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A safe bet on US ?

16:01, November 18, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

In an exclusive interview with The Australian Oct 9 when she was still on her Asia tour, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the US commitment to remain militarily paramount in the Asia-Pacific.

Ms Clinton's comments came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US intended to stay in Afghanistan for the long term, exerting an influence on the country long after the combat troops leave.

To woo the Asian countries to continuously side with Uncle Sam, Ms Clinton tried even to cuddle the jittery allies while cooking up China's rise as a "test" posed to them as well as the U.S.

"We think it is part of the testing process that countries go through," the Secretary of State was quoted as saying.

Ms Clinton earned Beijing's ire earlier this year when she opposed China's South China Sea claim, and on her latest 3-day Asia trip, she never failed to reiterate her strong opposition to the way China had pursued the sovereignty claim.

Ms Clinton further emphasised that the US had a balanced approach to China in the region, leaving a negative choice for the Asian countries to make----bet on a neighboring China or bet on a distant relative-- America?

Even though for complex reasons and legacies, China's rise has inspired more fear and unease than enthusiasm, among its neighbor, Asia actually doesn't need US as the super leader making the nations concerned just good followers. Additionally, so long as Washington insists on leading the show, the Asian architecture the U.S. speaks about cannot be genuinely open, balanced and inclusive.

As for China, it has formidable neighbors like Russia, India, and Japan that will fiercely resist any Chinese attempts to become the regional leader. Even Southeast Asia, where China appears to have reaped some geopolitical gains in recent years, has been reluctant to fall into China's orbit completely. Nor would the region augur well for America's success simply in the face of a "Chinese juggernaut."

The wise Asian countries know well of Uncle Sam's golden principle-- "Do not put all the eggs in one basket". They welcome the U.S. to enhance its presence in the region to counterbalance and, at best, to tame their growing giant neighbor, but they do not like to put their entire future at stake.

Also, the internal fissures in between these countries will just allow the United States to check the geopolitical influence of potential rival such as China with manageable costs and risks.

Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and mired in a sluggish economy, the United States certainly looks more like a lame duck-like superpower. Its influence in Asia has apparently receded as well. Even Obama's recently wrapped-up whirlwind to Asia cannot deliver any inspiring message that is worth being much-touted as concrete and reachable to the countries visited, for example, his support for India's coveted permanent seat in UN Security Council proves no more than a lip service.

Perhaps, the reason for the enduring American preeminence in Asia is that some countries in the region are still dreaming of Washington to be the guarantor of "Asia's peace," as "Asian elites" from New Delhi to Tokyo continue to count on Uncle Sam to keep a watchful eye on Beijing.

Albeit their aspiration to huddle together and take shelter under the protective wings of Uncle Sam, Asia is unlikely to achieve any degree of regional political unity and evolve into an EU-like entity in the foreseeable future, given the cultural differences and history of intense rivalry among the region's countries.

Henry Kissinger once famously asked, "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?" We can ask the same question about today's Asia.

All told, China is poised to increase its geopolitical and economic clout rapidly in the decades to come, like it or not. In actuality, it has already become one of the pillars of the international order.

When it comes to thinking about Asia's future, its ascent or fall is not written in the Stars and Stripes, but decided by the path these relevant countries are going to take. The wise governments will never bet the ranch on an uncertain deal with Uncle Sam, living cozily on the Chinese money but always finger pointing China behind its back.

Likewise, US should also be aware of the common sense that if you point at another person, you use one finger pointing to this person but you never notice three of your fingers pointing back to you !

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.

Columnists

Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

John 
Milligan-Whyte 
and
Dai MinJohn
Milligan-Whyte
and
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."

http://english.people.com.cn/90002/96417/7203851.pdf