Strengthening the United States as an export economy has been the backbone of President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Asia. By focusing the tour specifically on the democratic countries of India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan, the trip is also the strengthening of alliances with free countries in the Asian region, amidst rising tensions and trade imbalances with China.
“Washington has become convinced that it needs to accelerate the process of developing regional counterweights to China. This realization is dawning as the United States observes China’s behavior, especially since the global economic crisis,” states a report from geopolitical intelligence company Stratfor.
The visit to each country holds significance. The visit to India comes at a time when the economies of China and India are almost neck to neck, with India’s just below, yet rising at a sharper pace than China’s. The trip to South Korea comes amidst growing tensions with North Korea, which maintains strong backing by the Chinese regime. The trip to Japan comes amid tensions with Japan and China over disputed territory in the East China Sea, and the Chinese regime’s subsequent cut in exports of rare earth minerals.
As for Indonesia, “From China’s point of view, the American timing in revitalizing its relationship with Indonesia is clear. The move seems a transparent attempt to revive the anti-Soviet strategy, only this time aimed at constraining Beijing’s rising influence. As Beijing moves to counter this perceived threat and quickens its pace, it fuels U.S. apprehensions,” states the Stratfor report.
The formation of Cold War-style alliances is something being worked on, particularly with upcoming release of the Pentagon’s new cyberstrategy, expected to be released before the end of the year.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn gave an outline of what the new strategy will include, saying in part it will recognize cyberspace as “a new domain of warfare,” and will include forming international alliances, “essentially using a Cold War concept but updated to shared warning. … We have been doing this with our closest allies—the United Kingdom, Australia, [and] Canada. We're now looking to NATO,” according to a transcription of his speech by Foreign Affairs.
During his visit to India, Obama also extended the cybersecurity alliance to include India, at least in part. “Accordingly, the United States and India are advancing efforts to work together to promote a reliable information and communications infrastructure and the goal of free, fair, and secure access to cyberspace,” according to a Whites House report.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been trying to voice a more authoritative tone since the global economic crisis hit. This has been expressed most strongly in its disputes over territory with Japan, India, and the United States—which gives more weight to Obama’s Asia visit.
Following North Korea's sinking of South Korean warship, Cheonan, the United States announced it would hold naval exercises with South Korea in international waters in the South China Sea. The CCP was quick to send threats to the United States over the waters that the CCP claims as its territory.
In response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly stated on July 23, “The United States, like every nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea. … We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant,” according to a Department of State transcription.
Japan underwent a similar confrontation with the CCP over disputed territory in the East China Sea. In early September, a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels. The ship’s captain was detained in Japan, then released under extreme pressure from the CCP. Tensions have been high between the nations ever since.