April 01, 2013

Rebalancing to Asia with an Insecure China

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As President Obama enters his second term, continuing to shift U.S. attention and resources to the Asia—Pacific will be a leading U.S. foreign policy priority. While many in the region have welcomed this renewed commitment,the U.S. ‘‘pivot’’ to Asia has created heightened concerns in China about U.S. intentions. U.S. efforts to expand its military force posture in Asia, to strengthen security ties with allies and partners, and to enhance the role of regional institutions are viewed by many in Beijing as directly aimed at constraining China’s rise and as the principal cause of regional instability as well as the deterioration of China’s strategic environment.

In the years ahead, China’s perceived sense of insecurity will likely intensify as the United States continues to deepen its diplomatic, economic, and military engagement in Asia. This will limit the possibilities for U.S. China cooperation on geopolitical issues and place additional strain on the bilateral relationship, leaving policymakers in Washington with the critical task of reconciling the goal of maintaining stable U.S. —China relations while pursuing next steps in the rebalancing effort. Even as major diplomatic breakthroughs and deliverables remain elusive, sustained commitment to intensive high-level engagement with Beijing will be essential to cope with inevitable crises. Furthermore, from a broader regional perspective, continued engagement with China will be a key element to actualizing the rebalancing strategy and ensuring that the United States can advance its multitude of interests in Asia

At the same time, it will be essential for U.S. policymakers to better communicate the origin and content of the strategy, to further develop with commensurate resources the economic, diplomatic, and cultural elements of the rebalancing effort, and ultimately to demonstrate that America’s Asia policy is not only paying dividends to the relative strategic position of the United States, but to the region as a whole. The U.S. shift toward Asia should and will continue, but its execution must account for an insecure China in order for the rebalancing to achieve its intended aims.