In what is likely a sign of things to come, China and the United States have been caught in a battle of words over the increase presence of the U.S. military in South East Asia. The recent ramp up in rhetoric comes as the U.S. Freedom docks in Singapore. China is now accusing the U.S. of destabilizing the region at a time when tensions of North Korea and the South China seas is ramping up.
On April 18, the U.S. Freedom, a littoral combat ship, arrived in Singapore as part of a 10 month tour through the region. Singapore has agreed to host the Freedom, along with three other littoral combat ships, on a rotational basis. Littoral combat ships specialize in shallow water operations. The Freedom will take part in joint exercises with various S.E. Asian nations.
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This move has infuriated the Chinese, which are now accusing the U.S. of destabilizing the region. From the American point-of-view, however, increased U.S. presence will curb China’s growing ambitions, which have raised the eyebrows of various Asian nations, such as the Philippines and Japan. If anything, the Freedom should increase stability across the region, unless China decides to counter with a strong show of force.
The new U.S. strategy will shift from building bases and stationing troops, to forging joint alliances and staging military exercises with various Asian nations. By doing so, the military hopes to keep costs down at a time when budget shortcomings are causing a rampant increase in America’s national debt. The main aim appears to be warding off aggression from rogue states, such as North Korea, and letting China know that America is serious in its aim to bolster its presence in Asia.
China’s intentions are clear, as an emerging super power located in the heart of Asia, the nation doesn’t want to feel challenged by the American presence. With important diplomatic battles heating up over the South China Sea islands, the so-called Middle Kingdom does not want U.S. military presence to increase. This could embolden U.S. allies, such as Japan, to take more dramatic efforts against the Chinese.
The overall strategy is part of the Asia pivot that will shift military resources away from the Middle East and Europe and into Asia. With Asia, the world’s fastest growing economic region, and China quickly emerging as the leading challenge to U.S. global power, the political ramifications are obvious. If the United States is pushed from Asia, it could well point to a decline of the U.S. on the global scale. By 2020, the U.S. aims to have 60 percent of its naval presence stationed or operating within Asia.
As the world continues to enter an age of multi-polarity, the Federal government is acutely aware that the old strategy of building massive bases will no longer work. Instead, forging alliances with Asian countries that will be threatened by China’s rise will bolster U.S. presence and contain China’s power.
Will China meekly accept America’s move? By the looks of it no, but neither China nor the USA are looking to get into an armed conflict. Trade now trumps tanks and the old zero sum games of military power are now largely irrelevant.
Stability across Asia is good for both the USA and China, and will likely remain the modus operandi in years to come.