Why Two Asias May be Better Than None

Why Two Asias May be Better Than None

As is well-known, the U.S. under the Obama administration’s now-familiar policy of engaging Asia has three essential components. The first is a diplomatic strategy involving deeper engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and related Asian regional institutions, especially those participating in the East Asia Summit (EAS). The second is an economic strategy involving high-quality trade liberalization, mainly within the framework of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The third is, of course, the military element, initially dubbed a “pivot” but since rechristened as a “rebalancing.”

China has viewed these initiatives with much suspicion and regards them as detrimental to its interests. It sees Washington’s use of the EAS to address the South China Sea disputes as blatant interference and unnecessary internationalization of the issue, which it prefers to address bilaterally with the respective parties. It deems the TPP an exclusionary framework aimed at countering China’s economic influence. As for Washington’s rebalancing, Beijing considers it another name for containment.

For the rest of the region, including some of America’s own allies and friends, the U.S. rebalancing strategy, now in full swing despite some uncertainties due to U.S. budgetary constraints, creates an Asian security dilemma that I have characterized (.pdf) as “how to court Washington without hurting Beijing.” Indeed, finding a way to embrace Washington’s “rebalancing” strategy without stoking Chinese anger represents one of Asia’s core challenges today.

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