Obama Ignores China in Asian Tour


US President Barack Obama has recently concluded a four-country tour of Asia, ending it with a rather undeniable reassuring that America will remain the dominant military force in the region.

The visit does not pretend to be about anything else, with a first-stop visit to Japan (presently involved in tense territorial disputes with China) and ending with a renewed military agreement with the Philippines.

Obama’s visit also reassured the region besides military obligations, including the muddled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement which aims to lower trade barriers between the most economically dynamic region in the world and the US.

In hindsight, all of these ‘high-profile’ gestures highlight what was missing: the involvement of China.

Military Intimidation Shrouded in Neutrality

The message is clear since Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ proclamation in 2011: lest it forgets, the US must reassure China that no other power should try to ‘change the status quo’, for better or for worse. This ‘rebalancing’ of power, a shift of US military emphasis from the Middle East to the Pacific (China’s borders, from the Pacific to South Asia), has been cheerfully greeted by the region’s leaders.

Obama’s visit to Japan finally shows that the Washington is not neutral in the island disputes in the region. In a press conference in Tokyo, he stated that the US and Japan have a mutual security treaty that covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands–a complete about-face to his past statements regarding territorial disputes between China and Japan.

Benigno Aquino, President of the Philippines, (son of former President Corazon Aquino who was put to power by the American government in the late 1980s), hailed a new ten-year defense pact with the US as an agreement that “reaffirms our countries’ commitment to mutual defense and security, and promotes regional peace and stability.”

One common theme in this is their willingness to be part of Washington’s new focus on Asia. Indeed it seems to ‘work’ both ways: with the waning of American military power the US pushes these countries to be more aggressive against China, while the same countries can focus on developing their economies and outsource their defense and security needs to Washington.

Economic Partnership a “Bridge to Far”

Actively promoted by the United States, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to give China’s neighbors an alternative to Beijing’s economic clout through less trade barriers and bureaucracy. China’s economic might, role, and influence in the global economy is undeniable. As such, a trade agreement that fails to include the second-biggest economy in the world (some speculate it to surpass the US as early as 2016), is a failure in itself already.

For instance, in the bilateral trade between Japan and the US, there has been suspicion on both sides about unfair government protectionist policies (Japanese automobile industry) and unfair government subsidies (US agriculture). Obama’s latest visit just showed how difficult it is to accomplish anything beyond the trade barriers.

And history is on the side of the free trade skeptics: today it is widely accepted that free trade agreements are discriminatory by nature, which is the reason why most economists today prefer to call the free trade agreements (FTAs) as preferential trade agreements (PTAs).

Indeed, the more Obama denied his visit was not about China, the more it was perceived as being about militarily and economically containing China.




The Specter of US meddling in Asian Affairs


It’s only almost a year since America declared its policy of pivoting its messy militaristic adventure to Asia, and now we have news that it sent two B-52 strategic bombers over the disputed islands between China and Japan.

The flyovers, which is ‘part of a regular military exercise’ to the region, comes at a perfect time as China declares more control of the region, with a November 25 announcement that aircraft flying over the disputed territory must submit flight plans and communicate with Chinese aviation authorities via an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) policy.

Only in the course of a day the US expressed its dismay. In this most recent unarmed bomber aircraft patrol, Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren told Reuters “we have conducted operations in the area of the Senkakus (Japan’s name for the disputed islands). We have continued to follow our normal procedures, which include not filing flight plans, not radioing ahead and not registering our frequencies.”

The arrogant announcement comes after Kerry’s rhetoric that China’s new controls over the airspace “constitutes and attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea. Escalatory action will only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident.” US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was quoted as saying the Chinese announcement “will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.”

Only America calls the shots anywhere in the world

Never minding the sovereignty of other countries, where the US comes in, trouble and tensions comes out. Regardless of where US troops are stationed in the area (South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Australia), clearly the US is over-extending its military to show Beijing who’s the ‘police of the world.’

Clearly this dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is a matter two sovereign nations must settle themselves, without the meddling of a third party. Such is the case with the Philippines, with the South China Sea, where the tiny island nation plays puppet to the US’s aggressive military policy in the area.

What these smaller nations fail to know is their role in playing the chess game for America’s larger pivot to Asia policy. It’s a win-win situation overall, let these countries fall prey to US manipulation against China while not committing too much military resources and increased arms sales.

It is almost foolish for these satellite countries to be slave to American policy by projecting a harder unilateral stance against Beijing in the form of ‘territorial disputes’, not knowing they themselves are in more trouble when the situation in the area escalates to open hostility.

US encourages Japanese remilitarization for the sake of containing China

The Chinese reaction and increased patrol in the area comes after recent Japanese provocation.

Ever since the arrests of Chinese fishermen in 2010 and last year’s purchase by the Japanese government of the islands (knowing well they are disputed territory) , China’s actions can be seen more as a reaction to these American-backed provocations.

The international media is replete with the usual suspect keywords of ‘an aggressive China’ for seeking to ‘change the status quo’ against ‘aggrieved’ neighboring countries. Many fail to see through the news. It can be remembered that just last year, the US increased its military forces in Australia and conducted ever-larger military exercises in the region to intimidate and contain China’s influence. The more recent announcement that US military troops will stay in Afghanistan beyond 2020 (despite Obama’s promise to remove them in 2014) is suspect enough since the country shares a border with China.

What the US fails to realize is the scale of its bullying in the region. Just last week, it concluded a mammoth military exercise with Japan which involved 34,000 troops and 350 warplanes, focusing on how to defeat Chinese anti-ship capabilities and a naval blockade to cripple China’s economy once a conflict breaks out. Sadly, we can only refer to the American reaction to Soviet troops stationed in Cuba half a century ago. Can anyone remind America what it feels like to have gargantuan military buildups and war exercise performed in their own backyard?