Suddenly, it seems that the United States is on a charm offensive in Asia. It’s amazing what an economic slowdown or recession can do.
A flurry of high-level visits by top US officials appears aimed at reasserting American influence in the region as China flexes its economic muscles. These high-level US trips around the G-20, Apec and the East Asia Summit (EAS) may also be seen as attempts to secure access to important markets (and cheap labour) and shore up US footholds in the region.
The US of course is also concerned about China’s growing naval power. America has large long-term bases in Japan and South Korea and military facilities and strategic arrangements elsewhere in Asia.
Let’s list out the whistle-stops: Hillary Clinton visits Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates checks in on Malaysia – amidst talk of strengthening ‘bilateral military ties’ (whatever happened to Zopfan – the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality?) – and Australia.
Bill Clinton is visiting the Philippines amidst increasing calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Next week, he will be in Malaysia.
And Obama’s tour is taking him to India, Indonesia, Seoul and Japan, where the East Asian Summit is due to take place. The United States is set to join the summit next year.
As America remains stuck in an economic quagmire, as China goes on the ascendancy, I think America needs Asia more than Asia needs America; the high-level American visits bear testimony to that. Hopefully, leaders of the South will know better than to fall once again into the suffocating embrace of the world’s superpowers. This time too, they should not surrender their economic sovereignty either.