24 November 2014
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The shifting of global strategic and economic center of gravity to the Asia Pacific, brings huge opportunities, but also increasing uncertainties and unavoidable competition in the region.
The fast-rising power of China and the relatively declining power of the US, especially in economic terms, create a space for power competition and adjustment between the two countries.
Peace or conflict depends very much on two points: whether the US is flexible enough to adapt and adjust its position to such fast-paced regional power transformation; and on whether China projects its power along the peaceful development path.
Both the US and China have to formulate a strategic vision based on common interests and shared responsibility. They need to work together to resolve emerging global and regional issues. The recent climate deal between the two countries was a critical step towards such working relationship.
Both countries need to go beyond balance of power or a strategy of equilibrium. They need to have a coherent approach to establish a new Asia Pacific order based on three interconnected pillars: strategic trust and security connectivity, economic integration and sustainable development, and people-to-people ties.
US leaders asserted their long term strategic intentions and interests in Asia. The then U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stated in 2010: “America’s future is linked to the future of the Asia-Pacific region; and the future of this region depends on America.”
Again in 2012, the then US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared that 60 percent of the US troops would be based in the Asia Pacific. He further assured: “In this century, the 21st century, the United States recognizes that our prosperity and our security depend even more on the Asia-Pacific region.”
In general, the US rebalancing towards Asia emphasizes strengthening of bilateral security alliances, forging a broad-based military presence, engaging regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment, and advancing democracy and human rights.
But so far the rebalancing has produced limited results. It was criticized for being slow in implementation and lacking economic and social substance. The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation is not going as smoothly as expected. More importantly, President Obama does not have much power to realize his foreign policy objectives. He is facing domestic political constraints as the Congress dominated by the Republicans.
Therefore, doubt is rising concerning the US commitment and capability in implementing is rebalancing strategy towards Asia. It is estimated that within the next two years of his presidency, Obama will not deliver much, although he is doing his best to reassure the US allies and strategic partners in the Asia Pacific on the US commitment.
In his remarks at the APEC CEO Summit in Beijing in early November, Obama stated: “One country’s prosperity doesn’t have to come at the expense of another. If we work together and act together, strengthening the economic ties between our nations will benefit all of our nations.”
Speaking at the US-Asean Summit, he stressed: “Asean is the heart of Asia’s rapid growth […] the United States is committed to strengthening Asean, both as an institution and as a community of nations bound by our shared interests and values.”
The US still has strong political and security role in the region. The regional countries welcome more active engagement of the US to maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific. However, the economic role of the US in Asia is going to decline in relation to that of China, which has already taken the regional economic leadership role. China is the top trading and development partner of many Asian countries. Beijing has poured more development assistance and loans into realizing the Silk Road and intraregional connectivity projects.