Dec 9, 2011

Nepal Perspective: China's 'isolate partners' policy

By Deepak Gajurel, Political scientist, TU, Nepal

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, last week, announced that the United States, Australia and India are forging a strategic alliance in the Asia Pacific region.

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is heading towards devising new strategic alliances for different regions of the world, the United States is accelerating its presence in the Asia Pacific and South AsiaWith already several military bases stationed across the Pacific littoral states, including Japan and South Korea, the United States is gesturing expansion of its hard power in Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean littorals.

US President Barak Obama early this month, while addressing the Australian parliament, declared the placement of US marine base in Australian soil. This is followed by the Rudd's announcement of US-India-Australia alliance, though India has not yet formally spoken on this matter. At the same time, Washington seems seeking a NATO-type alliancewith the ten-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

As the NATO adopted its first Strategic Concept for the 21st century in 2010, and in the process all but formalized the bloc as a global military intervention force, reports of discussion have been rife concerning a collective partnership with the 54-nation African Union, a 'mini-NATO' in the Persian Gulf and another in theArctic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, the culmination of the transformation of the Mediterranean into a NATO sea.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on November 10, during her visit to Hawaii, vowed to expand Washington's engagement in the Asia-Pacific by building trade ties, reinforcing alliances and continuing to press for democratic reforms in authoritarian nations like China and Vietnam. Clinton was in Hawaii to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, calling the event’s host state 'America’s gateway to Asia.'

'It is becoming increasingly clear that in the 21st century, the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to western shores of the Americas,' Clinton said. 'One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will be to lock in a substantially increased investment - diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise - in this region.'

Concentrated on Washington's future strategy, Clinton stressed, 'What will happen in Asia in the years ahead will have an enormous impact on our nation’s future. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and leave it to others to determine our future for us.'

The aggressive US strategic moves in China's periphery have alerted Beijing rulers. With the US bases to the east in Japan and South Korea, China fears its southern flank could be threatened if the United States stepped up its naval presence in the South China Sea, even if, as Washington says, it only wants to protect freedom of navigation.

Communist leaders of China are exhibiting their concerns to the recent developments in the region. Along with foreign ministry rebuttals on issues, Beijing's apprehensions are also seen in its media outlets. Refuting on the declaration of stationing US marine base in Australia, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson warned, 'Such moves could place Australia into cross-fire.'

Chinese state-run newspapers and websites are filled with flurry of aggressive commentaries and opinion write-ups. On South China Sea disputes, People's Daily has warned East Asian countries against allowing the United States poke its nose in prickly questions like the South China Sea. 'Everything shows that the United States will provoke the contradictions which exist between countries in this region for its own benefit,' the paper said in a commentary.

A former Chinese naval officer and academician at China's National Defense University warned in the Global Times that China risked 'leaving fallow one's own land' if it were not more active in the South China Sea. 'Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have all established a presence. We should be more proactive in strengthening our presence and control,' Fan Jinfa wrote in his commentary. The feeling of insecurity among the Chinese policy makers comes across in the statement and positions of Chinese foreign ministry officials, state-run newspapers and think tanks. They think that the United States is bent on encircling China.

'China fears that some countries are pulling in major powers from the outside to counter-balance China, or that some neighbors are teaming up against China,' a team of researchers from a Chinese state think tank said in a recent study of Beijing's regional dilemmas. By 'powers from the outside' Chinese clearly refer toIndia and Australia. China has formally objected to India's entry into South China Sea, for the exploration of natural resources.

In October this year, the Chinese Ministry of Defense published in its website an essay warning that Japan and India were entering into the disputes over the South China Sea, where Beijing claims most of the potentially energy-rich ocean floor.

'The South China Sea presents far greater strategic needs for Japan than it does for China,' said the essay by Zhang Wenmu, a professor of strategic studies at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. 'Only major strategic needs can produce structural strategic conflict.'

China's growing economic and military reach continues to stir worry in many parts of Asia, especially across the Himalayas and in the South China Sea coastal areas. And despite vows of mutual goodwill, Beijing remains wary of US intentions and alliances, including Obama's push for a new regional free trade pact.

With the United States' hastened 'Push into Asia' policy, through forging various alliances, NATO-like Asian alliances, as some experts take it, China seems to exploring a strategy that could prevent any anti-China alliance from taking a firm shape. Since Beijing cannot afford to go into conflict with a collective alliance, it could choose to isolate major Asian partners that US is bringing into its strategic frame. Recent Chinese larger messages to India could be taken as part of this 'isolation policy.'


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