical step towards the strengthening of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the agreement really had no chance because of a stiff resistance from within Japan, and the local government’s failure to convince its public of the ‘utility’ of such an agreement.
This fact is a sound enough indication of the fact that people are gradually becoming aware of the way the US exploits inter-state disputes to further its own hegemonic agenda. This fact became clear when President Obama had to mention, in his attempts to elicit a positive response from Japan on finalizing the trade agreement, Japan’s confrontation with China over a clump of Islands in East China. This is not the first time the US has deliberately tried to intensify inter-state tensions in the region. For example, during Hagel’s last trip to Japan and China, he drew a direct, but yet unnatural, parallel between Crimea’s legal annexation with Russia’s case in Crimea and China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours in the East and the South China Sea. His attempts were aimed at paving the way for President’s visit to Japan by provoking an artificial environment of hostility between China and Japan.
However, the net result of this tour of President Obama, and that of earlier tours, has been an alliance clearly on a weaker footing than it was earlier and very much vulnerable to geo-political frailties. Announcing the failure to finalize and sign the agreement, Akira Amari, a Japanese state minister in charge of the trade talks for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, said in Tokyo that “several issues” between the US and Japan were still unresolved.“We made significant progress, but our positions are still far apart,” Amari told reporters.
It would be a mistake to interpret these “several issues” as merely economical. The disagreement has a lot to do with Japan’s resurgence in the Pacific, and attempts to reduce dependence on the US. It must be taken into account that Abe’s government in Japan has increased the Japanese military budget for the first time in a decade, established a US-style national security council, re-oriented military strategy to the country’s southern island chain opposite the Chinese mainland, and begun to revive the Japan’s military power, which has a real problem for the US; for, it will not only reduce Japan’s dependence over the US, but also cause a serious cut in the US’ military presence in the region. It is for this reason that the US, previewing Japan’s reluctance to host a huge number of the US forces in future, has been attempting to secure new deals with weaker states, such as the Philippines, to increase its military presence there
Thus the original purpose of this agreement is to keep Japan dependent upon the US for both economic and military agendas. As a former US national security adviser, Tom Donilon, wrote in Washington Post, the Trans-Pacific agreement is actually meant to solidify the US leadership in Asia and to put the US “at the center of a project” that would “govern the global economy for the next century.” But, contrary to the US ambitions, Abe’s government is trying to exploit the opportunity to remilitarize and mount its own diplomatic offensive in South East Asia.
The US failure to achieve its objectives in Asia becomes more even more obvious when we look at the fast expanding military power of China, which did not push the regional allied states. In other words, China’s growing power, both economic and military, is itself fast becoming a factor pushing the US to its limits in Asia. Although the US naval supremacy is, generally speaking, still intact in the Pacific, China’s aggressive military expansion over the past two decades — its defense budget grew more than 12 percent this year alone — calls into question the long-term balance of powers in the Pacific. In last year alone, China commissioned 17 new warships, more than any other state in the whole world. It also aims to have four aircraft carriers by 2020 and has already developed a considerable fleet of nuclear submarines. In the next few decades, China’s ability to project naval power will extend deep into the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Do the East Asian states still consider China as an ‘enemy’ state, while the relations between them continue to stay far from what one could call “friendly”? If this is not true, then why the US’ ‘democratic’ allies facing more and more obstacles in signing local military and economic agreements? The underline cause must be the growing trade relations between some of local states and China. For example, an annual trade between India and China reached a record $ 74 billion in 2011, when China became India’s largest trading partner. Similarly, by 2015, bilateral trading between China and the ASEAN, will doubled, growing from $231 billion to $500 billion, that would make China the ASEAN’s biggest trading partner. And, as far as trade relations between China and Japan are concerned, they have been directly trading their currencies, the Yen and the Yuan, on the inter-bank foreign exchange markets in Tokyo and Shanghai in a bid to strengthen bilateral trade and investment between the world’s second- and third-largest economies. Both countries are skipping the dollar in transactions, intend to reduce their dependence on the US dollar and on the US monetary authorities’ influence on the Asian economy. In other words, Japan, an ‘ally’ of the US has directly been aiding China’s goal of undercutting the US influence in the region.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.