Asian Century Journal

An Asian Century Philippines Publication

The US Pacific Pivot That Just Went PFFT!

By Mauro Gia Samonte

Part 1

 

“The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.”

 

Thus did in October 2011 then United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kick off cocksure her classic article, America’s Pacific Century in the Foreign Policy (FP) website.

 

Wrote the not-so-gentle lady, “As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theaters. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

“The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas, the region spans two oceans — the Pacific and the Indian — that are increasingly linked by shipping and strategy. It boasts almost half the world’s population. It includes many of the key engines of the global economy, as well as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. It is home to several of our key allies and important emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia.

 

“At a time when the region is building a more mature security and economic architecture to promote stability and prosperity, U.S. commitment there is essential. It will help build that architecture and pay dividends for continued American leadership well into this century, just as our post-World War II commitment to building a comprehensive and lasting transatlantic network of institutions and relationships has paid off many times over — and continues to do so. The time has come for the United States to make similar investments as a Pacific power, a strategic course set by President Barack Obama from the outset of his administration and one that is already yielding benefits.”

 

This was the very  sentiment that smacked of brute arrogance expressed by then President Barack Obama who, at the East Asian Summit in Indonesia that year, spoke at the face of Chinese  Premier Wen Jiabao in this wise: “While we are not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, and while we do not take sides, we have a powerful stake in maritime security in general, and in the resolution of the South China Sea issue specifically – as a resident Pacific power, as a maritime nation, as a trading nation and as a guarantor of security in the Asia Pacific region.”

 

It would seem understandable that both the US President and his Secretary of State at the time would propel themselves on self-gratifying confidence in asserting political, economic and even military dominance in a region over which resident Asiatics had not quite exercised complete control yet. China had only just begun making its presence felt in the South China Sea conflict, for instance, with its launching of its first-ever air flight carrier in the disputed waters, and at  that, to say the best,  a reconditioned vessel acquired from Russia. It would take more or less a year still before the outgoing intelligence officer of the US Seventh Fleet would disclose China having constructed a number of forward military bases out of features and reefs of the South China Sea. At the anniversary observance of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in 2011, the US Secretary of State, giving vent to her flair for dramatics, saw to it to conduct the event at the deck of the US warship Fitzgerald then docked on Manila Bay – certainly a not-so-subtle signal of US resolve to meet China toe-to-toe militarily in pushing the South China Sea – Clinton saw fit to term it the West Philippine Sea – conflict to its bitter end.

 

Certainly, by that is meant a push of US advocacy of “freedom of navigation operations” beyond its own waters. FONOPS were, of course, just the smokescreen for the actual US design of maintaining its world hegemonic control, and the better for everyone to get a good grasp of how Clinton admitted this fact in her article nonetheless:  

 

“With Iraq and Afghanistan still in transition and serious economic challenges in our own country, there are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition, but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities. These impulses are understandable, but they are misguided. Those who say that we can no longer afford to engage with the world have it exactly backward — we cannot afford not to. From opening new markets for American businesses to curbing nuclear proliferation to keeping the sea lanes free for commerce and navigation, our work abroad holds the key to our prosperity and security at home. For more than six decades, the United States has resisted the gravitational pull of these “come home” debates and the implicit zero-sum logic of these arguments. We must do so again.

 

 “Beyond our borders, people are also wondering about America’s intentions — our willingness to remain engaged and to lead. In Asia, they ask whether we are really there to stay, whether we are likely to be distracted again by events elsewhere, whether we can make — and keep — credible economic and strategic commitments, and whether we can back those commitments with action. The answer is: We can, and we will.

 

“Harnessing Asia’s growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region’s key players.”

 

As things had proceeded to stand, for the US, it has been more than so much said than done. America has had two presidents since then, Trump particularly having committed the grave mistake of engaging China in a trade war that ultimately hurt American consumers and capitalists more than Chinese, and Biden for his part persevering in meshing up with the Ukrainian crisis with his sanctions on Russia which even this early are already telling on the economic woes of US and its allies.

 

Meantime, China keeps its calm and balance, in fact, indicating that the drive to the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis cannot be had without its wise intervention.

 

(To be continued)

 

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