But anyone who concluded from the Times and Post accounts that in 2005, China was merely a bit player in Southeast Asia — or anywhere else in the world — would be dead wrong. Beijing’s political leaders know that superpowers aren’t measured by their foreign aid budgets, or by their economies. They are measured by their ability to use their comprehensive national power — economic, political, and above all military — to gain the obeisance of their neighbors and their regional and global rivals...Well worth the the short time it takes to read it all.
...One reason the United States is losing influence in Southeast Asia is because it is no longer feared. Of course, it isn’t much loved, either. Though its humanitarian compassion seems to be taken for granted — Americans can always be counted on to help in a disaster or crisis — its attention has been distracted from the region by military and terrorist challenges in the Middle East and nuclear blackmail from North Korea.
From a geostrategic standpoint, strong countries surround China. Japan and Korea lie to the east, Russia to the north, India to the west. The only outlet for Chinese imperial ambitions is Southeast Asia. Most Southeast Asians understand that China is rapidly becoming the predominant power in the region and already behave accordingly. Beijing’s diplomats have effectively translated China’s burgeoning economic clout into political influence, leaving in question the U.S. role in and commitment to the region, even with its traditional allies and friends...
...The U.S. is passively relinquishing its influence in Southeast Asia to China through its apparent lack of interest in Asian economic, security, and political issues. Recovering from wasted years in which we ignored the warning signs of regional Chinese political clout will require a shift in U.S. policy toward mending tenuous alliances that have been unattended or, in some cases, have grown cold. It is not too late to regain the trust and confidence of Asia and reaffirm our commitment to the security and economic development of the region. But that trust must be earned through a thorough, consistent, and determined foreign policy.
UPDATE: A companion piece?
... The guiding philosophy for Chinese international relations in the 21st century is set out in this white paper - we make money, you'll make money too, and we'll all be happy - happy enough to leave each other alone in terms of internal issues. It invokes Chinese history constantly to prove its point.
The trouble, as I've said before, that what China considers 'internal affairs', its own 'Monroe Doctrine', if you like, has been a continually shifting set of territories. France and China went to war in 1884, for instance, over who had a stronger sphere of influence in Vietnam (China lost, but evidently tried to re-establish it unsuccessfully in 1979). China has throughout history tried to exert its influence in much the same way a Godfather (in the Puzo sense) does, in setting up tributary relations for all bilateral ties. Let us hope China does not revert to historical norm on this front as well.
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