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Asia Caught Between Rivals China and US

As European and US economies continue to drag, many analysts see China and Asia as a whole rising as dominant global players. But international political economist Jean-Pierre Lehmann points to the ambiguity of this prowess. Asian nations increasingly rely on China as an economic partner while increasingly counting on the United States for security. Vietnam, Australia, Japan and others appreciate foreign direct investment and trade with China, while simultaneously welcoming vocal US positions on territorial disputes, notably the South China Sea, or trade disputes such as China’s abrupt export ban on rare-earth materials to Japan. The United States and China are rivals, with deep interconnections in trade, finance and many other areas. Lehmann contends that growing imbalances in security and economic partnerships – and in communicating essential concerns – are unsustainable. Regional institutions tend to tiptoe around the growing dichotomy, and a leading concern for many institutions is alternately placating or avoiding either China or the US. These trends cast doubt on inevitable rise, by way of global responsibility, for Asia. – YaleGlobal

Asia Caught Between Rivals China and US

While cozying up to China for trade, Asians turn to the US for security
Jean-Pierre Lehmann
YaleGlobal, 30 April 2012
Chinese money, US protection: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao with President S.B. Yudhoyono of Indonesia, a major trade partner (top); the US and the Philippines hold a joint military exercise in the South China Sea (US Navy photo, Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class William Contreras)

HONG KONG: As Europe dithers and the US nervously watches its unemployment rate, a China-led Asian rise is accepted as the new reality. Less noted is the anomaly of an Asia increasingly integrated with the Chinese economy and militarily more reliant on the US.

 At a retreat in Hayman Island, Queensland, for Australian CEOs, a security expert noted that this is the first time in Australia’s history that its major economic partner is not concurrently major strategic partner – initially the UK followed by the US.

China has become for Australia, as it has for many nations in Asia Pacific and indeed around the world, especially those engaged in commodity exports, its key engine of growth. Yet Australia has been one of the US’s closest strategic and military allies, from World War II to Korea to Vietnam and Iraq. The planned stationing of 2500 US troops in Darwin, reflecting the Obama administration’s tilt to the Pacific, is meant to consolidate these ties. The US and China are not belligerents, yet rivalry is growing. Being between the two is uncomfortable to say the least.

There are many hotspots, perhaps hottest of all the South China Sea, which Beijing has declared to be part of its “core interests” with Washington insisting on freedom of navigation. Besides competing claims to resources, there are disputes over nomenclature. The Vietnamese, for example, whose relations with China are among the tensest in the region, resent the name used by the West and perception of giving in to a Sino-centric perspective. The Vietnamese call it the Eastern Sea. In a recent confrontation between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the Scarborough Shoal area, Beijing claims it as part of its territorial waters in the South China Sea. Manila prefers the West Philippines Sea.

The US and China are not belligerents, yet rivalry is growing. Being between the two is uncomfortable.

Many in the Asia Pacific region regard the concept of China’s peaceful rise with skepticism. The Philippines has been a longstanding ally of the US, and even Vietnam, erstwhile enemy, increasingly looks to Washington for protection. Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, America’s military presence in Southeast Asia has been, on balance, benign and welcome. At the same time, the region’s economies have become increasingly dependent on China. 

At $362.3 billion in 2011 China has recently overtaken Japan as ASEAN’s third biggest trading partner, after the EU ($567.2 billion) and the US ($446.6 billion). However trade between China and ASEAN is growing faster: a 24 percent recorded increase in 2011. Reflecting this growing relationship, in January 2010 China and ASEAN concluded a free trade agreement – CAFTA. In population terms, it’s the world’s biggest market and, in GDP, third biggest.

The actual physical US military presence in terms of troops in the region is concentrated in Korea and Japan, with small numbers in Southeast Asia – the Philippines, 142; Singapore, 163; and Thailand, 142. However US influence is being strengthened especially through the American naval Pacific Command. Main ties are with Australia, the Philippines and Singapore with upgraded military with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Moving north to the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang has just failed in its initial attempt at launching a long-range missile. Consequences of this loss of face remain an unsettling mystery. Also mysterious is the exact relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang and the degree of PRC influence. For Seoul, this is not a matter of sheer academic interest. Korea’s share of trade with China, at 27 percent, is greater than that with Japan and the US combined, 8 and 11 percent, respectively. There has not been a peace treaty to conclude the Korean War, only an armistice, and in view of the Orwellian nature of the North Korean regime and its apparent nuclear ambitions, the Korean peninsula stands out prominently as one of the most likely theaters of military conflict in Asia. Thus Korea depends arguably more than any other Asian nation on the US for security. The number of US troops stationed in South Korea – 28,500 – ranks third in parts of the world without conflict after Germany, 53,766, and Japan, 39,222.

The number of US troops in South Korea, 28,500, ranks third in parts of the world without conflict.

In the first half of the 20th century, Japan emerged as Asia’s greatest economic and military power. From 1932 with the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo until Japan’s defeat in September 1945, Tokyo sought to establish its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. After Japan’s surrender, the American occupation initially sought to chastise and weaken the country both militarily and economically. Following the Communist victory in China in 1949 and the Korean War, the US rapidly sought to help Tokyo rebuild the economy and turned the country into a passive but loyal, acquiescent ally. Japan did not fight in either the Korean or Vietnamese wars – in good part because of its “peace constitution” imposed in early years of US occupation – but provided vital logistic and material support.

Throughout the decades Tokyo has acceded to US demands. Japan became the world’s second biggest economic power and by far Asia’s largest. But given the war memories, Tokyo followed what it referred to as a low-profile policy in Asia in the second half of the 20th century. Most striking in this century, especially since China overtook Japan as the world’s second economic power, is how invisible Japan had become. In forums and conferences on Asian issues, Japan is often absent, mentioned only in passing.

Japan’s economic dependence on China, with China having surpassed the US since 2008 in becoming Japan’s biggest trading partner at over 20 percent and fastest growing destination for Japanese outward investment is deep. Exports to China – mainly capital and intermediate goods as China emerged as hub of Japan’s global supply chain – is a rare dynamic force in an otherwise anemic economy. Japan has also multiple issues with China, including over territory, notably confrontation over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and in economic matters, a recent example being China’s ban on export of rare earths to Japan required for its high-tech manufacturing industry.

Throughout Asia Pacific, there’s a dichotomy between economic reliance on China and military tension.

In Southeast Asia, Japan or the Korean peninsula, one notes the same dichotomy between economic reliance on China and military tension with it. Without resolving this contradiction, none of the Northeast Asian countries, China, Korea or Japan, can play a leading role. Hence most of the onus for institution building has fallen on ASEAN, the organization of 10 Southeast Asian nations. There has been a proliferation of initiatives, such as ASEAN + 1, ASEAN + 3, ASEAN + 6, the ASEAN Regional Forum ARF, the Chiangmai initiative, the East Asian Community and more. This reflects what’s referred to as ASEAN centrality. Much of the deliberations in the formation of these initiatives involve who to include and who to exclude, while seeking to involve China but not offend the United States. This is the case with efforts to establish the Trans Pacific Partnership, pushed by Washington. Tokyo, Seoul and other Asian capitals hesitate in light of China’s apparent exclusion – hence, the conundrum as countries find themselves between a rock and a hard place.          

The situation in Asia Pacific is perilous and unsustainable. Under these conditions, it’s highly unlikely that robust regional institutions will emerge in the near future. And the fact that much of China’s economic prowess depends to a considerable extent on the big American market and investment opportunities put additional wrinkles on triangular US-Asia and China relations. With weak global governance and leadership, the Asia Pacific Region for all its economic success keeps floundering on uncertain seas.

 

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy, IMD, Switzerland, founder of The Evian Group, Senior Fellow at the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong, and visiting professor at Hong Kong University. The author will field readers' questions for a week after the publication date.
Rights:Copyright © 2012 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Comments on this Article

15 May 2012
@yoshimichi,
Forgot to say that NATO formed also as a check on soviet expansion in Eastern europe as well.
-victor , singapore
15 May 2012
Pax Americana and NATO was formulated after second WW as u said due to the Soviet Union which had gobbled up the whole of Central Asia and China to communism which was then monolithic before the sino soviet split.Japan was considered an eastern Nato by the west failing which Emperor Hirohito would have been hanged by the victorious powers
China aforeign policy has all along been organised on a civilisational level and not on the Westphalia model or on judeo christian thinking or level and conquest is least on the mind of Chinese rulers.In fact it was the Mongolians and Machurians who conquered China and was assimilated into chop stick culture.
Ex P.M. of Malaysia Dr Mahathir had stated very clearly to the West namely that China traded with S.E.A. for two thousand years esp Malacca Sultanate and never ever conquered or subjugated any country.However the West and europeans only arrived in Malacca for 50 years and they subjugated the Malacca Sultanate into a colony starting with the Portuguse then Dutch,British and french.Therefore Mahathir says he prefers Chinese hegemony (if any) than western hegemony.
I believe that a new East Asia Prosperity Sphere will open up in future consisting of Korea,Japan,China and eventually Vietnam and without being racial or superior these countries r all chopstick culture and civilisational states which the western powers fear as power is shifting to East Asia.
-victor , singapore
15 May 2012
@Victor,
I just wanted to post another comment and opened this, when I found your latest message.
I wanted to introduce the topic of "Pax-Sinica" to talk about.
About forty years ago I was subscribing for the magazine Foreign Affairs. Prof. Zbigniew Brzezinski said in an issue something like this: "Pax-Americana, to the extent that anything like that ever exsisted, was the product of the desire of the Western democracies to commit the United States to world responsibility. The Western democracies were devastated economically and could not rise to the communist challenge on their own. The United States devised the Marshall Plan, gave them economic assistance and organized NATO for protection.
Centuries ago Japan sent fomal missions to Sui China and Tang China, because China at that time was culturally resplendent and offered a very great deal for Japan to voluntarily feel like learning and emulating. If China makes a comebask in this sense, all East Asian nations will most gladly welcome it.
-Yoshimichi Moriyama , Unnan City, Japan
15 May 2012
@yoshimichi,
Thanks for the information.
For picture please note that the Europeans in their migration/conquest of the American continent (North & South) in the 17th and 18th century have killed millions of natives and committed genocide in America,Canada,S.America and Australia where the leftover natives are still confined to reservations like In U.S.A. like the Sioux in South Dakota or are given liquors to be drunkards in Australia.
So the theory of human rights now being used against China is a bullshit propanganda invented by "white man" to prevent future genocide of "white man" when they r no longer military dominant to continue wielding their sword.
China after 200 years and pillage by western powers is now able to provide food and security for its population.
Where was human rights when the western powers were giving China with opium,etc
It is in my opinion human right theory is a future insurance policy by Europeans and American for the genocide committed in the 18th century when they were taking over the native lands.
Hopefully there will never be an eye for an eye in future by any country which suffered.
-victor , singapore
14 May 2012
@Victor,
Chairman Jiang said 35million, not 3.5million, of course.
-Yoshimichi Moriyama , Unnan City, Japan
14 May 2012
Several years ago the Governments of China and Japan initially agreed to set up a joint team to investigate the Nanjing atrocities. While going into details of the plan, China insisted that the team should not need to arrive at an as accurate number as possible of illegal murders, etc. The plan, therefore, did not materialise.
Chairman Jiang Zemin said in Moscow that 3.5 million Chinese were killed in the war with Japan, not in the civil war.
-Yoshimichi Moriyama , Unnan City, Japan
14 May 2012
@Yoshimichi
I humbly suggest u verify your facts and figures before coming to a solid conclusion of the alleged facts of 10 to 35 million killed.No doubt the western powers and Japan killed millions odf Chinese whilst truing to carve up China and using the KMT by the Americans to forment civil war.Hence the unresolved business of Taiwan which like Japan is still an american protectorate
.
If the killing was done during a civil war between Chinese then this is a strictly Chinese affair and is not a foreign invasionnot unlike what the western powers and Japan did to China..The Shogunate and the imperial rulers also had many civil wars to estasblish their rule until Perry came to Japan with the iron ships
.
IPlease forward your evidence that Jiang ZeMin said 35 million Chinese were killed in a civil war.This is all Western propaganda to discredit China.Perhaps u should read the Monthly Review which ref is stated herein to know about propaganda which the western powers are specialist in trying to discredit China
https://monthlyreview.org/commentary/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the....
I certianly cannot agree that China is ruled by gigantic lies.A PEW survey recently shows that 90 % of Chinese is satisfied with CCP one party democracy.
Please read articles on Beijing Consensus and Washington Consensus to compare how China and west is governed.
-victor , Singapore
12 May 2012
@Victor,
I do not have an statistics book with me here. Soon after Japan's surrender the Allied Forces said that about 1million 500 thousand Chinese lost their lives. The Kuomintang said a little time later that about 2 million and 500 thousand were killed. After Mr. Deng Xiaoping's open-door policy the Chinese Government said more than 10 million. In Moscow in 1995 Chairman Jiang Zemin said 35 million.
I have not done much reading about China, but from the little reading that I have done I feel they have historically needed and need today gigantic political power and therefore gigantic lies to rule Chinese society and give it a semblance of unitiy. We used to say until a short time ago, "Small is beautiful." In China "Gigantic is beautiful;" "Small is ugly." The Chinese despise flowers like daisies; you look down and see them. They admire flowers (blossoms) on the tree; you look up and see them.
In the days of Chancellor Adenauer, for whom I have a deep respect, about a quarter of West Geermans were pro-Western.
Believe it or not, Hirohito was an Anglo-Saxonphile. He did not want war with China. He did not want it to escalate. He did not want war with the United States.
Believe it or not, the Japanese emperors were made politically impotent by the Japanese constitution of 1889, which was in line with the Japanese tradition concerning emperors.
-Yoshimichi Moriyama , Unnan City, Japan
12 May 2012
@Yoshimichi
It is impt as admitted that the japanese obtained and/or have a great cross culture with the Chinese and whether 300,000 or 1 million Chinese civilians were massarced by the imperial Japanese army it is still rape and pillage which has left a deep scar in Sino japanese relations for a long time.From what I know the alleged apologies were done half hearted and not like the Germans who atoned by kneeling to the Jewish War memorial.
The Japanese tried to be to a "white man"in the 1900s and look down on all Asians and imposed unequal treaties and military colonialism on all asian societies and tried even to dress like the westerners.However they cant change their colour amongst others in the first place.
Now the Japanese due to pax Americana decline is pivoting economically towards China and Korea as can be seen with the FTA negotiations and trading and free exchange of Yuan with the Yen and the reluctance to join TPP.
The Japanese in my opinion knows that the western powers economic and military domination is going to be past history
Emperor Hirohito was spared the noose due to the rise of Communism in China and America then choose a divide and rule policy in an occupied Japan.
With so many Aberican bases Japan is nothing more than a colonial or semi colonial outpost.
-victor , singapore
10 May 2012
@Victor,
I do not say nor would like to sound as if saying that Japan in 1930s and 40s was a pacificist country. It was an imperialistic country. But it did not engage itself in an all-out conquest of all of China, let alone East Asia. The United States got itself out of Vietnam, but unlike the US Japan failed to face up to the reality and allowed itself to be drawn in a fatal suicidal abyss.
There are many Okinawans who are more or less frustrated with the US bases, but there are many who think the US-Japan security arrangements including the bases are important.
-Yoshimichi Moriyama , Japan