[I]t is nice to see the recognition that US foreign policy under President Bush was understood abroad to have an overarching geopolitical framework…
Or perhaps, more exactly, a massive focus on China to the exclusion of most other countries there. This is, I think, indeed a problem: India is in so many ways the more “natural” partner for the US, if one ignores the massive Chinese purchases of US treasury bonds.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration apparently thinks that China is the only country that matters: this means, in classic liberal wonk fashion, that the other countries will, for the most part be simply ignored or put on the back burner.
Japan and India are, basically, the losers in the Great Game as it is being played out in Washington. The new Ambassadors to both countries? Political rewards for the faithful. The new Ambassador to India is, to quote, an “obscure former Congressman Timothy Roemer”; the new Ambassador to Japan is “a low-profile Internet and biotechnology lawyer, John Roos”. Neither have any real connections to these countries, and join the long list of US Ambassadors whose claim to fame is the ability to generate campaigning money and organize the party faithful or receive their Ambassadorships as part of some political deal involving others.
The original op-ed, written by a fellow at what looks like a think tank in India, gives more detail:
China’s expanding naval role and maritime claims threaten to collide with U.S. interests, including Washington’s traditional emphasis on the freedom of the seas. U.S.-China economic ties also are likely to remain uneasy: America saves too little and borrows too much from China, while Beijing sells too much to the U.S. and buys too little. Yet, such is its indulgence toward Beijing that Washington seeks to hold Moscow to higher standards than Beijing on human rights and other issues, even though it is China that is likely to mount a credible challenge to America’s global pre-eminence.
The new U.S.-China-Japan trilateral re-emphasizes Washington’s focus on China as the key player to engage on Asian issues. Slated to begin modestly with dialogue on nontraditional security issues before moving on to hard security matters, this latest trilateral is being billed as the centerpiece of Obama’s Asia policy. Such is its wider significance that it is also touted as offering a new framework for deliberations on North Korea to compensate for the stalled six-party talks.
Despite its China-centric Asia policy, the Obama team, however, has not thought of a U.S.-China-India trilateral, even as it currently explores a U.S.-China-South Korea trilateral. That is because Washington now is looking at India not through the Asian geopolitical framework but the subregional lens — a reality unlikely to be changed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming stop in New Delhi six months after she paid obeisance in Beijing. While re-hyphenating India with Pakistan and outsourcing its North Korea and Burma policies to Beijing, Washington wants China to expand its geopolitical role through greater involvement even in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is shortsighted of the Obama team to lower the profile of India and Japan in America’s Asia policy. Tokyo may be ceding political capital and influence in Asia to Beijing, and India’s power might not equal China’s, but Japan and India together can prove more than a match. The Japan-India strategic congruence with the U.S. is based as much on shared interests as on shared principles.
It would be wonderful if China made the transition to a stable, peaceable democracy full of contented and prosperous citizens. But that hasn’t happened yet. It would be madness to snub China, but it’s also of questionable sanity to pretend that it’s going to be a reliable partner in the way Japan has been and India has been becoming. Of course, the cold-shouldering of Japan began months ago. At that point, it was difficult to tell whether it was Japan as a strategic partner or just Aso as a damaged-goods politician that was being held at a distance. It’s looking more like the former.