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American subsidence in Asia: the poisoned chalice of hubris and loss of focus

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China's diplomatic and economic presence is forcing all regional players to "reassess where their strategic interests lie," and those players are seeing China winning by default as the US continues to act in a dismissive, highhanded manner, retains a monomaniacal focus on terrorism -- worse Iraq -- effectively becoming another 'Pakistan' in linking all bilateral issues to the GWOT, and has already dropped to number two in terms of trade with key Asian nations.

Readers are referred to 'Peaceful Rise' overcoming 'China Threat' and Testing and strategic encirclement versus force on force, bluffing and risk-taking for an introduction to the means by which the PRC is extricating itself from the 'threat' posture framed by the US. In Failing to strengthen and rebuild functionally viable interstate relations , I note:

While it is a necessary requirement for the US to focus on al Qaeda and international terrorism, as opposed to Iraq per se, we must simultaneously look to the longer term of preventing erosion of access to resources, and the continuity and strengthening of functionally viable interstate relations. While we have treated a number of states in an offhand manner, notably those in the third world, those offended states had no counterbalance in terms of a market to which they could sell their goods and services and a sympathetic partner with whom to form beneficial alliance for economic and political gain. The economic resurgence of China has changed that balance. China's human-intensive form of diplomacy at all levels, levels that would fall beneath the attention and reach of US diplomacy, are changing the landscape.

I would also refer readers to China, the US, and the International Criminal Court for detail on China's skillful means of distinguishing its diplomatic approach from that of the US. On the best of days, Asian strategic thinkers worry about "long-term US staying power" and now wonder if and when our detachment over terrorism and the Middle East will end. While many seem to be "relatively relaxed about the current state of US engagement [and seem] relatively confident that the US will return to Asian pursuits," it may well be too late, even now:

Most US diplomacy with leading Asian states remains almost obsessively focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, and high-level visits are rare and rushed. As important as these concerns are to America and Asia alike, critical regional business is being left unattended.

The US reluctance to engage North Korea in direct bilateral talks has been difficult to explain or excuse, and now Japan and South Korea are venturing forward in direct bilateral interactions with Pyongyang, subtly forsaking a common front approach with Washington.

In Asia, however, security challenges have evolved rapidly with enormous strategic implications. China's rise is evident in virtually every walk of life and its considerable influence is now felt in every corporate boardroom, diplomatic gathering and military planning session throughout the region. By any aggregate measure (except in population size) the US remains the great power of Asia, but China now wields considerable hard, soft and every other kind of power in an increasingly interconnected region.

 The US has come far from the 1930s when it:

faced a world rapidly descending into regionalism; [responding] with the 1934 Reciprocal Trade Act that eventually became the GATT-WTO system. That system has been integral to the postwar revolution in trade, and to the widespread and unquestionable global economic growth it helped produce.

Bernard Gordon believes that the US is reaping the poisoned fruits of its earlier drive for FTAs and bilateral agreements, all essentially "preferential trade areas," that the US employed as "an instrumental tactic to achieve global trade progress in the WTO. The US "encouraged more of them everywhere, but nowhere more importantly than in East Asia, the world's most dynamic economic region and the scene of a developing economic "community."

I agree that the US does not have the primacy, authority, and viable threats that it had in the GATT years. US actions look feeble in comparison and it is ill-equipped fight a four front trade war:

In Europe, trade conflict is simmering over aircraft, subsidies and dumping. In the Western hemisphere, the Free Trade Area of the Americas -- the major U.S. initiative -- is comatose, and a "South American Community" will be announced shortly by the region's presidents. In East Asia, China and the ASEAN nations have agreed a large new trade deal that excludes the U.S. and sharply raises the prospects for global trade blocs. And needless to say, at the global level, the WTO's Doha Round is stalled.

Taken together with China's regional economic might, the PRC is demonstrably capable of building the regional relationships needed to eject the US and in the process become the dominant mercantile center of an Asian trading block that includes Asia's "most vibrant economic sub-region" (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan).

Part 3

Gordon Housworth



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