Language : English 简体 繁體
Foreign Policy

Double Intentions of Obama’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance

Dec 12 , 2013
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

Since taking office, the Obama administration has taken steps to change its Asia-Pacific policy, which is now called a “rebalancing” strategy. It contains at least two aspects: one to adjust the strength from a global perspective, shrinking the U.S. force deployed in Europe and transferring it to Asia; the other is to allocate the strength within Asia to achieve an even U.S. power distribution in the region, by withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq, and transferring to other regions in Asia, e.g. the Southeast Asia. 

Chen Jimin

What are the strategic intentions behind it? Personally, I believe there are two aspects: the strategic intention and the economic intention. As for the strategic intention, it is twofold: one is to deal with China’s rise, which has always been seen as a potential threat to U.S. global primacy. Although the U.S. has a clear perception of the power gap between them, the momentum of China’s rapid growth still makes it uneasy. According to World Bank statistics, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) accounted for less than 7% of total U.S. GDP in 1993; but grew to 13%, 36% and 53% in 2001, 2009 and 2012 respectively. More importantly, the prospects for China’s future development are promising, given the Chinese government’s clear development strategy, timetable and roadmap. China is in the ascending period and thus the diligence and wisdom of the Chinese people laying a solid foundation for human resources will improve the abilities of Chinese leadership and governance. From this perspective, China has great potential and broad space for further development. When visiting China, Vice President Joe Biden pointed out that the United States believed the Chinese people would be able to advance the process of great power relations to a new height. 

The other is to ensure that the security commitment to US Asian allies is effective. After the Cold War, especially in the 21st century, the U.S. alliance system faced a confidence crisis from time to time, mainly due to the disappearance of a significant external threat, the differences between policies between the United States and its allies, a heightened desire for more autonomy among the allies, and the relative decline of American power. In this case, the United States needed a clear posture, showing that the U.S. security commitment to Asian allies continues to be valid and reliable. To this end, Vice President Biden paid a week-long visit to three Asian countries (Japan, China, South Korea) from December 2-7. After missing the APEC summit this year, President Barack Obama announced he will visit Asia in April next year. In order to strengthen confidence among Asian allies, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice delivered a speech “America’s Future in Asia” at Georgetown University on November 22. She reiterated the U.S. Asia-Pacific policy had not changed, saying “rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific remains a cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. No matter how many hotspots emerge elsewhere, we will continue to deepen our enduring commitment to this critical region.” 

As for economic intentions, it is also twofold and one is to meet the needs of the U.S. economy revival. From World Bank statistics, the economic growth in East Asia and the Pacific region reached 7.5% in 2012, while global economic growth was only 2.2%. The region’s contribution to world economic growth rate reached over 40%. If extending to the entire Asian region, it has surpassed 50%. The region has indeed become the most dynamic and important engine to promote world economic development. In contrast, the overall U.S. economic situation is still not optimistic. Although the economy is slowly recovering, and the economic growth rate in the third-quarter of 2013 even reached 3.6%, far exceeding market expectations, the U.S. unemployment rate remains over 7%. The economic conditions in the United States are directly related to its citizens’ daily lives, which touched the most sensitive nerve of the U.S. government. On December 3, the Pew Research Center and the Council on Foreign Relations jointly released a poll, which showed that 81% of respondents believed that protecting American’s jobs should be the top priority of the Obama’s administration. Additionally, on December 8, the Pew Research Center released another poll, showing that 65% of respondents were dissatisfied with Obama’s economic policy. Obama’s approval ratings have dropped to 41%, which is the lowest since his second term. Therefore, leading the U.S. economy out of trouble as soon as possible, especially in reducing unemployment rate, has become a thorny issue for the Obama’s administration, particularly with mid-term elections in 2014 approaching. Obviously, the U.S. economic revitalization is closely related to Asia. 25% of the goods and services exported by the U.S. are bound for Asia, and about 30% of the imports come from the region. More than a million Americans hold jobs supported by exports to Asia. As Susan Rice said in her speech at Georgetown University, “Our own economic future is inextricably linked to that of the Asia Pacific.” 

The other goal is to ensure the economy in Asia-Pacific region is held under U.S. dominance. One of the major policies of Obama’s rebalancing strategy is to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Though TPP is a high-level multilateral free trade agreement, it is likely to change the current global trade rules which seems Americans think are unsuitable to their interests. Thus, abandoning the old rules and building a new one is appealing to the U.S. Through institutions, the U.S. not only achieves economic gains, but leads, and even dominates the Asia-Pacific economy. 

Clearly, the U.S. rebalancing strategy has double intentions, and the impact of the strategy on China-US relations should also be analyzed from two sides: for one thing, the strategic game in strength between the two increases and the competition may be fiercer; for another, it provides an opportunity and platform for them to expand cooperation. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in September at the Brookings Institution that the Asia Pacific is the most important region for building the new type of major power relationship between China and the U.S. To a large extent, the prospect for future Sino-US relations depends on an understanding of the strategic cognition and the interactive policies. Thus, the fate of the Sino-US bilateral relations fundamentally lies in their own hands.

Chen Jimin, Ph.D, is an Assistant Research Fellow for the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at the Party School of Central Committee of C.P.C.

You might also like
Back to Top