With its proposed weapon deal with Taiwan, the US appears determined to encircle China with American-built anti-missile systems, Chinese military experts have observed.
Taiwan became the fifth global buyer of the Patriot missile defense system last year following Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Germany.
According to Chinese military strategists, Washington's weapon deal with Taiwan is the key part of a US strategic encirclement of China in the East Asian region.
“China is in a crescent-shaped ring of encirclement. The ring begins in Japan, stretches through nations in the South China Sea to India, and ends in Afghanistan. Washington's deployment of anti-missile systems around China's periphery forms a crescent-shaped encirclement,” China Daily quoted Air force colonel Dai Xu, as saying.
Ni Lexiong, an expert on military affairs with the Shanghai Institute of Political Science and Law, said: “The US anti-missile system in China's neighbourhood is a replica of its strategy in Eastern Europe against Russia. The Obama administration began to plan for such a system around China after its project in Eastern Europe got suspended.”(From ANI). Is America surrounding China ? People's Daily Online Feb. 23, 2010.
A year ago, when President Obama visited China, many eyes were on India. "Beijing’s view of India-US relations is thinly disguised distrust that they aim to contain China. “The rise of India and India’s increasing involvement in South East Asia is a new factor,’’ said David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Programme at the George Washington University, in Beijing this week. He emphasised that the US and China are ‘joined at the hip’ and China has a role in every global issue Obama faces, including the strategic interests of a rising India for both sides." Reshima Patil, As Obama Visits China India Will be Watching, Hindustan Times, Nov. 9, 2009. At the same time, the United States has begun to cement its relationship with Vietnam. The American navy has been making visits to its old ports of call in Vietnam. USS John S. McCain Arrives in Vietnam to Commemorate 15th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations, Navy.mil, Aug. 190, 2010. "Indeed, analysts regard warmer U.S.-Vietnam ties as the result, in part, of a mutual interest in containing China. In recent months, the U.S. has come to Vietnam's defense diplomatically, standing up to China's increased assertiveness in the long-standing dispute over possession of the oil-rich Spratly and Paracel archipelagos. Vietnam and China (as well as the Philippines and Indonesia) claim overlapping territories among these South China Sea islands." Hilary Clark, Clinton's Vietnam Offensive, GlobalPost, Oct. 29, 2010.
It is in this context that the current visit of President Obama in Asia appears quite spectacularly to confirm Chinese fears. "Beijing will keenly watch the Obama visit and how far the US administration and the Manmohan Singh government would be prepared to take the strategic partnership to. . . . “Washington’s recent moves (in South Asia) are likely aimed at telling others that the US is back in Asia,”Jin Canrong, deputy director of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the daily which carried a report on Obama’s visit to India titled “US eyes India’s bigger role in Asia”. The US has already displayed such an intention by consolidating its alliances with South Korea and Japan, and strengthening its ties with some Southeast Asian countries." Inscrutable China jittery over Obama’s India visit, Deccan Herald, Oct. 27, 2010. And now "US President Barack Obama endorsed on Monday India's long-held demand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a reflection of the Asian country's growing global weight and its challenge to rival China." Obama backs India for UN security council seat, Hindustan Times, Nov. 8, 2010. The support is more symbolic than real--a change to the security council is unlikely to occur for many years, but symbol matters here, especially given the itnerary of this trip. "Obama will also visit Indonesia, South Korea and Japan on the tour that will see Washington push to prevent countries unilaterally devaluing currencies to protect their exports, a top theme at the G20 summit in Seoul this week." Id.
"Our approach has always basically been that we need to cooperate with China on a range of issues. If you're going to deal with the global economy and global economic growth, if you’re going to deal with security concerns in the region, if you’re going to deal with energy and climate, China has got to be a partner on those issues," Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes said.
When the Americans look to their engagement with Asia, they see a continuation of the project of nation building, development and regional integration into the global economy. The Americans see the internationalization of democratic political systems that share in the sort of consensus norms that have helped define modern transnational constitutionalism. They also weave these policy determinations looking not merely east toward China, but West toward Pakistan and Iran. But whatever the statements of U.S. officials, from the Chinese perspective, the move toward warmer relations with India, combined with stronger ties with Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea and Japan does not look benign.
The strength of the comment suggests the strong assessment of success for the Americans. It also raises the stakes for a China very sensitive to issues of containment, even if it is merely symbolic. Expect reaction from China, not directly, though there will be plenty of the usual well timed writing in the usual media outlets for Western consumption. More interesting will be to gauge the moves China makes in Africa and Latin America. A clever China might move swiftly to cultivate Brazil and to work more closely with the ALBA regional trade association. A China that might wish to strategically project power might consider a naval base in Caracas. These moves might sharpen the relationship between the United States and China in new and interesting ways. Unless the United States moves quickly and decisively to forestall these possible moves, it may well begin to see its own encirclement problem.
But this may be an old fashioned way of understanding the problem. Consider that while Mr. Obama will not be visiting China on this encirclement trip, Chinese president Hu Jintao travels to Japan at the same time. The purpose of the trip is to refashion the Asia Pacific Economic Forum. "Pacific Rim economies are debating whether to give APEC the power to negotiate free trade pacts, a move that pave the way for a massive free trade zone that lowers tariffs on goods from electronics to food." Mari Yamaguchi, APEC Considers Free Trade Pacts, Associated Press, Nov. 9, 2010. The institutionalization of a trade zone through APEC would create one of the most potent integrated trade and economic activity areas in the globe--accounting for about 44% of global trade and push the United States. The effect would be greater than that. Institutionalized and bureaucratized within a governing framework of its own, APEC would tend to tie its participants more closely together. That also has been part of the American Asia strategy that Mr. Obama inherited from Mr. Bush and that he is seeing through; "the idea of an APEC free trade zone, first floated by the U.S. at the 2006 summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, has gained momentum as a way to harmonize the proliferation of bilateral and regional free trade pacts within the region." Id. It suggests the possibility if integration rather than of encirclement. It further suggests the possibility of the circle containing rather then excluding the Chinese, and thereby providing another transnational vehicle for the extension of Chinese power. This new way of thinking, one that the Obama administration, to its credit, has been advancing, substitutes a multi-lateral framework for the assertion of great power interests for the traditional unilateral approach. Both China and the United States will find it easier to project power abroad in concert and in a coordinated manner than by blundering through uncoordinated episodes of intervention. Viewed this way, the American steps, though not benign, appear to provide more potential than threat. It also provides a template, if the Chinese were aggressive enough to try it, to force a similar arrangement within the Western Hemisphere--the revival of a Free Trade Areas of the Pacific Rim in which the states of Latin America would join with the United States and China to determine Hemispheric trade policy. Rather than pulling back, the Chinese might consider pushing through.