Friday, November 25, 2011

Obama's Victory in East Asia

It's time to celebrate a very big and very smart win, and give credit where credit is due.

The greatest long-term political threat in the world - narrowly, to American interests, and broadly, to human well-being in general - is China. China's economic ascendance is emphatically a good thing for its own people's happiness. China's continued existence as an oligarchy is not good for anyone's happiness. This is why the continuing foreign policy focus of many in the U.S. political establishment on the Middle East is so worrying. The future is in the relationship between East Asia and the Europhone world, and especially between the U.S. and China.

That's why I feel like the last two months of foreign policy moves by the Whitehouse have single-handedly justified my own vote in 2008. I'm thrilled with the attention that's being paid to East Asia, let alone with what this administration has pulled off, and saddened that it's such a back page item inside the U.S., not just to the general public but to the GOP - a GOP that would have us believe it's still a defense-and-foreign policy party. I wish it were - but when Republican voters can countenance someone like Herman Cain who didn't even know China had nuclear weapons, that credibility is badly damaged.

The following passage has been bouncing around the blogosphere, and I hope it keeps bouncing:

The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China's column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn't enough, a critical mass of the region's countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China's territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers...The diplomatic blitzkrieg moved so fast and on so many fronts, with the strokes falling so hard and in such rapid succession, that China was unable to develop an organized and coherent response...the US has reasserted its primacy in a convincing way. The US acted, received strikingly widespread support, and China backed down.
That is in fact what happened, and it was as decisive a diplomatic victory as anyone is likely to see. Congratulations should go to President Obama and his national security team. (Full piece here at the American Interest.)

Finally, it's dawned on people in Washington that our continually-rising creditor-cum-military competitor is important!

From a foreign policy standpoint China and East Asia can only be America's top priority. Even neocon intellectuals like Frank Fukushima have openly stated the Middle East's throwback's represent a bump in the road, a desperate last self-immolation in the face of inevitable modernity. I just hope the American public realizes how much more the CCP merits our attention than a scattering of illiterate death-cult members.


pollycharlie said...

I wouldn't exactly call it a win. It's an opening move of a very long game, and the U.S. opened with full force. But it's stupid to exert a lethal blow when that blow can't, in reality, be lethal.

It's a good thing that the U.S. finally made a move in the game. It has now put China as well as the U.S. in a peculiar situation. It set the tone, a tone the U.S. is used to: we are #1 and we will show you. Whether the U.S. can back this up, and whether the Asian countries believe it, that's a different story.

Now the move is made, it's most critical how the U.S. can nudge China in the direction it wants. In the Chinese phrase we'd call the U.S. move "putting someone on the display table". It's utmost important to let them off the table gracefully. I can't wait to see how the U.S. is going to do that.

Michael Caton said...

You're right that it's an opening move, but one sense in which it's unambiguously a victory is in a U.S. administration finally paying attention. Had 9/11 not happened, the Hainan Island incident in August 01 would have likely made U.S. foreign policy look very different over the last 10 years - the CCP should be sending thank you cards to Al Qaeda for the way it distracted us. Whether the electorate notices and gives this matter the priority it deserves in voting decisions is another question.