Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

U.S. Security Policy in Asia: Implications for China-U.S. Relations

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

U.S. Security Policy in Asia: Implications for China-U.S. Relations

Article excerpt

As the two major players in the Asia-Pacific region, China and the United States are increasingly in disagreement over security concepts and practices. In an era when Washington is trying to build a Pax Americana, Beijing feels strongly that its security interests in Asia are being challenged. The prospect of security relations between China and the United States will shape the political-security dynamics of the Asia-Pacific in the twenty-first century While both sides will continue to pursue their security interests in Asia as they see appropriate, each has to adapt itself to the changing political, economic, and security landscape in the region and learn how to live with the other. This approach requires both countries to adjust their respective security policies as the region's geopolitical dynamics evolve.

Introduction

In the post-Cold War era, Sino--U.S. relations have been troubled constantly by three major factors: human rights, trade, and security. With the de-linking of China's human rights record from most-favoured-nation (MFN) treatment in 1994 and the closing of the Beijing--Washington marathon talks on China's World Trade Organization (WTO) membership in 1999, human rights and economics seem to be subsiding as major sources of tension on the bilateral agenda, while security issues emerging in the mid-1990s appear to be the most important factor affecting the evolution of bilateral relations in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

This article starts with an exploration of some U.S. misperceptions regarding China's policy objectives in the Asia-Pacific and certain important conceptual differences on security practice between Beijing and Washington. Next, it discusses how China perceives the United States' impact on its security interests. Finally, some policy recommendations will be made on how China and the United States might manage their problems. The basic argument is that, because of differences in their world-views, historical experiences, and capabilities, China and the United States have quite different security thinking, which has led to the two countries pursuing different security practices. Chinese and U.S. security interests in Asia both converge and diverge, and as the United States acts to take on China as a latent adversary, the divergence will become even more conspicuous. While both sides will continue to pursue their security interests in Asia as they see fit, each has to adapt to the changing regional political, ec onomic, and security landscape and learn to live with the other. This requires both sides to adjust their respective security policies accordingly.

Misperceptions and Conceptual Differences

One popular perception in the United States about China's long-term policy objectives in Asia is that Beijing aspires to be the regional hegemon and to restore a Sino-centric order in this part of the world. This observation is wrong. First, Beijing believes in the trend of multipolarization rather than unipolarization at both the global and regional levels, and predicts that, with continued economic development and growing intra-regional political consultation in Asia, countries' influence on regional affairs will become more diversified and more evenly distributed. Secondly, even though China expects some relative increase in its own influence in Asia, it understands that, because of the limits of its hard power and particularly its soft power, it will not achieve a position comparable to its role in the ancient past or to America's role in the region today.

Another misperception is that, in the long run, China will endeavour to drive the United States out of East Asia. Again, this is an incorrect assumption. From Beijing's perspective, the United States is an Asia-Pacific power, although not an Asian power, and its political, economic and security interests in the region are deep-rooted, as are its commitments to regional stability and prosperity. …

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