A VOID was created when the Americans left the East Asian region and decided to focus on the Middle East post 9-11. The biggest continent was left to such country able to fill the void. But Japan was busy with its economy and so was India, South Korea was transitioning towards a more vibrant democracy and so, China became ambidextrous in its shift from hard to soft power using economy, culture and history, and multilateral organizations as it becomes more central to Asia.
The pivot to Asia is one of Obama’s central foreign policy initiatives. Simply put, the pivot is meant to be a strategic “re-balancing” of US interests from Europe and the Middle East toward East Asia. The pivot was a signal that the “Bush-era obsessions with the Middle East, democratization, and terrorism were over. The September 11th attacks and the subsequent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan diverted Washington’s attention from an East Asia that had become, in the words of the US Council on Foreign Relations, an “economic center of gravity.”
And the re-balancing was more the core of the US most ambitious, albeit congressionally delayed, trade proposals in years: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a free trade agreement that “links a number of Asia-Pacific countries (including Japan, Chile, and the United States- South Korea has declined to join for the time being).”And yes, it is also about China. The geo-political reality that the US can’t just sweep under the rug as it pushes a more active engagement with nations in Asia.
One reality that the US must understand is that “every country in the region wants a better relationship with China as well as the US. It may not be due merely to geo-strategic concerns” but a simple reality check, geography. “The country’s prominence and position in the region requires that smaller nations maintain strong ties with both Beijing and Washington, much unlike the bipolar divide of the Cold War.”
Much has also been said about the 21st century being the Asian Century. The phrase Asian Century arose in the mid to late 1980s, and is attributed to a 1988 meeting with People’s Republic of China leader Deng Xiaoping and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in which Deng said that ‘[i]n recent years people have been saying that the next century will be the century of Asia and the Pacific, as if that were sure to be the case…’ Prior to this, it made an appearance in a 1985 US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing. It has been subsequently reaffirmed by Asian political leaders, and is now a popularly used term in the media.” The Asian Century is the “projected 21st-century dominance of Asian politics and culture, assuming certain demographic and economic trends persist. The belief in a future Asian Century parallels the characterization of the 20th-century as the American Century, and the 19th century as the British Century.
Asia is in the “middle of a historic transformation. If it continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise six fold in purchasing power parity terms to reach Europe’s levels today. It would make some 3 billion additional Asians affluent by current standards. By nearly doubling its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 percent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution.”
To achieve this promising outcome Asia’s leaders will have to manage “multiple risks and challenges, particularly: 1) Increasing inequality within countries, which could undermine social cohesion and stability. 2) For some countries, the risk of getting caught in the “Middle Income Trap” for a host of domestic economic, social, and political reasons. 3) Intense competition for finite natural resources, as newly affluent Asians aspire to higher standards of living. 4) Rising income disparities across countries, which could destabilize the region. 5) Global warming and climate change, which could threaten agricultural production, coastal populations, and numerous major urban areas. 6) Poor governance and weak institutional capacity, faced by almost all countries.”
It is therefore in this light that the present and future leaders of the country should view the events unfolding before us. Yes, we have issues with China on territories and these issues are serious but there could be an Asian way to its solution, if we can only agree to explore all options. Critical to a peaceful resolution of the problem is an agreement on both sides to maintain the status quo and to resist any build up or any aggression, be it with ordinary fishermen or further reclamation thus destroying the global commons. This also means for China to behave like a true leader among nations and not be a bullying thug. Consequently, attending APEC in Manila in November is important for China so the world can see its maturity as a global leader and for Filipinos, not to be snubbed or slighted in a very important regional meet hosted by the country. There is disagreement, but if China truly values the friendship it has built across centuries, then it has to continually extend its hand of conciliation and Filipino-Chinese (Tsinoys) have a very important role in making the relationship move forward and find a common ground.
It is to the interest of China to be seen kindly on the global stage. By pursuing its present stance against a small archipelago like the Philippines, it does not enhance its country branding on the center stage. There are Asian values that we hold dear and unites us, though often the Philippines is viewed as being too western than Asian. And China can redefine economic growth not akin to western development and this is critical for the Asian Century. As Chandran Nair posited, the Asian Century can’t go the way of western economies. “But an Asian century, defined as such, is also not in the cards because it simply cannot be the way the world is shaped in the 21st century. Why not? Because the 21st century will be like no other, due to the convergence of four major factors — factors that will require a very different look at how human progress is to be managed and defined.
“First, human population will peak for the first time ever. In the extreme case, more people will be added (about eight billion) to the planet over the next 80 years than ever before in human history. Second, CO2 levels will, for the first time in human history, reach levels that will alter the climate as we know it. This is bound to significantly affect the conditions and the ways human beings have organized themselves over several thousand years. The distribution of flora and fauna will change, thereby disrupting the natural order as we know it. Third, technology has advanced to such a point where human beings are now able to live way beyond their means. We live in the era of technology overreach. Humans are now able to reach every corner of the globe in pursuit of economic gain — from deep-water drilling for oil and fracking for natural gas to arctic mining and deep-sea fishing. And fourth, amidst all of this we are witnessing the crumbling of the sacred edifice of the Western economic model, around which the modern world was built over the last three centuries.”
So to make 2016 as a proxy fight between China and the US is detrimental to us as a country. We can’t elect a leader just because one is perceived as being the candidate of either power. If Asia is for Asians, surely the Philippines should be for and by Filipinos. With the charm offensive and all, we need to hold on and pursue what binds us together and not what separates us.