The Asian Square Dance – Part VII : The Role of the USA

The United States is today the hegemon, alone able to alter events to match its own strategy with the ability of fighting long wars far away from its home base. In spite of important engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, a large part of its air and naval capabilities are still in the Pacific.

Nevertheless, it does not appear to have followed a consistent policy in Asia. After conducting a strategy of preventing any country in the area from assuming a leadership position, it encouraged China’s rise and tolerated exceptional shows of force against the country’s population such as after the Tien An Men square. It was followed by the Asian pivot and the militarization of its presence in the area and an attempt to ensure that in spite of China’s actions it will continue to have access to the South China Sea, a vital crossing point between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

The changes have been due to different considerations by succeeding administrations, with, more recently, President Obama declaring that the US was a Pacific nation. Russia’s actions in the Ukraine and possible developments of this action in Europe is another issue absorbing time and resources.

With the rise of China’s power, the US must commit increasing amounts of resources to counterbalance it. It should be expected that small states in the area will play the two powers one against the other.
The US has been running a very large trade deficit – estimated at around $ 300 billion dollars, absorbing the major part of the global capital flows – and it has been focusing on attempting to convince China to revalue the yuan. The Chinese government has in fact allowed the yuan to revalue slightly.

The US is simultaneously China’s, India’s and Japan’s biggest customer. The US is also India’s largest supplier.
The US could allow its currency to depreciate further to the point where its goods would be significantly more competitive than they are today. The country would also be a major attractor of foreign direct investment. China would then be the only country that would have a positive trade balance with the US due to its low labor costs.
The US might, alternatively, put pressure on China to encourage spending abroad. There have been no new developments in that direction, rather to the contrary.

The US is the protector of Taiwan which China has repeatedly threatened to invade and which it considers part of its own territory.
With regards to India, the US has agreed to a pact assisting India in its efforts in the realm of peaceful nuclear energy in the hope that this will prevent the country from strengthening its relationships with Iran and Russia.
The US’ interest in India is a relatively new development since the recent past has shown the US concentrating on the Pacific and attempting to make it a US sea, somewhat in the manner that the Romans had considered the Mediterranean to be a Mare nostrum. The US has declared that the majority of its fleet will be deployed in the Pacific by 2020. Until then, the US has to rely increasingly on Australia and Japan, and allow APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) to flourish as a tool to spread the American doctrine of liberal trade – even though it has played as much in favor of China than in favor of the US.

The US has increased the strength of its marines on Guam, an island close enough to give support to Japan and has earmarked up to USD 1 billion for military constructions over the next five years. It has also increased cooperation with Australia and the Philippines.
The danger of a confrontation with China lies in an accidental hit of a component of either country’s nuclear program, such as a launcher, or a disarming of a nuclear deterrent. If China were afraid of an intentional disarming, it may decide to use it early on in a critical situation, to prevent losing its nuclear capabilities.
To avoid any such misinterpretation of one another’s intentions, an agreement has been signed between presidents Obama and Xi, his Chinese counterpart, whereby the two countries will inform one another of any major military movements.

Michael Akerib
Michael Akerib
Michael Akerib, Vice-Rector, SWISS UMEF UNIVERSITY