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The Okinawa Mondai: The US Strengthens Ties in the Asia-Pacific

[Originally published 2011] The Stars & Stripes reported on President Barack Obama’s nine-day Asia-Pacific trip designed to bring Asian allies closer as the rise of China continues:

[Via the AP, Erika Weiner.] Security issues and the U.S. vision for an increasingly robust American role in Asia are expected to be central themes for Obama’s participation in the East Asia Summit in Bali, where the president arrived Thursday night after traveling from Australia. But concerns over China may shadow the president’s meetings Friday and Saturday with leaders of smaller Asian nations increasingly alarmed over China’s claims to maritime passage and rich oil reserves in the South China Sea.

China’s Xinhua News Agency said, ” the U.S. feels threatened by China’s rise and influence in Southeast Asia” and “Obama’s goal was pinning down and containing China and counterbalancing China’s development.”

As America takes steps to enhance and redefine its role in the Asia-Pacific region, it must persuade China to become more transparent in its military undertakings. “China seeks to gain “hard” power commensurate with growing “soft” power” (Bitzinger, 81). China will undoubtedly try to convince its neighbors that its economic and military rise should not to be feared, however, there are more than a few sources of contention and cause for worry between China and its neighbors as listed below:

  • China – Japan disputes over the Senkaku islands in the South China Sea
  • China – India disputes over South Tibet, Aksai Chin and Kashmir
  • Territorial disputes between China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei
  • China thwarts Taiwan’s bid for independence by reunifying the country via outright military conquest, coerced political negotiations or economic integration

Previous steps taken to resolve territorial disputes have not been very fruitful. In 2002, for example, China and ASEAN members agreed to resolve territorial disputes multilaterally. The Chinese later called for negotiating bilaterally with each neighbor. The Taiwanese on the other hand may have zero negotiation on the reunification issue and fear that China may forcibly seize land that it views as its own.

U.S. Force Redeployment in the Asia-Pacific

Security relationships with Southeast Asian nations will become more valuable due to the importance of the U.S. to redeploy its forces in their region to protect and keep open vital Sea Lines of Communication (e.g., the Strait of Malacca Strait), which are important to the U.S., its regional allies and overall economic and political stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Many Southeast Asian nations welcome a strong U.S. presence. These nations rely on the U.S. presence as a hedging strategy in the chance that China’s ascension in the region does not remain peaceful. A U.S. presence is also beneficial in combatting unconventional threats faced terrorism, human trafficking, piracy and international crime.

The opportunity presents itself for the U.S. to establish or reestablish facilities in many of the nations that ring China: Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, etc. Using the Singapore Model of basing, the US could send troops and their necessary components to a variety of locales in Southeast Asia in a time of conflict at a fraction of the cost required to maintain a regular base.

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With the recent announcement that United States plans to initially deploy 250 and ultimately 2,500 US Marines (a full Marine Ground Task Force or MAGTF) that will operate out of a de facto base in the northern port of Darwin, Australia by 2016, it seems that my analysis is bearing fruit. Deploying a MAGTF (U.S. Marines, ships and aircraft) in Darwin, which is only 500 miles (820 km) from Indonesia, will allow the U.S. rapidly respond to crisis in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. Despite reports on other websites, “There are no United States bases in Australia and no proposal for such bases,” reported Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith.

[Via New York Times, Jackie Calmes] “The new arrangement with Australia will restore a substantial American footprint near the South China Sea, a major commercial route — including for American exports — that has been roiled by China’s disputed claims of control. Under the agreement, about 250 U.S. Marines will begin a rotation in northern Australia starting next year.

[Via The Australian] “The MAGTF will:

  • conduct exercises during the dry season of every year at the NT’s Mr Bundy, Bradshaw and Delamere training areas.
  • provide an expanded US air presence in Australia will see B52s, FA18s, C17 transport aircraft and air-to-air tankers operating from RAAF Tindal, near Katherine.
  • deploy via US ships through Western Australia’s HMAS Sterling naval base, south of Perth (the extent of the arrangement is yet to be finalized). Nuclear weapons will be prohibited from being brought onto Australian territory, but nuclear-powered ships will be allowed.

Potential U.S. Policies and Solutions

Below are some suggested policies and solutions that would serve U.S. interests:

  • Strengthen economic ties in the Asian region
  • Reaffirm U.S. security commitments to Asia – Pacific nations
  • Promote and improve bilateral and multilateral alliances in the Asia – Pacific
  • Encourage transparency

Strengthen economic ties in the Asian region

In examining my first recommended policy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement demonstrates a recent example of how the United States can strengthen its economic ties in Asia. Currently, the United States, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Chile and Peru are involved in the TPP negotiations. The TPP will advance investment and trade, promote economic growth and development, and spur innovation and employment for the nine member signatories. $1.2 trillion in U.S. trade moves annually in the South China Sea. The TPP will not initially include China. President Obama stated:

[Via New York Times, Jackie Calmes] “China would be welcomed into the new trade pact if Beijing was willing to meet the free-trade standards for membership. But such standards would require China to let its currency rise in value, to better protect foreign producers’ intellectual property rights and to limit or end subsidies to state-owned companies, all of which would require a major overhaul of China’s economic development strategy.”

Reaffirm U.S. security commitments to Asia – Pacific nations

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta voiced my second example of recommended policy. Secretary Clinton has over the past several months stressed that the U.S. will focus more on the Asia-Pacific region due to the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity shifting east and to meet the rise of China and India. Secretary Panetta’s statement that the United States is and always will be a Pacific power that will stay in Asia reaffirms America’s commitment to being the principal guarantor of regional security in the Asia-Pacific region. In this scenario, fears over China’s ascension and of U.S. abandonment of its strongest ally, Japan, will be alleviated.

Promote and improve bilateral and multilateral alliances in the Asia – Pacific

My third recommended policy is to promote and improve bilateral and multilateral alliance building with countries that surround China. This will this reinforce the importance of security cooperation needed to maintain peace in the region, “encourage” China to utilize diplomatic rather than military means as a solution to disputes and facilitate a multilateral resolution of maritime clashes in the Asian region rather than the bilateral solutions that China favors.

[Via the AP, Weiner] Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this week signed a declaration with her counterpart from the Philippines calling for multilateral talks to resolve maritime disputes such as those over the South China Sea. Six countries in the region have competing claims, but China wants them to negotiate one-to-one and chafes at any U.S. involvement.

Strengthened bilateral and multilateral alliances will also play an important role in the event of a conflict over Taiwan or on the Korean Peninsula. For example, the strengthened U.S. – Japan alliance has accelerated Japan’s involvement in the Taiwan issue by serving not only as a deterrent against Chinese aggression against Taiwan but also “as a platform for a joint U.S. Japanese response to a contingency in the Taiwan Strait” (Wu, 125). In a China strong, territorial conflict scenario, China must “be prepared to deal not only with the United States but also with a militarily more active and capable Japan” (Wu, 126).

Encourage transparency

As previously mentioned,  the U.S. must persuade China to become more transparent in its military undertakings. China has invested heavily in military modernization and has begun to deploy long-range aircraft and a more able deep-sea naval force. “Leaders of smaller Asian nations increasingly alarmed over China’s claims to maritime passage and rich oil reserves in the South China Sea,” noted Weiner. According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review presented annually to Congress, there “fresh warnings that China was developing anti-ship ballistic missiles and conducting sea trials of its first aircraft carrier.”

Be sure to visit Black Tokyo for Part 2: The Okinawa Mondai: Relieving the Burden, US Marines to Australia and Guam. Please feel free to comment on this article.

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The Okinawa Mondai: The US Strengthens Ties in the Asia-Pacific by Eric L. Robinson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.blacktokyo.com.

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