In June of this year, I was privileged to attend a series of discussions at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis between retired four-star Generals from both China and the US. The discussions covered a range of topics relevant to the American and Chinese military, including counter-terrorism operations, the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the South China Sea dispute. But a recurring point of contention and debate was America’s “pivot to Asia”, that is the strategic military refocus on Asia which was announced in 2011.
The Obama administration has been at pains to point out that the so-called pivot is not aimed at containing China. US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking in Singapore earlier in June 2012, likewise insisted that the shift of focus to the Asia-Pacific is not intended to contain or challenge China, saying that “increased US involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity in the future”.
However, despite such reassurances, my impression from the Chinese Generals I met in Annapolis was that the pivot to Asia is widely regarded in Chinese military circles as indicative of American mistrust and suspicion towards China and its regional aspirations, and thinly veils America’s intention to assert its power and dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, including by means of military influence.
So I was interested, in last night’s Presidential debate on foreign policy, to note that in the segment dedicated to “The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World” President Obama took the surprising step of referring to China as an adversary: “China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it is following the rules.” This characterization of China is inconsistent with the rhetoric deployed by the Obama administration, but is sure to resonate with many in China as indicative of the true nature and intent of America’s military pivot.
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