Pivot to Asia: US Strategy to Contain China or to Rebalance Asia?
recent changes in the global politics and economy have spurred the world powers to do the utmost in furthering their national goals in-order to seek multiple financial gains. The economic hunger and greed have become the defining characteristics of today’s powerful states as the inclination of international community towards Asia-Pacific is one such example. It has been acknowledged that the one dominating the Asia-Pacific would also be in the position to become a decisive global might. Being Mediterranean Ocean as a concern of the past, Atlantic as merely a topic of the present, the focus of the entire international community has shifted towards the whole new facet i.e. the Asia Pacific (Stuart 2012, 204).
Hafsa Khalid is an Islamabad based researcher and holds an M. Phil degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defense University (NDU). Her main areas of interest include Indo-Pak peace process, rehabilitation and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Sino-US relationship.
The phenomenal development and growing might of China have not only disturbed America but also its partner states since a powerful China could only challenge the US global status. Over the last two decades, Washington has remained stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq, thus paving way for China to advance its political influence within the Asia-Pacific. “Pivot to Asia”, or more specifically “US rebalancing”, demonstrates the realization of American strategic thinking towards the threat which Beijing poses to Washington not only diplomatically but also economically.
Significance of Asia-Pacific
The significance of Asia Pacific lies in the geopolitical interests of the key powers of the global politics. The Key players which define the politics of the Pacific include US, Japan, China and several smaller regional actors. The years following the financial predicament of 2009 have witnessed some crucial political and strategic changes since the region has become the centre of attraction driving the global politics.
The region finds its importance in the economic and political concerns of the major global powers since it is not only strategically vital but also possesses a symbolic meaning. The one dominating it would determine the political and the financial future of the world as the South China Sea (SCS) contains an enormous bulk of natural reserves. Its importance could be deduced from the fact that as high as two-thirds of the global assets are being deployed within the area thereby, validating the assumption that by 2050 the centre of gravity would unfalteringly shift to the Asia Pacific (Buszynski 2012, 141). Keeping in view the rapidly growing economic demands, the presence of energy and other natural reserves in that area have become the flashpoint. The tussle over the gas, oil, fish and the other reserves have provoked the powers, especially US and China, to adopt a belligerent military posture and to stand eye-to-eye before each other.
The SCS, being bordered by China, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia, elongates to approximately 3,500,000 sq/km and enjoys a bulk of oil and gas reserves somewhere underneath the ocean (Smith 2010, 216). Furthermore, it is also significant to international shipping since about one-third (almost 41,000 ships) of the global shipping passes through it each year (Smith 2010, 216). It is also known for its “Large Marine Ecosystem” having distinctive features of biography, ecology and oceanography (Khemakorn 2006, 38). Being a semi-enclosed sea, it possesses a large number of Islands having strategic, legal, political and financial worth for the regional and international powers. It holds the world’s most desirable sea lanes, while as high as 80% of the total oil imported by the States of Taiwan, Japan and South-Korea travels via this region (Khemakorn 2006, 38).
The international business and trade routes are also equally important for the establishment of military bases as for the political gains. The US presence in the Asia-Pacific proves the point as almost half of the US Naval forces are deployed along the region while, the development of Chinese military capabilities within the area demonstrates the aggressive posture of the key players (McDevitt 2013, 176). The detection of the hydrocarbon and the presence of marine resources, on the other hand, have intensified the competition towards seizing the natural resources to such an extent that a small tension could even prompt a war in the region. The sea also enjoys the idiosyncratic feature of bio-diversity having more than 1,000 fish, 200 shrimp and 50 cephalopod species thereby, contributing its major share in terms of food and revenue (McDevitt 2013, 176). Moreover, much of the exports and economies of the adjacent States are dependent on the fishery goods. These incentives, thus, spur the key stakeholders to lock their horns with each other.
The Core Interests of the Major Actors in Asia-Pacific
Asia-Pacific enjoys a special position not only as being an emblem of national prestige, ego and identity but also because of its strategic and geographic worth. The key actors involve US, China and Japan.
The geopolitical and geostrategic significance of the Asia-Pacific places the United States as the most enthusiastic, keen and yet most powerful competitor in the region. The regional markets have attracted the US by providing exceptional opportunities for trade, business, investment and above all the possibility to get access to the latest and advanced technology. Keeping in view the recent global recession and American economic slump, the US economic recovery heavily relies on exports and its approach to the Asian consumer markets (Clinton’s statement in 2013). The region is strategically, economically and politically vital for the US since the SCS region is in its central interests not only to counteract China but also North Korea.
The US stakes in the region are not new but dates back to almost two centuries ago starting off with its independence and continues since then (Clinton’s statement in 2013). The ultimate defeat of Japan in World War-II introduced America as the only decisive global power, thereby authorizing it to further its policies and interests throughout the world and especially in Asia-Pacific. With the passage of time, its interests grew deeper and stronger while engaging all possible diplomatic and coercive means to continue its aggressive economic agenda. Washington reckons that the region holds superseding importance while the progressive future of US largely depends on boosting its trade, diplomatic or armed intervention and its presence is vital to guarantee a serene Asia.
On strategic grounds, one of the core intentions of the US, particularly after 9/11, is to ensure absolute security for its citizens from extremism. For this very purpose, its defence forces are positioned all-across the region to deal with the menace and to curb the terrorists threatening the very existence of the land. Most importantly, it is also eager to “balance the power” against the possible rising regional hegemon, China, which is both financially and diplomatically capable of defying the only global hegemon. Such a possible scenario has forced US to strengthen its alliances with Korea, Australia, Japan, Thailand and Philippines to tackle the very concern (Przystup 2009, 2). Washington seems to be very active since the furthering of US interests within the region largely depends on Obama’s engaged leadership and administration.
On political grounds, US have always been a staunch proponent of democracy. Its democratic commitment has forced the government to get engaged into the domestic issues of smaller regional states like Philippines. United States is also interested to uphold the status-quo through its continuous diplomatic and armed presence and also through adopting diverse multilateral approaches to advance its agenda of curbing China and also the prevention of WMD proliferation of North-Korea since Washington perceives itself and its allies being threatened by its nuclear capability.
China: Claims and Interests
China, being a maritime, air and land power, is keen to acquire certain islands within the South-China Sea. Keeping in view China’s mounting dependency on fuel, oil and other natural commodities, it has eyes not only on the SCS region but also has established brotherly ties with the states of Central Asia, Middle East and Africa which are rich in mineral and oil resources. Economic boost and internal stability are two core ambitions of China that have led the country to alter the political scenario not only within Asia but beyond.
China claims its right on almost the entire SCS region where its claims rests on the historical nine-dash line (Przystup 2009, 2). The claimed areas include “Spartly Islands”, “Gulf of Tronkin”, “Hainan Islands” and “Pracel Islands” (Valencia 2013). The rapidly growing food and oil demands have placed China as one of the key stakeholders of Asia-Pacific, thereby making the rest anxious and concerned. Moreover, being the claimant of broad sovereignty over the region, it has drawn a maritime boundary that extends from Taiwan to Philippines, from Malaysia to Brunei while passing along the Shore of Vietnam (Jensen 2011, 17). Being an emerging power, it has already established its bases possessing a wide array of advanced equipments both in Pracel and Spartly areas (Jensen 2011, 17).
The international observers view China’s historical claims over sovereignty as highly rigid, invalid and rather self-indulgent, while China incessantly insists on simply following the path that was pursued by the West since US has its shares in certain islands of North-Pacific and France controlling few areas in South-Pacific (Malik 2013). On historical grounds, China reckons that the Hans, Mongols, Manchus and Tibetans were Chinese and the areas conquered or ruled by them, thus, belong to the very land. The historical manipulation has been cashed by the Chinese authorities very efficiently and has provoked patriotic and nationalistic sentiments throughout the country, thereby complicating the issue and making it an emblem of national prestige and ego. Not only the communist party projects itself a descendant of the majestic legacy of China but also the state-owned media and textbooks promote such a reality. History holds a very unique and significant position within the country which could be witnessed through education, media, myths, folklore and research institutions and has been exploited to strengthen China’s territorial and maritime assertiveness.
Ever since World War-II has ended, China has actively engaged itself in reshaping and restructuring its borders, refining its territorial integrity by using coercion and historical manipulation, renaming certain islands and imposing its viewpoint on the rest of the stakeholders (Malik 2013). The decade of 1990’s saw several unpleasant clashes amongst China, Vietnam and Philippines while continuous Chinese maritime inspection has led to escalation of tensions and differences. Furthermore, China has been criticized for violating and disrespecting 1982s law of sea which the country ratified in 1996.
China is keen to pursue at least three core objectives in South-East Asia and SCS region (Attanasova 2011, 222). First is the regional integration which is central to its strategy of “peaceful rise”. The second incorporates the resource competition and control which is not vital to China but also to other claimants. The growing population and demands of the Chinese have fiercely contributed in China’s efforts towards guaranteeing resource security. The third includes China’s ensured grip and augmented security within the entire region which has made the US sceptic over its military intentions (Dutton 2011, 43).
Japan, an Asian power, is highly sceptic and concerned about China’s galloping power and, therefore, is keen to contribute in US rebalancing strategy. The history of Sino-Japanese ties is not encouraging since Tokyo has remained a dominant US ally against communism during Cold-War. The disintegration of USSR put US-Japan coalition into a more strong partnership and their friendship has longed for over 60 years (Przystup 2009, 6). Tokyo is interested to play a foremost role in US rebalancing against China and enjoys a significant position in the eyes of America thinkers.
Emerging China and US Apprehensions
The turning of US to Asia is based on the hypothesis that its eventual competitor would emerge from the East (Liao 2013, 96). Ever since then, the policy makers have drawn-out few possible competitors which could become a threat to the US. Amongst the potential regional powers China, Russia, India and Japan took the lead. The policy and defence analysts, then, objectively analyzed their intentions, military and economic goals and deterrence capability against US. Amongst certain defence analysts of early 1980s, Marshall was the first one to predict China’s military and economic boost in the upcoming thirty years (Liao 2013, 96). The most probable scenario, according to him, was that rising China and revived Russia would become key challengers to US hegemony.
The dramatic emergence of China has not only confronted American imperative interests but also is capable to defy the US global preponderance. Considering this picture, India, being China’s immediate neighbour, has been the most rational choice for the US to incorporate it into a worthy alliance. The China’s 3D (defence, deterrence and development) stratagem has contributed a bunch in its expansion, development and transformation over the past three decades (Wong & Tong, 2012, 144). Its average GDP growth since 1979 has been measured up to 9.82%. Being the second largest economic might and third largest commodity exporter, it enjoys a significant position both within and beyond its regional premises. Its global exchange deposits mark the highest in the planet. The phenomenal military and economic boost has made a number of world economies dependent on Chinese products and services, thus challenging US economic superiority.
The military edge of China over other Asian states allows it to have a diplomatic dominance and coercive capability against its perceived peer competitors. Washington is concerned not only over the China’s galloping power but also fears its area denial potential, thereby allowing it to utilize coercion against its neighbouring states and gradually shifting the US dominance from the region. The only choice left for US, therefore, is to deter and dissuade China from expanding its might globally, amongst which “Pivot or rebalancing” is one such strategy.
China’s rising might spawns intersecting interests, contradictory ideologies and dissenting worldviews. Beijing, not only, is advancing its naval capability but also structuring its military on modern grounds which make the other entrants anxious and agitated.
The US strategy of rebalancing remains a hot topic thus, involving the most crucial theories of International Relations (IR) including “Power Transition Theory” and “Balance of Power Theory”
Power Transition Theory: The hegemonic theory of power transition focuses on a rising power that poses challenges to the dominant power. The idea is that the emerging challenger, being disgruntled with the status-quo, starts approaching the potential of the dominant state thereby threatening to transgress it in terms of power (Levy and Thompson 2010, 100-101). It means that the leading power is facing a decline in its capacity while the rising state takes full advantage of the situation. Moreover, the emerging state is motivated to topple the prevailing system established by the leading state when it was enjoying its global dominance. Such a situation triggers instability and war becomes inevitable for the challenger to hasten the course of power transition. Such a scenario can be witnessed amongst America and China where America is the dominant state facing tremendous challenges and China as the emerging one.
Balance of Power: The theory highlights the significance of power-sharing in an anarchic system where an effort is put forward to avoid any possible hegemon (Levy and Thompson 2010, 100-101). The hegemonic designs of the aggressor are challenged by those states that believe in “balance of power” in-order to secure peace and stability. Such a situation can be seen amongst China, US and its allies where China is perceived as possessing hegemonic designs while US and its partner states struggling to balance the power within Asia-Pacific.
Pivot to Asia or US Rebalancing
“The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the centre of the action”.
While Afghanistan and Iraq were Bush’s focal targets, Asia-Pacific remains a central objective of Barack Obama’s regime and administration. Though the region has been a tacit target for so long, but was acknowledged in November, 2011 during Obama’s visit to Australia (Miere 2013, 90). He announced the region as US top priority thereby, associating a strategic, deliberate, diplomatic and premeditated stance to it thus, demonstrating that the US would remain there as an influential player for a much longer time. Since then, the high profile authorities and government officials have openly been voicing their President’s political ambitions, thus showing the level of significance that Washington attaches to it.
The strategy was initially named as “pivot to Asia” but later was renamed to “rebalancing” since the word “pivot” shows impermanence and rather implies that there has been a sudden shift in American strategic thinking while before that the region was not too important for the country (Miere 2013, 33). The enduring interests of United States have engaged it with the region for over two centuries. The non-governmental players including media, traders, and academics e.t.c. have boosted the regions significance for the country and have been deeply engaged in obstructing powerful positive and rather productive US-Asian liaison. Since US possesses a notable majority of immigrants, millions of settlers from Asia-Pacific can be found within the country, thereby getting benefitted from American capitalist society while remaining attached to their mother homelands. The regimes of both former presidents G.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were largely focused on the crisis situation of Kosovo, Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia and later Afghanistan. President Clinton, however, took a few steps towards normalizing the US ties with the other Asian actors including Vietnam, but he was more interested in deterring and also engaging China (Miere 2013, 33).
At least four core reasons have been provided regarding US turn to Asia-Pacific (Miere 2013, 33); the first acknowledges the most palpable transition period where the country has to line-up its future strategic and diplomatic priorities while considering the US departure from Iraq and Afghanistan. Secondly, the recent budgetary cuts call for the urgency to lay before the table the country’s apex concerns in-order to eschew those policies which could transgress the budget. The third motive encounters the ascending economic and military significance of Asia-Pacific since the region has been marked as a defining feature of the century ahead, thereby deciding the fate of human kind. The fourth impetus, which is perhaps the mother of all, underlies the China’s rising might and its “perceived threat” to US. Curtailing or countering China is the fundamental objective that has prompt America to adopt such a policy. The US worries about China’s phenomenal growth both militarily and economical, its anti-denial and anti-access (A2/AD) potential and its growing ties with regional peers. It has been keenly involved in strengthening its strategic alliances including Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia thus, enclosing China from all angles. The allies are being supported and defended by US forces whenever they anticipate any danger from China. For example, in 1996, President Clinton sent two battle groups aircrafts to Taiwan when it was provoked against a serious Chinese threat. International observers have argued that the Washington’s aggressive posture and continuous presence in the region demonstrates the approaching new era of assertiveness and “containment” against China (Liao 2013, 53).
Serious concerns have been raised throughout China in opposition to the rebalancing strategy of US. To many defence and political analysts, the strategy is aimed against Beijing to contain its “peaceful rise” and to trigger insecurity within the region (Ratner 2013, 25). Washington is interested to strengthen its influence and to maintain its global dominance; therefore, it refers the “pivot or rebalancing” approach as a general strategy targeting the entire globe and not specifically China (Niu 2012, 6).
It has been acknowledged that the rebalancing strategy is actually rebalancing the burden of security in Asia since the policy holds a burden-sharing feature aimed at securitizing the region against any possible aggression (Niu 2012, 6). Having been facing a budgetary cut and being stuck in other global crisis, Washington is persuading its alliances to do the utmost to protect their lands while assuring them support in case of any assault from the Chinese side.
In fact, rebalancing is a deliberate shift from wars of Africa and Middle East to maritime disputes in East-Asia. US have decided to keep itself focused while deploying an enormous amount of its assets and resources in SCS and Asia-Pacific. A lot of American combat ships, destroyers, submarines and cruisers can be found while having military bases in almost all allied states. Washington is keen to have its influence in Hawaii and Guam and also to conduct a training program of over 2000 marines in Australia, its trustworthy ally (Miere 2013, 33). It would not only permit the US to enjoy “freedom-of-navigation” but would also enable it to counter Chinese (A2/AD) capabilities within the region (Miere 2013, 33). However, the budgetary cuts have imposed restrictions on engaging more troops and weaponry.
Amongst the other ambitions of Obama’s regime lies extensive investment in Asia to line-up the country’s resources with long-term financial interests. The attraction is the Asian markets which could produce jobs in the US and could help recover the slumped economy. The key is the regional stability where Washington’s continuous role is required to tackle any aggression. A lot of time is being spent by the US government, armed and naval officials in Asia that demonstrates how much focused they are on the very region. The engagement of Washington with ASEAN countries and its eagerness to participate in ASEAN summits each year signal its enthusiasm of being a decisive player of the region (Saunders & Fung 2013). It is interested both in assuring its military presence and cooperation not only amongst its allies but also with China since the later’s assistance is much needed to uphold the status-quo. Moreover, the ASEAN countries require “balance of power” within the region while their alliance with US is a major step towards rebalancing against China’s might.
Towards Rebalancing: Elements and Objectives
The rebalance remains a multi-faceted, extensive and rather much celebrated policy initiative. Politically speaking, three elements of US rebalancing strategy have been figured out that includes defence, financial and diplomatic aspects (Sutters & Others 2013, 3).
- Security Aspect: The recent adjustments in the US defensive posture reveal the importance of the element of security for the only global hegemon. Washington is aggressively shifting its extensive military potentials from other targets to one platform that encompasses the entire Asia-Pacific region thus, reshuffling its defensive arrangements to ensure a much broader presence of the US armed forces to counter any possible belligerence. This incorporates the highly sophisticated military dispersion in Philippines and Australia and also to other regional allies, thereby guaranteeing an enhanced coercive amalgamation within the region.
- Financial Aspect: The rebalancing strategy also involves an intention to enhance trade and economic schemes amongst the US and its partners in-order to foster a trustworthy environment. For this purpose, an idea of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade accord, has been put forward that currently contains US and eleven other players but excludes China (Sutters & Others 2013, 3). Moreover, the financial aid to Asia-Pacific allies has also been doubled.
- Diplomatic Aspect: The pivot has witnessed heightened diplomatic and military engagement of US high-profile officials in Asia-Pacific. The agenda involves reinforcing the strategic partnerships, engaging multilateral organizations, controlling US-China hostility and promoting trust-building cooperation amongst the two global giants (Sutters & Others 2013, 3).
Keeping into account the US stakes in the region, a number of objectives compliant with American strategic concerns have been drawn out (Przystup 2009, 2). The central intention, as discussed earlier, is balancing and countering China while the other objectives revolve around it.
- Constructing a Sense of Justification: Since Washington is currently preoccupied in War-on-Terror, it requires a good reason to pull out its resources from the other regions to Asia-Pacific. The recent phenomenal boom of China has provided US that justification where it feels itself bound to balance and to defend the land from any aggression.
- Strengthening Alliances: Another objective places the strengthening and reinforcing the strategic alliances as the foremost goal of the US. The idea is to reassure the Asian partners its presence whenever they feel threatened especially by China.
- Peaceful Resolution of Regional Disputes: The non-violent resolution of Asian disputes is in the American core interests. The US is very much concerned regarding the solution of China-Taiwan tension and Korean Peninsula. It is keen to imply diplomatic efforts to ensure regional security (Przystup 2009, 2). Another objective involves the denuclearization and non-proliferation of North-Korea in-order to guarantee peace and protection.
- Incorporating Rising Powers: Another objective involves the integration of emerging China into contemporary global order. Keeping into consideration China’s economic and military boost, it is vital for the US to make Beijing act as a mature and responsible regional stakeholder.
- Multilateral Commitment and Tackling Non-Traditional Dangers: The strategic alliances are the building-blocks for collaboration against security threats faced by the region whether it be extremism, dangers from climate change, infectious diseases, nuclear proliferation or natural calamities (Sutter & Others 2013, 3). Such an alliance provides a basis for trust-building and cooperation to tackle Chinese rise.
US Rebalancing: “Hub-and-Spoke” Vs “Spoke-to-Spoke” Strategy
Washington perceives itself as a decisive and dominant Pacific might where the major part of its foreign policy revolves around shielding and protecting Eurasia from any possible aggressor (Campbell 2012, 6). The Obama’s “pivot to Asia” is merely a reflection of American obsession with the region. Moreover, the resultant upshot of World War-II paved way for an undeviating armed presence of US within and around the Asia-Pacific. The US grand strategy involves two options i.e. over tactics and over posture (Kelly 2010, 707). These strategic options enable the US to either espouse a forward military posture by having its global premeditated bases or to engage selectively with discerning partner states in pursuit of its national interests (Kelly 2010, 707).
The desertion of Soviet Union had placed China as the only adverse competitor for Washington, a military giant against which America evaluates itself both economically and militarily. In fact, Beijing is powerful enough to give a considerably tough time to the only super power over the upcoming couple of decades since its defence budget and GDP is likely to surpass those of America (Dobbins 2012, 10). Moreover, assessments confirm that as compared to Nazi Germany or Soviet Union, China is a more challenging and highly capable antagonist having the potential to compete US economic boost (Dobbins 2012, 10). Though Beijing believes in “peaceful rise” but the threat of a serious clash amongst the two strategic giants remains high as Washington is much concerned over China’s growing strengths. The upcoming 30 years are especially prone to such a situation where American interests are expected to confront the Chinese interests. US, therefore, crave to curb China before such a scenario occurs. For the very purpose, US is eager to conduct Air-Sea battle possessing the potential to hit deep inside the Chinese terrain in-order to perturb China’s A2/AD aptitude (Miere 2013, 33). It is not only politically acrid but also militarily precarious.
“Hub-and-Spoke” Strategy: Containing Soviet Union and Defeating Communism
The cessation of World War-II had witnessed some crucial changes within the political environment especially the materialization of “hub-and-Spoke strategy”, a US grand design to assemble alliances throughout the globe to guard its immediate interests against any challenger (Baker & Glosserman 2013, 6). The only perceptible contender at that time was Soviet Union, former USSR. The “hub-and-spoke design” acquiesced America to create close bilateral diplomatic and military links with core allies to offer effective deterrence against Soviet rise in Asia. The strategy involved a chain of joint defence agreements devised at the peak of Cold War with allied states. Three of such treaties were signed in 1951, where the first one involved Philippines while the second incorporated a trilateral agreement amongst US, New Zealand and Australia (Baker & Glosserman 2013, 6). The third entailed a bilateral agreement between US and Japan that enabled America to have its military bases for defensive measures within Japanese territory (Baker & Glosserman 2013, 6). Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan also followed the suit. These defence treaties provided security assurance by America against Soviet’s threat.
The “hub-and-spoke” strategy, also known as San-Francisco system, had defined the US presence in Asia-Pacific since 1950’s. The salient characteristics of this system included
- Intense network of mutual alliances
- Nonexistence of multilateral defence structures
- A strong lop-sidedness in alliance relation both in economy and security
- Special preference to Japan
- Easy access to US markets
Similar to “pivot to Asia”, the alliances were framed to balance the perceived risk against the then US competitor, USSR. The formulation of SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Organization) back in 1954 was an evident demonstration of the said strategy where eight states signed the agreement for mutual defence against communist states of USSR and China. The member states incorporated Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, France, United States and United Kingdom (Berman & Baher 1982, 40). The core focus during the entire Cold War rested on shared defence against global communism, particularly against Soviet Union since the political upshot of World War-II reinforced the competition between East versus West (Morris 1987, 19). The obvious differences in the strategic thinking and contradictory interests brought the US and Soviet Union at the verge of war. Being a capitalist society, America felt itself threatened by communist expansion and the growing capability of USSR. However, as compared to today’s mighty China, Soviet Union despite of its broad presence in Asia was militarily lesser a Pacific power than the US (Morris 1987, 19). The USSR-China rivalry, on the other hand, provided further political advantage to Washington and its strategic allies to overpower the Soviet Union in Cold War. Consequently, the “hub-and-spoke” strategy, by having America as the leading hub while the rest of the allied state as the Spokes, remained the key aspect of security design within Asia-Pacific (Panigrahi 2009, 141).
“Spoke-to-Spoke” Strategy: Containing China or Rebalancing Asia
Similar to what the world has witnessed during the Cold War, American strategic thinking has yet again turned towards another Asian competitor, China. However, the Washington’s containment policy has altered to some extent since the approach is being transposed into a more disbursed alliance system marked as “Spoke-to-Spoke” strategy (Miere 2013, 36). Keeping in view its financial condition, America is encouraging its partners to share its burden of safeguarding Asia. Increased global military trade, armed exercises and training with different stakeholders could be seen within the region to build the ability to challenge Chinese might (Baker & Glosserman 2013, 6). US is not only facilitating its regional allies to develop their own defensive system but also provoking them to cooperate with each other in an effort towards opposing China.
The term “Spoke-to-Spoke” refers to the new strategy that focuses on “Spokes” and not the “Hub”; America, being the facilitator and inciter, leads its alliances to cooperate with itself and amongst each other in-order to share the load of balancing China’s rise. Being highly anxious over China’s power, Tokyo is playing the dominant role in furthering this containment policy and has established closer ties with various states (Baker & Glosserman 2013, 6). Moreover, Japan is enthusiastically involved in developing strategic links especially with Philippines and Vietnam, two extreme regional opponents of China. Similarly, Vietnam is also building good strategic ties with Washington to offset Chinese might. Australia, in 2012, has conducted military exercises with Japan thus, collaborating in maritime affairs. South-Korea, on the other hand, is strongly committed to join hands with US to contribute a leading role in securitizing the region.
Though American leaders often reject it, but US military has maintained an aggressive posture devised with an intention to bring China’s maritime commerce at jeopardy. Its armed forces are placed in such a way that could intimidate Beijing’s supply lines in SCS region thus threatening Chinese economy (Logan 2013, 9). Keeping into account China’s reliance on sea-lines, Washington is keen to exploit this dependency by provoking its alliances while Beijing’s historical territorial tensions with its neighbouring states has put China on a relative disadvantage. America has its strategic bases in almost every partner state. As more as 100,000 US military personnel are deployed in both South-Korea and Japan while 2500 submarines are present in Australia. Likewise India, China’s genuine Asian competitor, has also partnered with Washington in-order to challenge Chinese rise. US is interested in containing China from all dimensions through alliance structure. Having the most powerful Navy, America enjoys good working ties with regional opponents of China thus maintaining defence pacts with five Asia-Pacific powers. However, the alliances are not only formulated to contain China but also are helpful in curbing global terrorism. The significant aspects of the containment strategy include; a symmetrical network aimed at rebalancing the defence burden in Asia-Pacific, introduction of multilateral defence structures like ASEAN e.t.c, broadening the scope of defence relations between Washington and allied partners and Preference to each regional ally (Logan 2013, 9).
Analyzing the Old and New Containment Policy
While analyzing the two containment policies i.e. “Hub-and-Spoke” and “Spoke-to-Spoke” strategies, one can conclude that both the strategies have been put forward to curb rising global communism. However, the political conditions of Soviet Union and China have entirely been different since the relational ties amongst the former USSR and its immediate neighbours were not good while China, on the other hand, is working to improve its military and diplomatic ties with its sworn rivals. In contrast, Soviet Union believed in revisionism while China believes in “peaceful rise”. Before and during the Cold-War, the ties between USSR and China were pessimistic while today both powers have not only bettered their relationship but also have enhanced their military and economic collaboration by establishing Shangai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The political burden of US is wider that incorporates curbing extremism, maintaining status quo, fostering democracy, countering communism, averting genocide, ensuring human rights, promoting capitalism and directing peace-keeping operations. However, the military and diplomatic focus of Beijing is limited to its immediate areas thus giving China an advantage. As compared to Cold War, American economy, today, is facing budgetary cuts and financial predicament while China’s economy is growing quiet rapidly. Though, the alliance structure developed by Washington has worked successfully in defeating Soviet’s expansion but, today, China has started improving its diplomatic ties with its neighbours. Therefore, containing China is not that easy for US, however, the only option left for Washington is to collaborate with Beijing in-order to acquire its objectives not only within Asia-Pacific but beyond.
US Rebalancing and its Repercussions on Pakistan
Pakistan, a nuclear capable and an Indian antagonist, enjoys a special significance in South Asia and is liable to get affected either deliberately or unintentionally in case of any turmoil in South-East Asia. Being a US strategic ally and China’s neighbouring friend, Islamabad is sandwiched between the two global giants and rather is confused regarding its role in US rebalancing. Though, it desires to stay away from the entire game but the unfolding circumstances are likely to grab Pakistan into its hold. The recent giving-away of Gwadar Port to China has raised the concerns of Washington and its friends regarding Pakistan’s contribution in the current political game. The Port is likely to work as free marine stations for China since it would be given full access to set-up its naval bases within that area.
Pakistan has played the prominent role in the disintegration of USSR, while it seems to be at a disadvantage since it is facing an awkward situation where it has to balance between its neighbouring friend, China, and its strategic ally, America, as it cannot leave either of them. If it chooses to support China, it is likely to lose US aid both financially and politically while, on the other way round, it cannot afford to lose its only time-tested friend. Moreover India, being a regional competitor and Pakistan’s historical antagonist, is projecting a coalition amongst China, Sri Lanka, Iran, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan against US and India. Beijing’s approach to Gwadar has, unknowingly, dragged Islamabad into the mainstream since Chinese presence in this area would not only threaten Indian security but would also permit its forces to function from the very port in case of any Sino-American war within Asia-Pacific. India, therefore, is likely to strengthen its relations with America to offset both China and Pakistan.
Keeping in consideration the current political scenario within Asia-Pacific, it is high time to resolve the tensions in SCS region since the focus of the core powers remains in the very region and even a small skirmish could usher the world towards a global war. The peaceful future of China and America lies in the clarification of mutual misunderstandings, however, the analysts have observed their future relationship in two entirely different perspectives (Baker & Glosserman 2013, 2). One is extremely pessimistic, focusing on realism where there would be a serious power struggle and a zero-sum battle amongst China and US. The second view incorporates optimism, focusing on Liberal stance where its advocates believe that cooperation amongst the two giants would ultimately become inevitable. Since the two would, diplomatically and economically, rely on each other, therefore, conflicts would be deescalated and wars could be eschewed. Hence, only time will tell what lies ahead but one thing remains evident that Asia-Pacific would decide the fate of the world.
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