Imperial Argument: Washington debates ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy

Feb 27

Over the last two years, the Obama administration has executed what the president has termed the “Pivot to Asia” strategy, whereby the US’ global military force posture is being reconfigured to focus on the Asia Pacific region as Washington’s central front. Movement has been rapid, with Washington expanding its naval exercises with Japan, sending marines to Australia, conducting military exercises in the Philippines with its allies, and supporting the negotiating positions of the Philippines and Vietnam against China’s on the dispute over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, or what Filipinos now call the West Philippine Sea.  60 per cent of the US Navy’s strength has been deployed to the Western Pacific. Containment of China is the aim of the Pivot strategy, and this has drawn criticism from liberal critics of the policy like Robert Ross, a professor of Political Science at Boston University and a China hand.  Writing in November-December issue of Foreign Affairs, Ross acknowledges that China’s actions in the South China Sea, including claiming the whole area as Chinese domestic territorial waters, come across as aggressive.  However, the Pivot, he claims, is based on “a fundamental misreading of China’s leadership, who are now given to “appeasing an increasingly nationalist public with symbolic gestures of force.” For Ross, China’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric stems less from expansionist intent than from the insecurities brought about by high-speed growth, followed by economic crisis.   Long dependent for its legitimacy on delivering economic growth, domestic troubles related to the global financial crisis have left the Communist Party leadership groping for a new ideological justification, and it has found this in nationalism.   Countering its rhetoric with a military cordon sanitaire, says Ross, would deepen the “insecurities” of Beijing, leading to a truly belligerent posture on its part, heightening the possibility of an outbreak of conflict while losing China’s cooperation in managing conflicts such as the crisis in Syria. The riposte to Ross came in the form of an article in the succeeding issue of Foreign Affairs authored by Shawn Brimley and Ely Ratner of the Center for New American Security.   While not an official response of the Obama administration, the Brimley and Ratner article brings together in once piece what Obama’s...

Read More