Pivot to Asia: Containing China?

Last month, Kurt Campbell, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, sat down with former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy, Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute, to discuss the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia and the perception among critics that this initiative is aimed at containing China. What are your thoughts on the pivot?



3 thoughts on “Pivot to Asia: Containing China?

  1. Megan Craighead (@MeganCraighead)

    I agree that the US should pay more attention to the Asia Pacific region. As Mr. Campbell says, it will write the history of the 21st century. It is important to better relations with every country across the globe, and this is especially true as regards this region. The US should also continue to engage with China on international issues and promote their involvement in global affairs and institutions. Mr. Campbell clearly denies any attempts to contain or hedge against China. The pivot does focus on maintaing and bettering relations with other countries in the Asia Pacific, but this should not be understand as an attempt to undermine China. This part of his explanation on the pivot makes a lot of sense.

    The Air-Sea Battle plan, however, does seem to be directed against China. It may be a natural corollary to policy, but its purpose, undeniably, is to knock out Chinese weapons systems.
    While this is claimed to be a defensive measure, one cannot be surprised at Chinese alarm. The question of necessity should also be considered. Mr. Campbell seems to shrug off the issue of “toughening against China” by saying that there will always be inherent tensions in the relations between the two countries.

    Overall, Mr. Campbell’s prescription that the US needs to 1) show that we are not declining and will be active in the Asia Pacific, 2) show respect for China and work with them as partners, and 3) make sure China respects determination, seems to combine realist and liberal approaches. In this multilateral world, realism might be less persuasive, but it needs to come into consideration when dealing with a realist country like China.

  2. Merlin Boone

    I feel that the administration’s current “pivot” towards the Asia Pacific is merely a political facade. I’d like to discuss several facts, largely focused in the military arena, which have led to me to initially conclude that the gesture is largely empty.

    1) Currently, the majority of U.S. military overseas installations in Asia are being downsized and consolidated. In the next several years, nearly all of the American military bases in South Korea will be consolidated into several large-scale bases. This will drastically reduce the force projection ability of the troops stationed in Korea.

    This action was largely in response to South Korean opposition and reduced budgeting for Korean expenditures. For instance, “whether in Okinawa, Guam, or Korea, residents are on a daily basis fighting to stop the construction or expansion of U.S. military bases (http://www.fpif.org/articles/bring_war_dollars_home_by_closing_down_bases).” Additional information is located at:

    2) The U.S. administration has sent 4,000 troops to Darwin, Australia. This gesture makes front-line news, but 70,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, nearly 70,000 in Europe, with only roughly 60,000 total in Asia at large. Domestically, the U.S. maintains a force posture of more than 1,000,000 troops, with more than 20,000 troops in Alaska alone! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_deployments)

    3) Public opinion, in the latter years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has largely resulted in decreasing levels of support for overseas military deployments. In conjunction with the aforementioned factors, it seems unlikely the future administration–whether Romney or Obama–will risk the potential political backlash of significant military expansion and expenditure (overseas units are significantly more expensive than domestic units or installations).

    In sum, the current force posture within the military largely calls for a reduction in overseas bases, largely citing BRAC and funding issues. This drawdown has resulted in the closure in many European bases and the consolidation of military installations located in Asia. I feel that the majority of the funding and the impending future troop drawdown (following the cessation of major conflicts, the military often downsizes between 1/4 and 1/2 of its overall troop strength) do not allow for a significant Asian ‘pivot’.

  3. Agnes Tse

    I agree with the saying that the US’ “pivot to Asia” plan is directed to China. The US’ joint military exercise with other countries in Asia Pacific earlier this year suggested that it may want to encircle China, a rising power seen as a threat by the US and its allies. Unfortunately, the “China threat” thesis would only become a self-fulfilling prophecy if other countries assume China is threatening and balance against it accordingly.


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