Day By Day

Friday, February 18, 2005

Coming into Focus

America's Far East strategy is beginning to take concrete shape, as shown by several recent news reports. One element is to seek cooperation with China on issues where our interests converge. The best current example is the continuing problem of North Korea. AP Asia has a nice article on the current state of the six-power negotiations here. In these negotiations the role of China is of utmost importance. We cannot afford a war that would devastate South Korea and threaten Japan and so must work with China, which has significant leverage it can use with the Pyongyang. The short-term interests of the US and China thus dictate a significant level of cooperation.

Even as we cooperate, though, we recognize that the US and China's long-term interests conflict. China has a long-term goal of establishing itself as a regional hegemon and that involves weakening and ultimately ending US influence in the region. That is why we, and other Asian powers, view China's recent military buildup with some alarm. To counter that, we have been putting together a coalition of allies that we hope can successfully counter China's expansionist efforts. A major piece of that coalition fell into place this week when Japan and the US issued a joint agreement that "Taiwan is a mutual security concern." This was, according to analysts, a clear "demonstration of Japan's willingness to confront the rapidly growing might of China." Read about it here.

And then there's this from the Indian Express.
An American team is coming to Delhi to give a briefing to the Indian authorities on the Patriot missile system, which is an element in the basic missile defence, as part of a continuing exchange of information in this area. It may be recalled that this is part of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) agreement between India and US.
What is emerging here in concrete form is a system of alliances and strategic partnerships linking the US, India, and Japan along with Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, and perhaps Vietnam in an effort to stabilize East Asia and to resist Chinese expansionism. In short, a regional "containment" policy. Shades of the old Cold War!


Lest we forget...there is Russia, which has long-standing issues and a hard-to-defend border with China.

From a State Department press release:
President Bush said he is looking forward to meeting with his friend Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, on February 24 and would like to “reinvigorate” the relationship between the United States and Russia.

“We've got the framework for a good strategic relationship,” Bush said during an interview at the White House February 18 with Itar-Tass in advance of his visit to Belgium, Germany and the Slovak Republic.

Rather than a “fresh start,” Bush said, “I'd call it ‘reinvigorate.’ We've got the framework, and it gives us a chance to move it forward. There's a lot we need to do -- a lot we need to work together on.”

Some of the issues the United States and Russia need to tackle together, Bush said, are the War on Terror, curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, North Korea, and Middle East peace.
In the case of Russia and China there is an interesting role reversal going on. For several decades the Soviet Union [essentially the old Russian empire] was the superpower and China, a lesser power, played a double game, playing off the US vs the Soviets. Now China is the emerging superpower and a much diminished Russia is forced to play off US and Chinese interests.


Jan Haugland over at Secular Blasphemy [Hat tip Roger Simon] also sees a new cold war emerging, only he sees Russia as being the major actor opposing the US and China as Putin's "natural ally." Sorry, I just don't see it that way. Russia and China have enormous conflicts of interest, and China's economic potential dwarfs that of Russia. If such an alliance does eventuate China, not Russia will be the major partner and its interests, not those of Russia, will drive the alliance.

It is true that both countries feel encircled [just look at a map and check out where the US has established forward military bases in recent years] and wish to escape US dominance. Both have interests that conflict with the US -- Russia in the Middle East and China in the Far East -- but I doubt seriously that occasional and temporary cooperation on such things as Sudan will blossom into a full-blown alliance. As I said before, only China has a reasonable hope of being able to seriously challenge US power while Russia's best chance lies in playing off China and the US while taking advantage of whatever opportunities that confrontation presents.

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