The recent movement of USS Nimitz (CVN 68) via South China Sea and conducting PHOTOEX with the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Groups on 6thof July as well as the cooperative exercises with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean showcase in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS shifting theatres of geopolitical confrontation towards Indo-Pacific. Accelerated by the current COVID pandemic, China’s aggressive posturing & the USA’s haphazard foreign policy under Donald Trump has compromised the USA’s hub & spoke model of bilateral relationships in the Indo-Pacific. Although Xi Jinping in an interview stated that the Pacific Ocean is large enough for both China and the USA to co-exist, however, 2020 has shown that the Chinese pragmatism may have been a sugarcoated lie to stall any immediate confrontation.
The establishment of US hegemony in East Asia was a long-drawn process, starting from Wanghia Treaty towards Washington Conference, 1921 & culminating in San Francisco System (Hub & Spokes architecture). One thing which is very American is that they found ways to maximize economic profits and were not interested in direct colonialization (exceptions being the Philippines and Sandwich Islands). How the USA established itself as an East Asian hegemon without colonial presence was possible because of its hub and spokes model of bilateral treaties. In the following writeup we will try to answer questions like, why & how did this system came to being? How effective was it in the Cold War Era and after the end of it? How the architecture is facing challenges?
San Francisco System (Hub & Spokes Model)
The definition of this model is best described by Victor D. Cha in his work Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia. It goes “Hub & Spoke Model is defined as a set of tightly held and exclusive, one-to-one bilateral partnerships with countries in the region. Like a bicycle wheel, each of these allies and partners constituted “spokes” connected with the central hub (the United States), but with few connections between the spokes.”
The situation post second world war was a world of doubts and apprehensions. Nobody trusted Japan and were asking for reparations from the Japanese. These nations (New Zealand, Australia and many other South East Asian region) saw the way United States handled Japan too lenient. However, the policymakers very well understood that it was the only way forward and the only way to see the history not repeat itself. The United States made itself the exclusive partner of countries that were distrustful of one another, which afforded it a great deal of leeway and advantage in these relationships (example can be given of making Australia & New Zealand buy Japanese products, providing a consumer market for Japanese economic redevelopment as well as providing a vent for future normalization).
Why & How did this system came to being?
Let us take the example of Japan in the post-war period to understand the establishment of Hub & Scope architecture. The advent of the Cold War compelled the United States to think more strategically and long-term about the Japan project. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman pledged that the United States would help any nation resist communism in order to prevent its spread. His policy of containment is known as the Truman Doctrine. The institutional design choices for a relationship with Japan were wideranging & depended on the thinkers who were Douglas MacArthur, George Kennan, John Foster Dulles and Eisenhower. The only certainty was that Japan was going to play a pivotal role in USA’s East Asian Policy and containment of communism from the eastern flank.
At one end of the policy spectrum was a neutralization approach, which amounted to a protracted occupation and complete demilitarization and political neutralization of Japan. At the other end was a rearmament approach, which called for the early signing of a peace treaty and encouragement of rebuilding Japanese security capabilities such that it could balance against the emerging communist threat. Neither worked for US interests, which focused on three immediate needs—to prevent Japan from becoming a revisionist power again; to deny it to communist influence; and, not unlike its plans for Korea and Taiwan, to ensure that the United States had absolute control over Japan’s postwar disposition.
Strategic thinkers ultimately determined that the best sort of security institution to achieve these objectives was a bilateral alliance with Japan (In his memoirs, MacArthur recounts relaying the initial policy to his staff in late Aug’45: “First, destroy the military power. Punish war criminals. Build the structure of representative government. Modernize the constitution. Hold free elections. Enfranchise women. Release political prisoners. Liberate the farmers. Establish a free labor movement. Encourage a free economy. Abolish police oppression. Develop a free and responsible press. Liberalize education. Decentralize political power. Separate the church from state.”
The US foreign policy changed drastically after George F. Kennan urged that “Economic recovery should be made the prime objective of United States policy in Japan for the coming period”. However, like the USA in a steadfast manner moved towards a bilateral alliance with Japan, other East and South-East Asian countries who had faced the Japanese onslaught were against it and even criticized in different capacities any attempt by the US to bring about an alliance of these states which included Japan.
At the San Francisco Conference in September 1951 the US signed the US-Japan treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. Later on, it moved to sign a Mutual Defenses Treaty with the Philippines in August 1951, the US-Republic of Korea Defense treaty with Republic of Korea in October 1953, and the US-Republic of China security treaty with China in December 1954. With these treaties the US was able to construct the Hub and Spokes System.With this USA was able to control East Asian Economic their foreign policy in general without having to invest capital, military, etc. at a similar level to the colonialists and imperialists of the 19th and early 20th century.
Network power is also sometimes operationalized as bargaining strength. A central “node” (state) with interconnections within a cluster of states & between clusters has bargaining strength granted to it solely by its position. This was where the United States sat in Asia, allowing it great leverage in negotiations with and between its Asian partners and allies. Moreover, the states in the network lacked “exit” options or the possibility to “delink.” For the period of the cold war, it was the perpetual threat of communism and in addition to it the economic benefits were plenty to even consider delinking.
End of Cold War & the contemporary world
The Neo-realist theorists had exclaimed in the 80s that Bi-polar world order of cold war is the most stable one which has ever existed. However, the collapse of USSR which no one expected suddenly formalized and was a reality. With the biggest threat of communism gone, the void of security requirement was filled with increased trade and commercial relations among the USA and its allies in East Asia. Although the USA has been enjoying the position of the hegemon all this time even after the cold war, the rise of China in many ways is challenging the position of the USA.
All this while when USA was embroiled mostly in the Middle East, China was fast becoming a large manufacturing hub. With its acceptance into the World Trade Organization, a slew of markets opened and a cycle of increasing demand -> increased manufacturing -> increasing supply -> increasing Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) -> increasing domestic consumer demand led to further increased production as well as supply. This growth was exponential & with the improved infrastructure & skilled human resource. Riding high on the developmental wave, China became more and more confident in itself. The transition in its language for defining its foreign policy can be considered a way to judged China’s confidence and intention at the same time. It transitioned from “hide your strength & bide your time” to “peaceful rise of China” and now under Xi Jinping, the four comprehensives: “comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepen reform, comprehensively implement the rule of law and comprehensively strengthen Party discipline”; In his first speech Xi Jinping also talked about ‘China dream: the great renewal of Chinese nation’.
Contrary to Western beliefs ‘the Chinese assimilation into the international supply chains, will lead to political opening up of People’s Republic of China’ and learning from the disaster of the policies that USSR’s Glasnost and Perestroika, they have quite successfully maintained the CCP’s control politically and showing a façade of private company Huawei being a good example. With everyone turning its blind eye China continued on pursuing scrupulous tactics and jeopardizing the international rules of the game be it devaluing currency or other things. By the time the world took notice of China, it was already an economic powerhouse. After the 2008 Economic crisis that his West disproportionately, saw China coming to the center stage of world politics.
Let us look at some statistics to understand what was behind China’s assertiveness and confidence. To put things into perspective (in comparison to the USA), China holds 1.1 Trillion USD somewhat equal to or more than what Japan holds. China has a nominal GDP of 14.14 Trillion USD (second only to USA), GDP (PPP) of 27.307 Trillion USD (ranking 1st). Its exports measured a whopping 2.5 Trillion USD, with USA being its largest trading partner which consumes about 19.25% of the overall exports.
Backed up with the unprecedented economic success, China has slowly yet steadily built its own sphere of influence. Till recently, a view propounded by Wang Dong was that China is employing a hedging strategy against USA. He defines hedging as “an insurance strategy that aims at reducing or minimizing risks arising from the uncertainties in the system, increasing freedom of maneuver, diversifying strategic options, and shaping the preferences of adversaries. It is a portfolio or mixed strategy that consists of both cooperative and competitive strategic instruments ranging from engagement and enmeshment, all the way up to balancing.”
It can be read in a subtle way as, China wants to reclaim its centrality and if it is not in a position to fulfil that in the near future, hedging is a way to ensure it in the long run. The Chinese have been encroaching on the US sphere of influence all the while US was busy in its costly enterprises in Middle East & Afghanistan. The Chinese have marketed CNS (Chinese Partnership Network) as the scholar Zhou Yiqi has termed it, is a circle of friends looking for prospering together in a free market promoting, multi-polar world order. Many countries even believed it, as the same author explains how, many of the members of United States’ Alliance System (UAS) have joined in the China’s “Circle of friends”.
The Chinese approach to create a clique of Economic partners, be it bilateral or multilateral, ex. ASEAN, Australia, European Union, SCO (Shanghai CO-operation Organization), BRICS, RCEP, etc. These multilateral organizations some created by Chinese participation and others have intensive trade relations with China. The Chinese learnt a lot from the United States, they initially entered multilateral forums to increase their presence and economic activities as well. In situations when it is difficult to make favorable arrangements, it starts to reach-out bilaterally with the member states, weakening the multilateral forum and making weaker states in the forum dependent on China. The best example I can think of is 17+1 dialogue, which is carved out of European Union Eastern European member countries. And in a way acting as a forum for, one, bypassing the European Union and two, influencing European Union’s functioning and decisions.
Can the Liberal Institutional World Order be saved?
The question is very obvious after looking at the facts and the obvious departure (in parts) of the USA from being the world’s policeman. It may change coming November, yet, many of the treaty allies and friends of USA have come to a reckoning that it is disastrous to entirely depend on the US for maintaining the security and status quo in the face of hyper-nationalist and overtly confident China. The concept of a middle power coalition can be worked to create a counter weight to the Chinese dominance and restructuring the UN Security Council to accommodate G4 countries can be a start. Giving teeth to Quad, countering China in ASEAN, Indo-Pacific, Africa and Europe will be a challenge that the middle powers need to take head-on if they want to save the order preemptively. In the near future, China may create a bipolar world or if not so, may well create its own East Asian order. The only thing that can stop China from dreaming of bringing the myth of Middle Kingdom into reality, is the emergence of a middle power structure, which is built in principle with the existing structures created by the USA in last 70 years, providing much needed strength to the structure.
However, change is imminent and as Henry Kissinger says “the viability of any international order depends on how eﬀectively it maintains the balance between legitimacy and power. Both are subject to evolution and change. However, when this balance is disturbed, the limiting mechanisms fail, which gives room to unbounded ambitions and unrestrained actions by some of the global actors; a reign of chaos begins, which lasts until a new order is established.”
Cha, Victor. 2016. Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia. 123-124
 Ibid 127-128
Tan, See Sang. 2004. Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation: National Interests and Regional Order. M.E. Sharpe. 9.
Henry Kissinger, World Order: Reﬂections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History (London: Allen Lane, 2014)
Prospects for U.S.-China Relations in the Biden Era
The U.S. presidential election which will be held on November 3 is drawing ever closer. As the Trump administration performs poorly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the death toll in the U.S. exceeded 210,000, the election trend appears to be very unfavorable for Donald Trump.
According to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Joe Biden led Trump by 14 percentage points in the national elections. It is worth noting that retired American generals, who have traditionally been extremely low-key in politics, publicly supported Biden this year, something that is quite rare. On September 24, 489 retired generals and admirals, former national security officials and diplomats signed a joint letter in support of Biden. Among them are Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisans, showing that they have crossed the affiliation, and jointly support Biden to replace Trump. Although the opinion polls do not represent the final election, with the election only being one month away, the widening of the opinion gap is enough to predict the direction of the election.
For the whole world, especially for China, it is necessary to prepare for the advent of a possible Biden era of the United States. During Trump’s tenure, U.S.-China relations have taken a turn for the worse, and China has been listed as the foremost “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States.
There is a general view in China that after the Democratic Party comes to power, U.S.-China relations may worsen. The reason is that the Democratic Party places more emphasis on values such as human rights and ideology and is accustomed to using values such as human rights, democracy, and freedom in foreign policies against China. However, as far as U.S.-China relations are concerned, it is too vague to use the simple dichotomic “good” or “bad” to summarize the relationship of the two countries.
However, it is certain that after Biden takes office, his policies will be different from Trump’s. An important difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden will follow a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement his own policies, and he will also seek cooperation with China in certain bottom-line principled arrangements. It should be stressed that it is crucial for China and the United States to reach some principled arrangements in their relations.
From an economic point of view, should Biden become the next President, the United States will likely ease its trade policy, which will alleviate China’s trade pressure. It can be expected that the Biden administration may quell the U.S.-China tariff war and adjust punitive tariff policies that lead to “lose-lose” policies. If Biden takes office, he might be more concerned about politics and U.S.-China balance. In terms of trade, although he would continue to stick to the general direction of the past, this would not be the main direction of his governance. Therefore, the U.S.-China trade war could see certain respite and may even stop. In that scenario, China as the largest trading partner of the United States, could hope for the pressures in the trade with the U.S. being reduced.
China must also realize that even if Biden takes power, some key areas of U.S.-China relations will not change, such as the strategic positioning of China as the “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States. This is not something that is decided by the U.S. President but by the strategic judgment of the U.S. decision-making class on the direction of its relations with China. This strategic positioning destined that the future U.S.-China relations will be based on the pattern dominated by geopolitical confrontation. Biden sees that by expanding global influence, promoting its political model, and investing in future technologies, China is engaging a long-term competition with the U.S, and that is the challenge that the United States faces.
On the whole, if and when Biden takes office, the U.S. government’s domestic and diplomatic practices will be different from those of the Trump administration, although the strategic positioning of China will not change, and neither will it change the U.S.’ general direction of long-term suppression of China’s rise. However, in terms of specific practices, the Biden administration will have its own approaches, and will seek a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement its policies. He may also seek to reach some bottom-line principled arrangements with China. Under the basic framework, the future U.S.-China relations will undergo changes in many aspects. Instead of the crude “an eye for an eye” rivalry, we will see the return to the traditional systemic competition based on values, alliance interests, and rules. Facing the inevitable changes in U.S.-China relations, the world needs to adapt to the new situation.
Third world needs ideological shift
As nations across the world have been pooling their efforts to contain the COVID-19 spread, the looming economic crisis has caught the attention of global intelligentsia. In the light of health emergency, The policy makers of Asia, Africa and Latin America have been struggling to steer the economic vehicle back to normalcy. Although, the reason for the economic slump could be attributed to the pandemic, it is also important to cast light on the economics of these tricontinental nations. Been as colonies for more than two centuries, these players had adopted the style of economics which is a mix of market economics and socialism. The imperial powers of the then Europe had colonised these nations and had subjugated them with their military and political maneuvers. Under the banner of White man’s burden, the Imperial masters had subverted the political, economical, social and cultural spheres of the colonies and had transformed these self-reliant societies into the ones which depend on Europe for finished products. The onslaught on the economical systems of colonies was done through one way trade. Though, the western powers brought the modern values to the third world during colonial era, they were twisted to their advantage. The European industrial machines were depended on the blood, sweat and tears of the people of colonies. It is clear that the reason for the backwardness of these players is the force behind the imperial powers which had eventually pushed them towards these regions in search of raw materials and markets i.e., Capitalism. Needless to say, the competition for resources and disaccord over the distribution of wealth of colonies led to twin world wars. Capitalism, as an economic idea, cannot survive in an environment of a limited market and resources. It needs borderless access, restless labour and timeless profit. While the European imperial powers had expanded their influence over Asia and Africa, the US had exerted its influence over Latin America. Earlier, at the dawn of modern-day Europe, The capitalist liberal order had challenged the old feudal system and the authority of church. Subsequently, the sovereign power was shifted to monarchial king. With the rise of ideas like democracy and liberty, complemented by the rapid takeoff of industrialization, the conditions were set for the creation of new class i.e., capitalist class. On the one hand, Liberalism, a polical facet of capitalism, restricts the role of state(political) in economical matters but on the other hand it provides enough room for the elite class and those who have access to power corridors to persuade the authority(state) to design the policies to their advantage. Inequality is an inescapable feature of liberal economics.
The powerful nations cannot colonise these nations as once done. The Watchwords like interconnectedness, interdependency and free trade are being used to continue their domination on these players. As soon as the third world nations were freed from the shackles of colonialism, they were forced to integrate their economies into the global economical chain. Characterized by the imbalance, the globalization has been used as a weapon by the Western powers to conquer the markets of developing nations.
The Carrot and stick policy of the US is an integral part of its strategy to dominate global economical domain. The sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and Latin America could be attributed to the US lust for resources. In the name of democracy, the US has been meddling in the internal affairs of nations across the developing world. Countries like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Syria have challenged the US,a global policeman. Back in the day,soon after assuming the power, the Left leadership in Latin American countries had adopted socialist schemes and had nationalised the wealth creating assets, which were previously in the hands of the US capitalists. Irked by the actions of these nations, the US had devised a series of stratagems to destabilize the regimes and to install its puppets through the imposition of cruel sanctions and by dubbing them as terrorist nations on the pretext of exporting violent communist revolution. With the exception of the regimes of Fidel castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the US is largely successful in its agenda of destabilizing anti-American governments in the region. The US has a long history of mobilising anti-left forces in Latin America, the region which US sees as its backyard, in an attempt to oust socialist leaders. At present, by hook or by crook, the trump administration has been trying to depose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, a socialist.
In addition,The US has been colonising the minds of the third world citizens psychologically with its cultural hegemony and anti-left indoctrination. It is important to understand that the reason for the neo-fascism, which is unfurling across the developing and developed world alike, is rooted in capitalism.The third world citizenry is disgruntled and the ultra-nationalist right wing forces in these countries have been channeling the distress amongst the working class to solidify their position. Growing inequalities, Falling living standards, Joblessness and Insecurity are exposing the incompetence of capitalism and have been pushing a large chunk of workforce in the developing countries into a state of despair.Adding to their woes, the Covid-19 has hit them hard.
The US, with the help of IMF and the world bank, had coerced the developing countries to shun welfare economics.The term “Development” is highly contested in the economic domain.Capitalists argue that the true development of an individual and the society depends upon economic progress and the free market is a panacea for all problems.Given the monopolistic tendencies in the economical systems across the developing world, the free market is a myth, especially in a societies where a few of business families, who have cronies in policy making circles, dominates the economical and social scene.The time has come for the governments of these nations to address these issues and ensure that the wealth would be distributed in a more equitable manner.
The Election Circus and an Event in the Cosmos
The election in the US is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. A Tuesday was chosen to allow people enough time to drive to the election site after Sunday, reserved for religious services and rest. Those were the horse and buggy days and it took a while. The people clearly had greater ardor for democracy then considering we get a less than 50 percent turnout now when voting sites are usually less than a five-minute drive.
Most states are either heavily Republican or Democrat so the results there are a foregone conclusion. The winners get the electors assigned to the state on a basis of population. The electors then vote for the nominees receiving the most votes in the state when the electoral college meets.
There are about a dozen battleground or swing states; among them Pennsylvania and Florida are prized for their high electoral votes — hence the repeated visits by the candidates. Trump won both in 2016. Will he this time?
Meanwhile two New York papers are busy running negative stories on candidates they oppose. The New York Times offers tidbits against Trump. The latest this week is that Trump has a Chinese bank account. The fact is not new since the information was filed with his tax returns — one has to report foreign bank accounts over $10,000 — but the news is intended as an example of Trump’s hypocrisy for he has been speaking out against doing business in China. The accounts in the name of Trump International Hotels have been moribund since 2015.
The New York Post, much less distinguished than the Times, is after Hunter Biden and through him his father, candidate Joe Biden. Last week the Post unearthed a dubious email purporting to show then Vice President Biden possibly meeting with Hunter’s potential business partner. This week there is a photograph of the Bidens, father and son, flanked by a Kazakh oligarch on one side and a former president of Kazakhstan on the other. The latest on the email issue has a certain Tony Bobulinski, one of the recipients, confirming the Post email adding that Hunter sought Dad’s advice on deals. There is also a proposed equity split referring to ’20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’
New York State may be a secure prize for Democrats but news stories these days are picked up on the internet and spread nationally and internationally. Surely the two newspapers have something really big up their sleeves for the week before the election.
Charges and counter-charges in the final presidential debate. Biden repeatedly blamed Trump for deaths from the Covid 19 epidemic. On almost everything Biden promised, Trump’s rejoinder was why he had not done it in the 47 years he was in public office including 8 years as vice president. This included mimicking Biden’s previously successful tactic of talking directly to the public. The same interests fund both major parties and they generally get what they want except that Trump mostly funded his campaign himself.
From all the ridiculousness to the sublime. Images of M87 are the first of any black hole swallowing whatever is within range. We are told of the discovery of a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way, presumably the eventual destination of everything in our galaxy. From this perspective the Trump-Biden debate, although quite important for our immediate future, seems to diminish to nothing in significance.
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