THE emergence of Asia Pacific region as a new strategic centre in the international political landscape is now a reality and it might gain more significance as a region. Foreign policy, elections, protectionism and territorial stakes have turned into an inexorably pertinent subject of the contemporary times. It seems evident that the international political economy will change in 2017 and the stakes are high for achieving regional and global leadership. The national interest of the states will change altogether and their respective foreign policies will be modified accordingly. Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement that was optimistically negotiated by the Obama Administration and the threatening remarks of leaving NAFTA by the Trump Administration will result in serious consequences in this region.
It is assumed that Washington may lose its power as a political leader that has the potential of carrying out decisions for strengthening regional growth, once it comes out of trade liberalization associations. It is also inferred that in the absence of United States, China will patently gain additional advantage of influencing Asia Pacific countries, therefore bringing down Washington’s impact on policies even more. Hence, the states are now determined to negotiate trade deals with or without the Washington’s guidance. Meanwhile, President Trump’s administration is believed to convince Australia and other allies to follow an explicit policy regarding South China Sea and they must take a rigid stance against Beijing. It is yet to see if the US plays its provocation card by being a regional integration killjoy or it still acts a mediator for the sake of region’s stability and prosperity.
The consequences of the Beijing’s military objectives with regard to regional diplomacy and foreign policy could be noteworthy. Firstly, the political disintegration and the growing militarization of the region are jeopardizing its stability and there is a risk of increased tensions with the opposing alliances emerging from within the Asia Pacific region. The rapid shift in the Philippines’ pro-China stance from pro-US by overlooking the decision of the South Sea Arbitration that came against China is surprising. And the US State Secretary Rex Tillerson explicitly clarified that China’s South China Sea ambitions are “not going to be allowed”. It seems apparent that US will utilize the interventionist policies of its diplomacy while pushing Australia to take the similar stance as that of US. The issue of South China Sea is likely to divide the alliances on the matters of security and peace. Whilst China’s endeavours to give impetus to the international trade relations can result in a stable and prosperous Asia Pacific region.
Initially, the US strategy of coalition-building was designed to counter the Chinese tilt towards the East Asia integration associations by gaining the membership of Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP performed as a body on which the United States could rely for emphasizing the values of deregulatory systems in the region. This was the essence of Obama’s repeated statement: “If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region.” With Japan’s economy twice the size of the eight founding participants in the TPP negotiations with the United States, Japan’s entry was viewed as important for the pact’s emergence as the preeminent trade agreement in the Asia Pacific region.
Furthermore, US wanted to curb the rise of China amidst the current US-CHINA competition in the region. In reaction to the TPP general agreement, China initiated to establish its own regional organizations including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China has promoted its bilateral and multilateral regional economic integration through these institutions. China has inclusively increased its expansion primarily in South and Central Asia along with the collaboration of Russia and India. The Chinese ambition of creating a “New Silk Road Economic Zone” is definitely a credible counter-balance to the TPP. Therefore, China has sustained its economic cooperation with US, Japan and other regional cooperative initiatives too which manifests that China does not want to escape from regional and global cooperation organizations. Yet, it simply countervails the alliances formed under US influence by creating parallel regional concepts.
The above mentioned efforts made by China are only the means to create such an environment for US and Japan where China can easily impede the way of realization of their ambitions while promoting its own strategic and economic interests, regardless of Japan and US being neither the member of CICA nor SCO. In essence, the escalating Sino-US competition of enforcing the set of rules and norms on regional security and economic agenda that is in their country’s respective national interest, and shaping the regional political and economic order is the indication of the upsurge in “new” regionalism in Asia and Asia Pacific. This struggle for the hegemony does not involve any direct conventional arms race but implicates the standards-setting process based on the regional order-building approach. These are the tactics employed to neutralize the dominance of the opposite side.
—The writer works for Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.