mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Oz Defense Minister Reinforces U.S. Alliance

The rapid changes underway in Asia presents the U.S. with a far more complex geostrategic challenge than that posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. America’s new Asia policy will require the deployment of the full arsenal of American power—not just economic and strategic but cultural and diplomatic as well.

To this end, the U.S. needs to pay more attention to the internal debates in countries throughout Asia-Pacific. In Australia, for instance, while support for America at both the political and the individual level remains steadfast, there are rumblings within certain sections of the foreign policy community that a rising China should force Canberra to re-evaluate its strategic priorities.

Which is why Washington should take heart from recent comments made by Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith:

Some assume that the economic and strategic influence of the United States, the world’s largest economy and superpower, will be rapidly eclipsed overnight as a result of this new distribution of strategic influence in the Indo Pacific.

That is not Australia’s view.

[. . . ]

In Australia’s view, the United States has underwritten stability in the Asia-Pacific for the past half century and will continue to be the single most important strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future, both in its own right and through its network of Alliances and security relationships, including with Australia.

A continued, indeed enhanced, United States’ presence in the Asia Pacific is essential to peace and stability in our region.  Australia welcomes the United States enhanced engagement, its rebalance to our region.

Amidst these strategic shifts, some have posited, indeed even suggested to the US itself, a substantial decline in or a withdrawal from our region.

I do not see it this way.

The Labor Party, of which Smith is a member, is traditionally the more Left of the two main parties, and if there is any serious concern about the U.S. alliance—which there isn’t—it would come from these guys. Smith’s remarks reaffirm one of the few bipartisan pillars in Australian politics: that U.S. primacy in Asia is desirable, not for its own sake but because it is in Australia’s interests for America to remain deeply involved in the Pacific theater.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Luke Lea

    Let’s keep in mind what are our vital interests. This is not like WWI and WWII, which threatened the very heart of Western Civilization. What happens in Asia is in the world’s interest. Only China has a vital interest. Check. Only the Communist Party of China has a vital interest here. It is the Chinese people themselves who stand to win or lose — along with the people in the surrounding countries. But that is not us.

    We will be the friends of liberty everywhere but only the champions of our own. Who said that?

    This may be a global responsibility but it is not an American one. We can join in, do our share, but why should we carry the whole burden? Because our leaders like to feel powerful? Because we’re number one? USA! USA! USA!

    Why do the American taxpayers have to maintain four or five (or is it six?) hundred bases around the world?

    Justify that Mead. Justify it or else make the case for an international order financed through international cooperation. Enough of the American Empire. It stinks.

  • Luke Lea

    We need leadership. Diplomatic leadership. Statesmanship. And we ain’t getting it. Not from Obama, not from Mead, not from anybody.

  • Kenny

    Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith merely states the obvious, Mr. Mead.

  • Luke Lea

    Let the free world unite! Use our collective economic power. America cannot go it alone. A democratic league of nations: Nato plus Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, and any and all other countries who pass the test of free institutions. Nothing less will work.

  • Luke Lea

    Did I mention South Korea and Israel?

  • Luke Lea

    When and if the Chinese economy falters the Chinese Communist Party will turn to nationalism as its only legitimizing alternative. We need to make it clear that we are on the side of the Chinese people. Believe me, they know the difference and all the censorship in the world cannot keep them from knowing.

  • Brendan Doran

    “…far more complex geostrategic challenge than that posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.”

    I seem to remember it being quite complex. Also more of a challenge, one we rose to meet.

    But China is not the bugaboo people seem to want it to be…it’s more of rising commercial power than anything else. Of course it has a military. Which hasn’t marched to my knowledge since 1979.

    Let’s not create another Japan. Hmmm?

    And we need a break and internal reform desperately, the latter more than the former.

  • Luke Lea

    “America’s new Asia policy will require the deployment of the full arsenal of American power—not just economic and strategic but cultural and diplomatic as well.”

    Why is this all about “American” power? Is this about America or what America stands for? Are we the only one who stands for it? Rethink.

  • Luke Lea

    From NYRB:

    A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia
    by Aaron L. Friedberg
    Norton, 360 pp., $27.95


    A ceremony in Sichuan Province, China, sending off an engineer battalion of the People’s Liberation Army on a peacekeeping mission to Lebanon, January 2011

    The day after the Russian parliamentary elections in early December, the Chinese publication Global Times, an English-language newspaper and website managed by People’s Daily, the official organ of the Communist Party official, ran an editorial on how little credit the West gave to Vladimir Putin’s Russia for becoming a democratic country. “Russia’s transition to democracy has cost it dearly,” the editorial said, attributing a lot of Russia’s problems, including its failure to achieve prosperity and its “brutal wars” in Chechnya, to its adoption of a “Western-style election with a multi-party system.” The lesson is clear. China shouldn’t make the same mistake of trying to curry favor with the West by becoming a multiparty democracy itself. “The West doesn’t really have an interest in promoting democracy to the world,” the editorial avers. “Its scheme is to expand its interests hidden behind that process.”1

    It doesn’t take a very deep survey of the Chinese press to find the theme that the real goal of American policy toward China, and in particular its criticism of the country for such matters as the imprisonment of dissidents, is a subversive one—to undermine the legitimacy of the ruling authorities, and thereby to obstruct China’s rise to great-power status. Last June, to give another example, China Daily, another English-language newspaper reflecting what China would like foreigners to read about it, carried an editorial entitled “Subversion in a Suitcase,” which held that the United States is creating “secretive cell phone networks” to help people circumvent government control of their electronic communications, an effort framed as support of “free speech and human rights” but whose real purpose is to help opposition forces “overthrow their legitimate governments,” thereby enabling the United States to “maintain…global dominance.”

    he Chinese interpretation of American behavior may seem defensive and a touch paranoid, but there’s more than a grain of truth to the main point. After all, the long history of American criticism of China for human rights violations and its implied wish for China to become democratic amount to a demand that the country’s leaders give up their monopoly on political power, which, in their view, is akin to wishing for regime change.

    This has frequently produced a certain amount of tension in the Chinese–American relationship, though rarely has the level of distrust seemed quite as high as it has in the past few months, as the United States and some other countries have observed that China is in the midst of one of the harshest repressions of domestic dissent in its recent history. It has also engaged in unusually bellicose behavior in the territorial and other disputes it has with other Asian countries, including American allies like Japan and the Philippines. For example, it has declared the entire South China Sea, one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, to be one of its “core interests.”

    At the same time, China has been the main protector of regimes now under sanctions by the United States and the West, whether Iran, Sudan, or Zimbabwe, even as it has courted foreign leaders who have been branded as pariahs. At the end of this past June it accorded a warm welcome to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, even though Bashir has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, which wants him arrested.

    The view has emerged among American commentators that China’s growing self-confidence, sustained in part by its emerging largely unscathed from the financial crisis of 2008, has made its leaders more certain of the path they’ve chosen for China, including its one-party system, and more defiant and publicly angry over criticism than they have been in the past. The solution to the mood of mutual animosity, according to Chinese commentators, is relatively simple. It’s for the United States to stop acting to impede the country’s “peaceful rise” to great-power status. As Wu Xinbo, the deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University, wrote in June, “If the United States eases its policies toward China’s core interests, this could, in turn, encourage China to respect US core interests and foster cooperation as China’s material power and international influence are both growing.”

  • Luke Lea

    More from that NYRB article, whose link is here:

    Many China experts in this country would more or less agree with that statement. Certainly it has been a strongly held view among some prominent American China experts that carping about human rights and about China’s domestic policies has chilled the atmosphere even as it has failed to help the victims of Chinese repression. These experts have tended also to be dismissive of what has come to be called the “China threat theory,” the notion that as China grows in power it will inevitably challenge American supremacy in Asia; that notion, they say, is panicky and overwrought, reflecting a false cold war analogy. China, after all, unlike the former Soviet Union, is not a missionary power eager to spread its ideology to other countries. It doesn’t arm rebels striving to overthrow pro-Western governments. It is an economic success and it wants to stay that way, in part by avoiding a conflict with the United States. In other words, China’s rise is a big event in world history, but the United States has no real strategic conflict with it and while it may be prickly and uncooperative at times, there’s no reason for either country to see the other as an enemy.

    s that view still tenable, if it ever was, or does China’s recent behavior signal a definitive departure from a sometimes contentious but essentially cooperative relationship with the United States to one of real enmity? In A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, Aaron L. Friedberg provides the most informed, cogent, and well-developed warning of the Chinese threat that I have seen. Friedberg is a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and now a professor at Princeton recently appointed to Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team, focusing on Asia and the Pacific. He says that he is not a “card-carrying member of the China-watching fraternity,” which he believes to be guilty of a certain complacent optimism regarding China, a tendency to take its soft and reassuring rhetoric about its “peaceful rise” at face value. Friedberg’s view is this: “The United States and the People’s Republic of China are today locked in a quiet but increasingly intense struggle for power and influence, not only in Asia but around the world.”

    It is a contest, moreover, that “we are on track to lose.” Because of China’s naval and missile development, in particular, Friedberg says, “the military balance in the Western Pacific is going to start to tilt sharply in China’s favor.” This would make it more difficult for the United States to extend its security guarantees to Japan, Korea, and other US allies. That in turn could lead to a “bandwagoning” effect in China’s favor such that eventually we too “would likely feel compelled to seek an accommodation with China and to acknowledge it as the preponderant regional power.”

    This is a threatening development, Friedberg argues, somewhat abstractly, because it has always been an axiom of American foreign policy “to prevent the domination of either end of the Eurasian landmass by one or more potentially hostile powers,” which could deny the United States “access to markets, technology, and vital resources.” Why is China a potentially hostile power? Friedberg’s answer to that question gets to the crux of his thesis. It is China’s status as an opaque, secretive, corrupt, self-perpetuating, one-party state that makes it a danger to the United States, and vice versa. “The United States,” Friedberg writes,
    aims to promote “regime change” in China, nudging it away from authoritarianism and toward liberal democracy, albeit by peaceful, gradual means…. It is largely because [China’s leaders] see the United States as the most serious external threat to their continued rule that they feel the need to constrict its military presence and diplomatic influence in the Western Pacific, pushing it back and ultimately displacing it as the preponderant power in East Asia.

    Friedberg’s corollary assumption is that if China did become more democratic, then the contest for supremacy very likely wouldn’t take place. A democratic China, he says,
    would certainly seek a leading role in its region…. But it would be less fearful of internal instability, less threatened by the presence of strong democratic neighbors, and less prone to seek validation at home through the domination and subordination of others.

    read the rest of it

  • Lorenz Gude

    Well, as an American long resident in Australia I can assure you there is plenty of anti Americanism on the Australian left. I have heard them say right out loud that they prefer the Chinese as Hegemons to the US. Yes, really, but it is just the old hatred of the Marxist left for the success of the US rather than any real desire to be dominated by the Chinese. In the end the bonds of culture and language will count for a great deal. As to Mr. Luke Lea I would suggest that American power is what guarantees the mutually beneficial global economy not an old style win-lose empire. Still, I would agree that since we have destroyed much of our wealth through corruption we may need and should welcome shared security arrangements in the future.

  • Cecelia

    We do have interests in the Asian Pacific – demographically and economically it figures to be wealthy and productive in the coming yrs. And I think we do need to support our friends and allies in the region (who are getting more plentiful as China missteps). But our interests and our allies best interests are served by building a cooperative relationship with China – not by asserting primacy. And as another article here says – let’s pivot to North America – a real partnership among the US-Mexico-Canada will end all talk of an “Asian Century”.

  • Swearjar

    As an Aussie, I’m tempted to weigh in here. The US is a Pacific country – it has huge strategic, economic and trading interests in a stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific. It’s not all about China – though I suspect Chinese assertiveness in Taiwan or the South China Sea would soon see much of the region clamouring for US support in balancing this activity. Australia would certainly be one of those, based on my experience.

  • Eurydice

    @Luke Lea – You’re quoting Prof. Mead words, but I don’t think you understand them. There’s no doubt that the US has power, the whole world knows that – the issue is how will that power be used. What Prof. Mead is suggesting, that the US use cultural and diplomatic strategies in Asia, isn’t blindingly new or particularly incendiary, or even all that interesting. All the rest of the article is a quote from the Australian Defense Minister and what he would like to see from the US. As for how the US ahould pay more attention to the internal debates in other countries – sure, right, fine – but Prof. Mead hasn’t shown that the US isn’t already doing that.

  • gringojay

    Land Down Under turned down new USA fleet base just last month & now Aussie’ military trying to smooth over their government’s rejection. In the future Oz politicians will realize that when seconds count the World’s Cop is only minutes away.

  • Diggs

    So which presidential candidate is likely to reinforce this common interest between our two countries? The guy who celebrates our common heritage, or a guy who detests our common heritage?

  • Person of Choler

    “In the future Oz politicians will realize that when seconds count the World’s Cop is only minutes away.”

    The World’s Cop is flat broke, has lost control of its own borders and hasn’t the will to regain it, can’t guarantee the mere safety of its citizens in significant parts of some of its largest cities and is bamboozled and extorted by the likes of Pakistan.

    And we’re amusing ourselves with speculations about geopolitical strategy.

  • George Purcell

    If Australia was going to turn away from the US it would have happened 15 or 20 years ago. The “Australia is an Asian Country” folks in Australian politics lost the debate–it ended when the US and Australia signed the FTA.

  • Anthony

    >We need to make it clear that we are on the side of the Chinese people.

    How about instead we let people know that we are on the side of our own people for once — I vote we take a break from history for a while. Un;like 1040 or 1960 there is no enemy that can really break us. Let’s let the rest of the world worry about itself for a change.

  • cbinflux
  • will2809

    While American media and public interest are focused elsewhere, China is being increasingly assertive and bold. Based on an ancient map, they claim as their territory most of the South China Sea. Their ships are asserting their claims on shoals and islands that are within 100 miles of the Philippines and Vietnam. If they succeed, they will severely restrict the movement of not only commercial shipping but also of the U.S. Navy.

  • teapartydoc

    No American interests? I beg to differ. Chinese hegemony means limited access to markets who have little wish to be dictated to by a neomercantilist hegemon run by old guard communist thugs. And the countries in question may have ports, but they have no navies with which to stock them. The RP is now desperate for the USA to come back to Subic and Clark, but the expense of doing so is huge for us. A counter-weight to the hegemon is necessary, but the ASEAN nations must be willing to foot some of the bill.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service