First mentioned after Hilary Clinton’s article America’s Pacific Century, in Foreign Policy, Asia Pivot has quickly become a very popular buzzword among American politicians. It encompassed the new approach to the deployment of American diplomatic and military power, with East Asia and Pacific becoming a new focal point.
Mrs. Clinton, the newly appointed Secretary of State, correctly observed several keynotes on Pacific theater. More than half of the world’s population lived in the area, and some of the strongest economic powers are located there as well. She proposed that such an environment presents an excellent opportunity for American investments which could fuel the region’s economic welfare into the new century, and all that under American leadership of course.
She states that “open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the nuclear proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region’s key players.”
She proposed to achieve this by following six courses of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening America’s relationships with rising powers, including China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights.
The elephant in the room was China. Many experts claimed that the Asia Pivot is in fact just a new name for China containment strategy, aimed at encroaching it and cutting it off from potential allies. Mrs. Clinton was first to deny this, claiming that confrontation is not the only option when dealing with China and that Washington and Beijing must find a way to cooperate for the benefit of not their own nations, but the entire globe.
Diplomatically speaking, America managed to create some new ties in the region, but its main allies Japan and South Korea refused to engage in deeper military obligation Washington proposed. On the other hand, Vietnam was elevated to the status of strategic partner, according to Mrs. Clinton, a move that caused some friction with Beijing. She also managed to draw junta in Myanmar into negotiations, which was universally hailed as a positive move. Relationship with another important America ally, the Philippines, took a nose dive with the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, who threaten to expel US forces from his country.
The most important part of Asia Pivot was military redeployment and strengthening of American military assets in the region. The naval presence was increased by one carrier, seven destroyers, ten littoral combat ships, and two submarines. Additionally, the region would gain priority in the procurement of the new fifth-generation fighters, for both allies and American forces. In total, some 60% of US Navy would be deployed in Pacific, a 10% increase from earlier.
Asia Pivot strategy received mixed comments. Some argued that it was a move long overdue, like Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia at the time. He said that “without such a move, there was a danger that China, with its hard-line, realist view of international relations, would conclude that an economically exhausted United States was losing its staying power in the Pacific.”
Others weren’t so positive towards Obama’s policy. Robert S. Ross, an Associate at the John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, suggested that such policy only “unnecessarily compounds Beijing’s insecurities and will only feed China’s aggressiveness, undermine regional stability, and decrease the possibility of cooperation between Beijing and Washington.”
The Chinese were also less than thrilled with the whole concept. Former President Hu Jintao said: “[The United States has] strengthened its military deployments in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthened the US-Japan military alliance, strengthened strategic cooperation with India, improved relations with Vietnam, inveigled Pakistan, established a pro-American government in Afghanistan, increased arms sales to Taiwan, and so on. They have extended outposts and placed pressure points on us from the east, south, and west.”
While Mr. Trump’s policy on Asia is still largely unknown, the current steps indicate that confrontation with China remains his first option.