The Obama administration has responded to Chinese assertiveness by reinforcing U.S. military and diplomatic links to the Asia-Pacific, to much acclaim at home and in the region. But the “pivot” is based on a serious misreading of its target. China remains far weaker than the United States and is deeply insecure. To make Beijing more cooperative, Washington should work to assuage China’s anxieties, not exploit them.
The Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia made sense, because China was starting to doubt U.S. staying power. Now that Washington has sent Beijing a clear message it will be around for the long haul, however, the time has come for the two countries to deepen and institutionalize their relationship in order to secure Asia’s lasting peace and prosperity.
The shift of U.S. attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific region, a signature piece of President Barack Obama's foreign policy agenda, enjoys considerable bipartisan support in Washington and has earned the praise of scholars and practitioners alike. Skeptics demur, however, arguing either that this "pivot" -- or "rebalancing," as administration officials now call it -- is toothless rhetoric or that it is a heavy-handed policy that has unnecessarily antagonized China.
Robert Ross ("The Problem With the Pivot," November/December 2012) has put himself in the latter camp, disparaging the strategic shift as counterproductive and destabilizing. Although he astutely urges the United States to take into account China's insecurities, he misreads the motives behind Obama's Asia policy and offers a misguided prescription for the way forward. The right way to respond to China's anxieties is through sustained and deepened engagement, not withdrawal from Asia. As the United States continues to focus more on the region, it needs to make sure that its strategy is propelled forward by a reliable commitment of money, personnel, and bureaucratic resources.
In his essay, Ross misrepresents both the impetus for and the substance of the rebalancing strategy. What he characterizes as a knee-jerk response to Chinese aggression in 2009 and 2010 actually has much deeper roots. Obama came to office recognizing that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had led Washington to underinvest in Asia, a region central to U.S. economic and strategic interests. The first foreign leader he hosted in the White House was the Japanese prime minister, and Hillary Clinton's inaugural trip overseas as secretary of state was to Asia, where she visited Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China. Meanwhile, the administration's decisions to end the war in Iraq, begin the exit from Afghanistan, and fight al Qaeda with more precise counterterrorism efforts have enabled a greater devotion of time and resources to the Asia-Pacific. This reshuffling of priorities represents an acknowledgment of the changing geopolitical realities of the twenty-first century -- not simply a response to China...
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