Yes, Obama’s Asia Trip Is About Containing China


Over at The Diplomat, Shannon Tiezzi worries that Obama’s trip to Asia this week “will increase perceptions in Beijing that the U.S. seeks to contain China’s rise.” It’s difficult to counter that perception because it happens to be correct.

Obama is visiting Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Three of those four countries have formal security agreements with Washington obligating the U.S. to go to war in their defense. All three have made explicit pleas that Washington reassure their security against China in the form of economic, military, and diplomatic support.

Malaysia does not have such a formal defense treaty, but one could be on the way. Like Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, Malaysia has tense territorial and maritime disputes with China, most recently over “the James Shoal, just 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the coast of Malaysia’s Sarawak state.”

More than the territorial disputes, Malaysia represents a key geopolitical asset for hegemonic powers in the region. “The oil transported through the Malacca Strait from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is triple the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and fifteen times the amount that transits the Panama Canal,” reports Robert Kaplan in his new book. “Roughly two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80 percent of China’s crude oil imports come through the South China Sea.” Unsurprisingly, Obama is trying to make friends with Malaysia to maintain control of Asia Pacific’s sea lanes and keep China in a weaker position.

The U.S. has extensive military relationships with all four countries Obama is visiting. Almost 30,000 troops occupy South Korea and 40,000 occupy Japan. The U.S. has at least hundreds of troops in the Philippines, and may get more following new agreements expected in coming months. And hundreds of Malaysian troops are trained by the U.S. military every year.

Add to all this the dramatically increased U.S. naval presence in the Asia Pacific and the U.S.’s military relationships with Guam, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, Indonesia and even Vietnam and you have a virtual military encirclement of China. Washington allies with all of China’s neighboring rivals, and somehow Beijing is expected to perceive this as something other than a hostile containment policy?

In Asia, U.S. policy is about maintaining hegemony – or at least preventing Chinese hegemony. As Geoff Dyer writes, “America has defined its vital interest as preventing any one power from dominating the other main regions of the world and turning them into a private sphere of influence.” In other words, the U.S. is on a mission to prevent China from doing exactly what America did in its own Western Hemisphere; namely, dominating its own sphere of regional influence.

Problematically for Washington, it is difficult to disguise this policy with the usual moralistic platitudes about democracy, capitalism, and freedom. China is no Soviet Union. They can hardly be accused of being some kind of global menace, since they mostly focus on growing their own economy. They aren’t democratic, but neither are half the countries the U.S. supports in opposition to China. This isn’t about making the world safe for democracy. It is about power.

This is clear to anyone who looks honestly at U.S. policy and, in particular, the “Asia Pivot.” And yes, we can be darn sure it is clear to China.

15 thoughts on “Yes, Obama’s Asia Trip Is About Containing China”

  1. "They aren’t democratic, but neither are half the countries the U.S. supports in opposition to China."

    And neither is the USA. It's an oligarchy. The cat's out of the bag… since 1776 when the founders disenfranchised everyone but rich white males and mandated slavery, "levensraum" expansion, and extermination of a race.

    Also worth asking: what would the USA do if some other country were doing this same type of thing in Latin America or Canada?

    And we don't have to ask, since we know the answer: they wouldn't like it. The USA accuses Russia of having secret bases in Latin America, and the US does not view this as a good thing. It's only good if the US does it, even though the US installed, according to Prof. Chalmers Johnson, the two worst dictatorship of the entire Cold War era, and one was in Latin America: Pinochet. (The other was the Nazis the US installed in Greece.)

  2. As you correctly point out, Mr. Glaser, the USG has a difficult time avoiding "perceptions in Beijing that the U.S. seeks to contain China’s rise" because that's exactly what the "Asia Pivot" is all about. US leaders seem to believe that the entire world is populated with people as delusional as they are, who will readily believe whatever balderdash or poppycock US leaders choose to invent. But the world's peoples are not as stupid as the "elite" would like to believe, and the "elite" are not as smart as they like to imagine.

  3. Wonder why it's called the "south china sea," there must be some legitimacy to China's claim.

    1. Going by your logic, India owns the whole vastness of Indian Ocean. Which is of course not true, and will never happen. South China Sea should be renamed to Southeast Asia Sea. It's between two halves of Malaysia, west of Philippines, South of Vietnam, North of Brunei and Malaysian Borneo. Only a remote for-north corner of the sea borders with China.

      1. Who own the Gulf of Mexico? It would be foolish for the Chinese to lay claim to it since they are on the other side of the globe,so why is the US spewing all that rhetoric about the South China Sea which is in China backyard?

  4. It's starting to appear as if soon-to-be lame duck Obama wants to either go down in a blaze of glory or wreck what's left of the US. Will our provocations not further drive China and Russia together? The stupid Obama sanctions mean nothing as long as Russia sells its gas and oil to China. The EU, afraid of the US, could be facing a very cold winter come November without all that Russian gas to keep them warm.

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  7. You are all idiots. The US will dominate, and continue to dominate China. China has no navy compared to the US. It has no friendly neighbors due to its ridiculous territory claims. It has no creative ability because its citizens are all taught to obey and not think on their own. Why do you think they have to steal technology from other countries to get ahead? If the US opened its borders to Chinese citizens they would come pouring in…now what if the reverse would happen. Almost no US citizen would want to live under the Chinese government? Why? Because China sucks!

    China manufacturers all of the worlds cheap shit because they pay their labor force nothing. I can do just fine without Walmart and the Dollar Tree. America manufacturers high tech equipment that no other country can… China will never become a super power, I guarantee you that.

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