The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China’s column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn’t enough, a critical mass of the region’s countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers.
Rarely has a great power been so provoked and affronted. Rarely have so many red lines been crossed. Rarely has so much face been lost, so fast.
The US has won the first round, but the game has just begun. The Obama administration and its successors will now have to deal with a long term contest against the world’s most populous country and the world’s most rapidly developing economy. The Obama administration may not have fully counted the costs of the new Asian hard line; for one thing, it is hard to see significant cuts coming in defense spending after we have challenged China to a contest over the future of Asia. It’s possible that less drama now might have made America’s point as effectively while reducing the chance of Chinese push back, but there is not a lot of point in debating that now.
Given where things now stand, follow through will be as important as the first steps; the US must now try to make it as easy as possible for China to accept a situation that, in the short to medium term at least, it cannot change.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Always make sure you walk a little bit in the other guy's moccasins.