themselves.” – Abraham Lincoln – Speaking about an increasing shift in US troops from the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan to the Asia-Pacific region. – It would seem that the 21st century will be America’s Pacific century with promoting trade and economic ties, but also enhancing security of sea lanes for trade and regional stability with increasing capacity of deterring provocations. The response however to unavoidable provocations is as important as the provocations themselves and in the response lies the road as how to balance the world into the right direction and avoid war, – the last being the most significant obligation of civilization.
I guess this is the crux of President Obama’s visit to some countries in the Pacific, however the last statement not as clearly expressed as Kennedy did on June 10th 1963 during his “Peace Speech” for the American University, – where he reached beyond the cold war sentiments of his time and of the US establishment in those years
The response to either errors or provocations is a responsibility of both superpowers and the Pacific might be an area of provocation and confrontation if both superpowers are not careful in their approach.
We may understand the concerns from China about the “sudden” shift of US foreign policy and renewed interest in the Pacific. The US considers itself a key player in the Pacific as well, with a focus on productive and fruitful economic relationships, – however prepared to defend security interest of both the US and allies if provoked. The last is not new, but signifying a renewed affirmation following perceived provocations in the Chinese Sea by China, – creating a sense of discomfort at the Pentagon. However not being discussed face to face with the Chinese leadership and still pending, or only briefly discussed in the last couple of days.
Obama made clear that the military expansion is a top priority whilst tailing down US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. “As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority,” Obama said. “As a result, reductions in U.S. defence spending will not — I repeat, will not — come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific.”
This is not particular a laid back and wait and see policy but a clear message to friends and potential opponents, a message to China as well. However balancing the world into the right direction and avoid war is still the most significant obligation of civilization. US President John F Kennedy in his “Peace Speech” for the American University on June 10th 1963, made this more clear to the world than President Obama ever did.
No reason for China to worry if their intentions are peaceful on the long-term without wish to dominate, but the Pacific area is a concern as there are more players causing potential conflict, – last but not least North Korea as well. The mixture of support treaties are quite complex and both India and the US are working towards more coöperation to counteract concerns about China. China has both close connections with North Korea and a business interest in Iran. Hence the increasing complexity of the Pacific scenario, with more military deals in the make.
“Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in this region,” Obama told the Australian Parliament. “The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.” There will be an agreement with Australia which will enhance the military coöperation between the 2 countries. While U.S. officials cited the need to respond to regional natural disasters as a reason for the agreement, concern over China’s military expansion is widely acknowledged as the driving factor. The United States has based some of its most advanced weapons in the Pacific, including squadrons of F-22 fighters and C-17 transport planes, – equipment suitable for cyber – and electronic warfare.
It can’t be denied that this new element of strategic power being implemented in the region has been received with mixed observations in China and Obama failed in his diplomacy to visit China at the same time. Nelson Mandela (most likely!) would have done this, because it is most important not to create misunderstandings in the communication with the major superpowers as it is vital to have close and constructive working relations with China.
Whilst this is perhaps not a choice by principle by the Pentagon, this should be a choice by principle of the US President after various shortcomings in US foreign policy and inflicted war’s under his predecessors.
In April 2007 Obama said about China: “China is rising and it’s not going away. They’re neither our enemy nor our friend. They’re competitor’s.” Meanwhile the Chines government owns many hundreds of billions of dollars of US Treasury bills, assisting to fund America’s budget and trade deficits. In a speech to the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in September 1982, Deng Xiaoping said: “No foreign country can expect China to be its vassal, nor can it expect China to accept anything harmful to China’s interests”.
This is still the situation, even though this was said in 1982. It is for China important that there is no interference from outside with internal dynamics, for sure not in the public domain with people being opinionated out of proportions perhaps.
My suggested approach would have been different to China, and the most significant notation I missed in any of the speeches was something along the lines like this:
“To the Chinese, our overseas neighbours, I would like to say this. – Whilst being different by tradition and history, both our countries have much in common through our mutual interest and endeavours towards an enduring peace and stability in this region, the last so important for both economic growth and our people. Whilst history often shows evidence of conflict, let’s embrace the opportunity walking the road to a persistent peace, knowing that every man-made problem can be discussed, – preferably before an issue gets a problem. The Chinese have a culture rich in history and far older than ours and we respect this culture, though we have differences in the way we perceive eg human rights and fair trading… The people of China living across the borders of this at one time most advanced civilization on earth live both in fear and hope, both for the future of their country and the right balance of requiring natural recourses and increasing consumer demand. Likewise, the people of our country sustaining the agony of economic recession and various war’s do live both in fear and hope as well. The people of both China, the US and other countries have in common that they all want to earn a living -to live- and look after their families and loved ones. They have in common that they want to learn in live to create meaning for the future and we all have problems with balancing resources and consumer demand, with at this stage in the US a demand for intensified job creation and increased productivity. The people’s of both our countries and all countries are far more important than our government’s today, and for the sake of humanity let’s never give up on peace, – a concept so often ignored but at the same time so important… Knowing that our own history as well has not always been perfect perhaps, errors are made in other countries as well,- and let’s try to resolve our differences for the sake of an enduring stability in this area, – like differences at other places in the world have been resolved in a good spirit of hope. We owe this to our people, to your people, – knowing that war can’t be an answer anymore to conflict, for certain not in conflict between superpowers. It’s pointless to prepare for the last as preparing for the last is preparing for self-destruction. The more we put realistically into our efforts for mutual understanding and agreement on the major issues and challenges , caused at times by countries less responsible perhaps by seeking military adventure and domination , – the more we are able to offer to this world. If we are able to agree on this concept, we have already the blessing of the children of this generation who have to build the future after we have gone. We have the blessing of old Chinese wisdom then as well. So let us work together and live in peace; – not only for the sake of the countries in this Asia-Pacific region but for the countries who are dependent on stability at this part of the world.”
I guess such a message to the Chinese would have been well received, and would have been able to reduce both reservations and distrust. It is part of the language to be used, language being important to build bridges and avoid the seeds of conflict. It is the intention so often reflected in old Chinese wisdom, not always valued perhaps by past leaders, – like the wisdom of Lincoln or Kennedy often seemed to have been forgotten by some of the US President’s in later US history. Both cultures have imperfections, but responding to each other with wisdom and restraint will avoid situations like those e.g. happened in Vietnam, where millions of people died in conflict. A conflict later on by historian’s considered as a lack of judgement, even by participants of US Administrations at the time, – regretfully in retrospect many years later.
Within the current strategic decision-making, prepared at least for two years already within the US military establishment and pushed from a different angle as well by former Australian PM Kevin Rudd, – the US President’s visit to Australia has been well prepared and his speeches were well-timed, more as tactics of the US military establishment than a leadership acknowledgement how important it is to keep world peace.
We need to realise that in the US President’s do come and go and whilst US President Obama might be well able to make the right choices to support peace, his change of military tactic is causing serious digestion issues in China, – and the concerns reflected by Indonesia are realistic.
We don’t need a new cold war scenario, the times are too dangerous and too unpredictable in case of any miscalculation. China may have as much distrust in the US as the US has in China and Australia is following closely in the footsteps of the US, – footsteps not always been that fortunate in the past. Any new Republican (?tea party) President might change the nature and intend of an agreement as the Pentagon sees fit, based on CIA information not always being complete. The reality proves that both China and the US will avoid at all cost a war on their own soil and as proved in the past, all US war’s were fought outside their borders, – often far away.
President Obama’s Australian visit follows last weekend’s 19-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which highlighted the need for new measures supporting job growth in the US. Needless to say succesful. During the Hawaiian summit, Obama emphasised the importance of the Pacific being an area of global economic security, and he requested China to do more to help strengthen the world economy with fair trade and sticking to international rules. However he did not reach out far enough to ease tensions.
Again, – to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world (as the Greeks) wrote so long ago, requires a shift in modern thinking where traditional thinking does include the option of excessive and more brutal force than ever before, against the will and the interest of the majority of people. This type of shift in thinking and perception is simply progress in the way we see the world and change is the motivator of this progress in non violent change for the better, and looking for mutual stability in an area of potential tension. However this type of change has enemies not to be underestimated. Those enemies again are usually the extremists being extreme in their intolerance and in their accusations. It is paramount to give them no grounded base for their accusations. Those enemies can be found in both the US military force and the Chinese military force (actually in any military force), and as leaders of major super powers it would be better to learn the lessons from some predecessors. The Cold War between the US and Russia (USSR at the time) ended because of the intervention of leaders reaching out eventually, beyond the military background powers. The personal approach is vital to end and prevent conflict and Obama’s mission being applauded widely in Australia was more personal and warm here than what it could have been in China.
Inclusive leadership which breaks the ice in economic endeavours, emphasising what we have in common as a people (despite differences), is more helpful than straight on showing strength by increasing miliary capacity and creating alliances within the domain of potential force. It could have been a second step if all communication failed. The Chinese might be far more rigid in dynamics of government, but this does not take away that their culture endured over time and sustained over time and will change over time through different principles than both being familiar in the US and Australia. Mutual respect and friendship facilitates a mutual learning experience with positive outcomes for those countries realising the importance of this and refusing to repeat cold war dynamics as we had in the past.
The wisdom of Chinese leaders is perhaps not going that far that they realise it would be wise to help domestic reforms in the direction of a democracy, – however despite shortcomings in human rights their intend is both stability at home and stability within the domain of economic growth, recognising that change is inevitable as generations and values do change. The Chinese leadership however wants to be in control of this change as uncontrolled change may have undesired side effects. At the end of the day this is up to the Chinese and the dynamics of their society.
There is a rule in international diplomacy and Nelson Mandela did stick to this rule in South Africa to overcome differences. The rule is to visit your potential opponent and sort matters out before they blow out of proportions. The incidents in the Chinese Sea did give the US an excuse to increase their military presence without resolving the issue straight on with the Chinese leadership. It seems a move which could have been dealt with differently and the concerns of Indonesia about potential escalation are justified.
Let’s put it this way: communication is the cornerstone of international diplomacy at the level between the US and China, and where one party fails, the other party does not need to take a robust example of increasing (quietly) a very significant military presence which in US history often led to war far outside their borders. There is something to say at times in favour for face to face discussion and delaying a response allowing the other party to correct itself. US Generals (eg Air Force Maj.Gen. Michael Keltz) did only add to the military mission with a reflection on the nature of the most advanced weapons being around (shortly) in the Pacific.
Whilst the US budget perhaps does not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific, a military confrontation will come at the cost of the Asia Pacific. Where indeed the Chinese made apparently new claims on the Chinese Sea, the American’s traditionally different communicator’s failed to discuss this straight on face to face with the Chinese leadership and President Obama reflected a response both in line with US military strategy and the importance of increasing jobs and economic activity at home in the US. It’s a smart move before the US Presidential elections in 2012 and perhaps this move is required to help his re-election in the interest of the free world, as long as he keeps the bigger picture in mind.
Democracy is not always perfect, neither is the way for an enduring and lasting peace. However it is better to have an imperfect peace rather than a devastating war at a cost not measurable anymore in human dimensions.
For this reason “The Indian talking stick” should be right at the centre of the Asia – Pacific relations, as only this will offer creatively better scenario’s based on “win – win”, as Stephen Covey would say. It means listening talking and reasoning along the line of acceptable alternatives for all parties being involved.
This is the only way forward.
It requires a shift in strategy and thought process.
It is the only way forward as we are living on the edge of the sword of Damocles, – this century with both such a potential dangerous future and outcome, but also this century with the opportunity to make the right choices the avoid the most dangerous dynamics on earth.
Paul Alexander Wolf
- Savills triumphs at Asia Pacific property awards 2012 (savills.co.uk)
- US Rebalancing To Asia-Pacific: Implications For West Asia – Analysis (eurasiareview.com)
- Savills triumphs at Asia Pacific property awards 2012 (savills.co.uk)
- South China Sea And The United States – Analysis (albanytribune.com)
- Asia/Pacific (Excluding Japan) 2014 Top 10 ICT Predictions (virtual-strategy.com)
- [Newsmaker] Abe’s gamble falters under criticism (koreaherald.com)
- Rice Re-emphasizes Importance of U.S. Shift to Pacific (defense.gov)
- Abe’s Yasukuni visit isolates Japan (eastasiaforum.org)
- Savills Asia Pacific Launches New Residential Search Engine (savills.co.uk)
- Ready to Be Southeast Asia’s Peacekeeper (thejakartaglobe.com)
- National Security Advisor Rice: America’s Future in Asia and the Transcendent Role of Climate Change (climateandsecurity.org)