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News Flash: Washington Source of All Beijing’s Problems

by Elizabeth C. Economy
September 5, 2012

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in an arrival ceremony at Rarotonga International Airport in Rarotonga, Cook Islands on August 31, 2012. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in an arrival ceremony at Rarotonga International Airport in Rarotonga, Cook Islands on August 31, 2012. (Jim Watson / Courtesy Reuters)


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s swing through Asia has been marked by a revelation in Beijing: the source of all China’s problems with its neighbors is the United States. A Xinhua editorial paints the United States as a “sneaky trouble maker sitting behind some nations in the region and pulling strings.” In the Global Times, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar Ni Feng states that the U.S. pivot is “stirring up tensions between China and its neighbors”; while Renmin University scholar Jin Canrong argues that Washington aims to “dominate the region’s political agenda, and build a Trans-Pacific Partnership that excludes China, as well as further consolidate its military edge.”

Fortunately, these same media and analysts have a relatively simple answer to the problem: the “U.S. owes China convincing explanation of true intentions of its Asia Pivot policy”; the United States needs to prove that it is “returning to Asia as a peacemaker, instead of a troublemaker”; and a real zinger from the Global Times, “We hope Clinton can reflect upon the deep harm she is bringing to the Sino-U.S. relationship in the last few months before she leaves office and try to make up for it.”

If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, when the problem is misstated, the solution is likely to be as well. China’s problems in the region do not originate with the United States but with China’s own interactions with its neighbors.  Some context might help:

First, take the South China Sea, perhaps the source of Beijing’s greatest concern at the moment. Tensions in the region—particularly between China and Vietnam and China and the Philippines—have been heightened over the past year. However, conflict between China and its neighbors (as well as among the neighbors themselves) in the South China Sea has been a fact of life for almost forty years.  The year-old U.S. pivot did not create the problem nor did it exacerbate it. U.S. policy has been consistent. In 1995, Washington explicitly supported the 1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea, as well as any diplomatic effort to resolve competing claims peacefully. More than 15 years later, Secretary of State Clinton articulated U.S. policy as follows: “The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims … but we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force. That is why we encourage ASEAN and China to make meaningful progress toward finalizing a comprehensive code of conduct in order to establish rules of the road and clear procedures for peacefully addressing disagreements.”

Second, the United States is not a puppet master, “sitting behind other countries” and “pulling strings.” Countries in Asia are replete with intelligent leaders and diplomats. They are fully capable of debating the issues surrounding the U.S. pivot and making their own decisions about how to interact with China and the United States. The Philippines kicked the United States out of Subic Bay two decades ago; if it now wants to allow some U.S. submarines to dock there, China should take a step back and ask itself what prompted the Philippines to shift its policy.

Third, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is not a plot against China; negotiations for the agreement started in 2007, well before the current tensions and the pivot (the original negotiations did not even include the United States). The TPP is an effort by the United States to realize the economic benefits of deeper engagement with the most economically robust region in the world—much in the same way that China has done for decades.  Moreover, China is welcome to join the TPP under precisely the same conditions as any other member, the United States included.  People can disagree about the merits of the TPP, but it represents a recognition of past failings of U.S. trade and economic policy, not an effort to box out China.

Fourth, security relationships in Asia are not exclusionary. China and the United States each have military-to-military relations with a wide range of countries throughout Asia (including with each other), and those countries have security ties among themselves that engage neither Washington nor Beijing. Moreover, China increasingly has military ties throughout the world. In the United States’ backyard, for example, China hosts military personnel from at least eighteen Latin American countries and sells arms to countries such as Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  The United States clearly can’t define the terms of engagement for its neighbors, and China shouldn’t attempt to do so in its neighborhood.

China spent more than thirty years earning the respect and admiration of its neighbors for its economic accomplishments, for its repeated emphasis on “win-win” solutions, and for serving as an important engine of growth in the region. What is causing consternation in the region now is not change in U.S. policy but more assertive Chinese rhetoric and military maneuverings. Once Beijing can acknowledge the real source of its problem, it has the opportunity to identify the correct solution. It is not about the United States assuaging Chinese concerns; it is about China assuaging the region’s concerns.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by Loren Fauchier

    China still uses conspiracy thinking as it has for centuries. This was true during emperor rule where power and information were centralized and fear of an overthrow always present. Conspiratorial thinking is also embedded in Marxist ideology, especially its view of history. What all countries in the region must support is international law. That way the need for political and military support is reduced. China is involved in lots of countries but it’s not “conspiratorial” unless of course we decide to call it that to make China look bad.

  • Posted by Matthew Hall

    That is because the U.S. invented everything.

  • Posted by Ginger McEvoy

    America don’t expect China or any other countries to be stronger than itself, this is a general and undeniable truth. So despite of the conspiracy philosophy of these old people who will never change like the Republicans, maybe there is really something behind.

  • Posted by venze

    Could it not be the other way round, Beijing is the source of all Washington’s problems. Otherwise, why would both the presidential campaign camps target China every time? (vzc1943)

  • Posted by bert

    China (IMHO) rarely operates on the principle of ““win-win solutions”.

    If it doesn’t get its way then it is some type of “anti-China” conspiracy and/or the hurt feelings of 1.3 billion Chinese. These ideas used to just be kept inside its borders (it’s only needed to keep the population fed with anti-west or anti-Japanese nonsense) but with the net and lighting speed information of the modern world it gets out and makes China look little a little boy throwing a temper tantrum.

    The Globull Times is absolute garbage.

  • Posted by RedWhiteBlue

    TPP is genius level strategic, or major evil. It actually all started with the gigantic strategic blunder of America, in choosing FINANCIAL ENGINEERING as the industrial policy for America.

    It is not hard to understand why FINANCIAL ENGINEERING looks so attractive. It is not constrained by natural resources, labor, or even regulations, and sky is the limit in terms of growth potential. Save for limited high tech, and certain historical sectors such as aircraft, and natural resource plays (agriculture, shale gas), America is no longer competitive in a globalized economy across a wide swath of industries, where production will go to the lowest total cost suppliers. America’s cost and input factors (labor, regulations, etc.) are simply too costly. Under such constraints, in WHAT areas would America still be competitive? Extreme scale gambling is one such area (at $700 Trillion, or about 50 TIMES the American GDP, the derivatives casino is the largest in human history by far) – especially if: (a) the gamblers also playing croupiers are backed with the full faith and credit of America (Washington continues to subsidize the American banksters (to the tune of $7.77 Trillion dollars in low and no cost loans since 2008), and (b) the gambling contracts (derivatives contracts) are rigged (written to be one way by the best of Wall Street minds).

    The TPP has little to do with trade. The T stands for tribute. Its unadvertised key feature strips member countries of the ability to exercise sovereign control over capital flow, to allow maximum “bank reforms” such as massive derivatives trade. It is a tool to spread the gift of financial AIDS throughout the Pacific, thereby to extract tribute from the far reach of empire. In the last 10 years, few foreign nations avoided losing huge money to the American banksters in derivatives trades.. America NEEDS turmoil in the Pacific for TPP to work. What better customers (victims) than banks and other financials in weak nations which governments survive only upon the pleasure of the military of Empire? The PP (Pacific Pivot) is to put the muscle behind that thumb, and weak nations under that thumb. Taking away capital control makes it so much easier for American banksters to have their ways, for the Empire to collect its trillions in Tributes.

  • Posted by Thangleader

    This is a game the players well knowing each others. I don’t think China can compete US interest over its pivot forces in Asia pacific coming up. Whether US plan would become real or not, these scenario can be predictable. Return the time on years 1970’s, a “marriage” initiated and blue-printed by game changers Zhou An Lai and Henry Kissinger and someones have created the world today. China has got more advantages over its 20 years peaceful development and now, they will show or prove by themselves whatever they can. I am trying to find the person who can call “goat” of these games. The time will have a reply soon.

  • Posted by Asia for Asians

    Yawn,,… another of those anti-China rhetoric, from who else, but a western writer.

    This articles goes full swing into why the USA is not to be blamed for all and of any troubles in Asia. Almost portraying it as a truly benevolent country, full of compassion and good deeds, as so characterised by the author.

    Yeah, yawn again, so what else is new?

    The real truth is, the USA is a war mongering country. Name me one decade or even one year where the United States is NOT in a state of war in any part of the world and I shall rest my case.

    United Sates has hegemony intentions in Asia. no doubt about that. Period. It can’t allow another country to influence more that they can.

    The Asia pivot is as simple as that. The author should not try to manipulate opinions and make it look more complicated that it actually is.

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