Striking a balanceThe United States and China are building up both rhetorical and diplomatic muscles in a region that is likely to become the center of the global economy over the next century. The United States, by taking up issues on behalf of Southeast Asian countries as well as Japan over long-disputed waters east and south of China, aims to reinforce the traditional American influence in the Asia-Pacific, which China is eager to replace as the dominant regional power backed by its rapid economic and military expansion.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia all claim parts of the South China Sea close to their shores. But China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the rich fishing resources as well as oil and other natural deposits. Japan is also clashing with China over similar claims in seas they share. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a carefully choreographed tour of Japan, Vietnam, Laos and Mongolia before arriving in Cambodia last week for a foreign ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, making both obvious and subtle attacks against an ascending China.
China responded with military actions, sending “combat-ready” vessels to the disputed waters and appointing hard-line commanders for naval frigates overseeing the South China Sea. China’s newspapers also lashed out at Clinton and Washington for sticking their noses into regional affairs.
We cannot calmly sit back and watch the tensions rise in the Southeast Asian region, where two superpowers are waging a subtle but high-stakes game involving national pride, commercial, security and cultural interests. China is our biggest trade partner. But on the diplomatic and security fronts, we must sustain our strong alliance with the U.S. If the Sino-U.S. confrontation escalates, we may be in a bad position, asked to take an unequivocal partial stance.
Few believe Sino-U.S. strains will build up to the hostile levels of the Cold War in today’s globalized world. But we must be vigilant and be prepared to respond. We should take individualistic initiative in bilateral and multilateral frameworks on regional and global economic and security and diplomatic affairs. We must enhance our interests and pre-emptive advances in all pivotal countries so that no specific nation can exercise influence over issues concerning the Korean Peninsula. To do so, we must mend and restore ties with our closest neighbor, North Korea.