When President Barack Obama’s announced his (in)famous “pivot to Asia,” Washington’s obedient mainstream media repeated verbatim the administration’s reasons and the goals. The same tired and tested bill of goods was spoon fed to the American public: “Washington must lead, promote free trade, protect safe navigation of international sea-lanes, and of the spread of democracy.”
The fact is the “pivot to Asia” is nothing more than an attempt to contain an ever more powerful and more confident China. This will fail:
1. Like it or not the geography of the west’s growing confrontation with China’s military works, from the outset, against Washington’s plans.
You see the South China Sea gets its name because, well, it is next to China. For Beijing the South China Sea is a sovereignty issue, first and foremost. For Washington, only the U.S. and its deferential clients are allowed to have any meaningful semblance of sovereignty. Invoking sovereignty at odds with “American interests” makes a country a target of Washington’s displeasure.
But then again, China is not an ordinary country – it’s the world’s factory and is the most important source of global economic growth. And it is the country most interested in safe navigation of international sea-lanes – it’s the country that wants to see its products delivered safely to global markets.
2. Two recent visits to Asia by high-ranking American officials reveal Washington’s true intentions.
In April Secretary of Defense Ashton “loose rhetoric” Carter visited India. The visit resulted in the signing of a bilateral cooperation agreement on military logistics. Then there was Obama’s recent trip to the US’s old foe Vietnam. With great fanfare Washington decided to end the decades-long arm embargo it imposed on this Asian country.
The two visits are important, but you would not learn why from the State Department or the Pentagon. Certainly Beijing connected the dots – both visits are part of Washington’s policy to contain China through regional alliances. The Chinese are obviously aware of this and have taken the appropriate military and security measures to counter this encirclement strategy.
Like Russia, China often is forced to react to Washington’s aggressive posture. Also, western audiences are rarely told China has the resources and the political skill to counter Washington’s strategic designs. Remember history – China does. In the 19th and 20th centuries China was humiliated and dismembered by the west and Japan. Beijing is determined this will never happen again. You can count on it.
3. It is the economy stupid – attempting to contain China is a fool’s errand.
China is America’s second largest trading partner. Take the following on board: in 2015, the U.S. exported $116 billion in goods to China while importing $482 billion. During the Cold War the U.S. had meaningless trade with the Soviet Union and prevented the Europeans from having strong trade links with the Soviet Union also.
Today it is China that has the upper hand over America in the area that counts the most – the economy. Putting into peril the China-U.S. trade relationship would be mindlessly stupid and dangerous. That doesn’t mean Washington won’t try. For the last two decades the Chinese have watched Washington stumble and trip all over itself on the world stage. Something tells me they are ready for more irrational behaviour those inside the Beltway have in store not just for China but for everyone else too.
4. Reputation is everything.
Washington’s security and military alliances/commitments are like a house of cards. Washington promises a lot, but can it deliver without bringing about a direct military confrontation with China? Smart policies are those a great power has which work without the need for a resort to military force. Credible deterrence is the key. “Stupid shit” policies are those that make use of force the default position. This is exactly the transmigration of the Pentagon’s thinking on the use of force.
Common sense says many of the larger Asian powers will extract as many security and military benefits from Washington as they can without overtly taking on commitments that would truly antagonise Beijing. After all, China is the key to the trade and economic well being of virtually every country on its side of the Pacific. What that mean is that Washington will end up signing up to all the security risks while its client states become security free riders (reminds one of the shame called NATO). Moreover Washington has positioned itself to be humiliated if one of clients ever does challenge Beijing.
The Chinese undoubtedly calculate the US will not go to war to defend Vietnam’s fishing rights (though given the degrees of hubris and irrationality in Washington who knows?). However by not rushing to Vietnam’s defence the US will show itself up as a paper tiger regardless of the vast military forces at its disposal. Smartly done, China’s adroit political, diplomatic, and economic skills will trump American militarism.
5. China matters – actually it matters a lot!
China has demonstrated that it has agreed to be a meaningful and positive player on the international stage. There is just one important caveat. Beijing demands to be treated with respect and as an equal among its peers. This is antithetical to Washington’s “exceptionalist” messianic worldview.
The United States can’t solve the world’s problems; in fact it is Washington that is the source of many of the needless conflicts and much of the misery across the globe. On the other hand, China can play a constructive role in moderating American unilateralism. We all know Washington is incapable of seeing the errors of it ways – blinded by its own sense of importance and arrogance.
It would be most unfortunate if the U.S. picks a fight with China. Washington’s sense of importance and arrogance will not defeat or even deter China. However it most certainly be a disaster for the U.S. if its bellicose attitude toward Beijing led it into a confrontation with China that it simply cannot win.
Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program “CrossTalk.” His views may or may not reflect those of his employer.