It is now beyond the shadow of a doubt that the US is investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India, and has identified China as a threat while declaring Asia as a priority to the US.
In rolling out its new strategy review on Thursday, Pentagon officials made it clear that the fronts for potential conflicts are shifting toward China.
“All of the trends — demographic trends, geopolitical trends, economic trends, and military trends — are shifting towards the Pacific,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said. “So our strategic challenges in the future will largely emanate from out of the Pacific region.”
It was a recurring theme in the eight-page strategic review document unveiled by President Obama. “Over the long-term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the US economy and our security in a variety of ways,” the strategic review noted.
The Asia pivot comes as China has unsettled its neighbours over the past several years with the expansion of its navy and improvements in missile and surveillance capabilities. The Pentagon is worried about China’s strategic goals as it begins to field a new generation of weapons.
“The growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region,” warned the strategic review.
The military’s announcement follows a major diplomatic push by the US to expand security partnerships with allies in the region. On December 19, the US, India and Japan held their first trilateral meeting in Washington, in the latest sign of the Obama administration’s drive to push back against rising Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Pentagon practically came out and said outright that it views India as a counterbalance to China. “The US is investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region,” said the strategic review.
C.Raja Mohan, a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board, pointed out in his essay in American Review that the “potential implications” of a partnership between Islamabad and Beijing have also underscored for Washington what growing Chinese influence means for Asia as a whole.
“While the Obama administration has welcomed a larger Chinese role in stabilising Afghanistan, it cannot but begin to contemplate the consequences of Beijing’s expanding influence in south and south-western Asia in collaboration with Pakistan,” said Raja Mohan.
The Obama administration also sees a big role for India in bridging the Indian and Pacific Oceans. ”The US has always been a Pacific power because of our very great blessing of geography. And India straddling the waters from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean is, with us, a steward of these waterways. We are both deeply invested in shaping the future of the region that they connect,” America’s top diplomat Hillary Clinton recently told her audience in Chennai.
Anyone paying attention to Obama’s November trip to Asia and Clinton’s visit to Myanmar saw Washington pushing back against China. While the US was bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, China had the headroom to expand its influence in the region. For the first time since the end of World War II, America’s dominance is being challenged by China, which is emerging as an engine of regional economic growth.
China has advanced its influence in the region, with allies like North Korea, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It has established itself as a growing, and sometimes bullying, power in the Pacific, particularly in East Asia. Most of the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have festering territorial disputes with China.
Analysts say rising China has spurred America to consolidate ties with regional powers like Japan, India, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines in a policy “pivot” towards Asia. Thursday’s defense review also clarifies that instead of focusing on the Middle East, as has been the case for the last decade, the US will now concentrate its power in Asia and the Pacific. America’s new emphasis on Asia and the containment of China also stems from the fact that the Asia-Pacific region now constitutes the center of gravity of world economic activity.
Beijing has reacted nervously and warned Washington not to take steps which could fan Cold War-style antagonism. In the first Chinese reaction to the US policy shift, announced by President Obama on Thursday, the Global Times newspaper said China would “pay the price” if it retreated in order to appease the US. “Of course we want to prevent a new Cold War with the United States, but at the same time, we must avoid giving up China’s security presence in the neighboring region,” said the paper, owned by the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.