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Foreign Policy

Rebalancing Puts Brake on Better Relations

Nov 13 , 2013

The US rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific has unsettled relations with China, and distrust between the two countries has deepened since the United States started relocating its massive military assets to the region.

On Tuesday, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the US Pacific Command, said that basing a large portion of the US navy in the Pacific should not be viewed as unusual.

Then on the same day, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel vowed that the US will maintain its military supremacy. However, his comment that the Pentagon is not taking the lead in this rebalancing shows that the US has finally realized that its overemphasis on the military component has been unwise.

Robert Ross, a professor of political science at BostonCollege and an associate at the JohnKingFairbankCenter for Chinese Studies at HarvardUniversity, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that the Barack Obama administration’s rebalancing is not contributing to stability in Asia, instead it is making the region more tense and a conflict more likely. Military aircraft and naval ships now crowd the region’s skies and water. The US risks getting involved in hostilities over islands that are strategically irrelevant and economically marginal to it.

US arms sales to the region has increased dramatically. The region, as Locklear admitted, has become one of the most militarized regions in the world.

With its unrivaled military might, the US tends to believe that a quick solution to complex problems is simply to display or even use its military muscle. In the minds of some US leaders, relocating 60 percent of the US navy to the Asia-Pacific by 2020 will deter any challenge to the US’ self-proclaimed global leadership. In this sense, the military rebalance is intended to intimidate.

The US government has never been honest about its rebalancing, claiming it is not aimed at China, a statement that few, even in the US, believe. Most analysts describe the rebalancing as a move to counter China’s growing influence. The US certainly does not need to make such a massive military adjustment for the sake of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The US government has been skillful in claiming the moral high ground, assuming the role of policeman not just in East Asia, but all over the world, and claiming its intention is to maintain peace, security and prosperity for all.

This has been shown to be the lie it is by its spying on imagined foes and real friends alike.

The US impartiality would be quickly called into question when it starts to divide countries into key allies, allies, partners, emerging partners and adversaries. It is like letting someone refereeing a soccer match when one side comprises entirely of his siblings. It is not going to be a fair game.

Even worse, the US has repeatedly tried to prove to its allies that the US, regardless of its declining influence, still calls the shots in global and regional affairs.

A recent seminar I attended on US export control is a reminder why the US has designed such a paranoid rebalancing strategy aimed at China. On a short list of countries US companies are prohibited from exporting to, China is included alongside a few other countries that the US claims sponsor terrorism and proliferate nuclear technology.

Since the two nations’ presidents met in Sunnylands, California, this June, there have been signs that relations are warming. Military exchanges, which have long lagged behind other aspects of the bilateral relationship, are said to be improving.

But such efforts won’t help much if the US does not fundamentally change its Cold War style thinking embedded in its rebalancing strategy.

Chen Weihua, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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