Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A new Cold War looms in East Asia

The current dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region are making it likelier that states will engage in zero-sum behavior

Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith last week announced that Canberra would “seriously” consider the possibility of holding trilateral military exercises with China and the US; a move that, in a perfect world, would probably make sense.

However, the world is far from perfect, and Smith’s idea, which Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono purportedly raised with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the ASEAN summit in Bali the week before, fails to take current realities into account.

Live-fire exercises involving the US in the Asia-Pacific symbolize a key role for Washington in a region that China considers its own backyard. Rather than seek to reinforce the legitimacy of a US military role in Asia, Beijing has worked effortlessly to undermine such a role, mostly by dealing with its neighbors on a bilateral basis. This has been one of the principal reasons for the failure of regional powers to resolve long-standing tensions in the South China Sea, with Beijing refusing to participate in multilateral negotiations on the matter.

The recent announcement that the US could deploy as many as 2,500 marines at a base in Darwin, Australia, is likely to make Beijing even less inclined to give its seal of approval to such a relationship, as the deployment is anathema to China’s desire for a reduced US presence in what is rapidly becoming a key geopolitical and economic region.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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