America’s Mixed Asian Future
Image Credit: U.S. Embassy, Manila Philippines

America’s Mixed Asian Future


The United States is refocusing on Asia, as a string of White House officials from President Barack Obama downwards have made abundantly clear. Moreover, Asia’s prioritization comes in spite of savage defense cuts. While the U.S. military – and mainly the Army and the Marines – must absorb $487 billion in cutbacks over the next decade, the program of re-engaging with Asia will be given pride of place in the Pentagon’s policy agenda.

However, the rhetoric about the United States’ Asian comeback glosses over the fact that in large parts of Asia, the United States is facing a serious loss of influence. Even worse, this is happening in the parts of Asia that really matter to American security.

Not so long ago, Central Asia was the cockpit of U.S. foreign policy, and CENTCOM the U.S. military command that mattered. Now, the United States’ post-9/11 gains in Central Asia are close to being wiped away. Having failed to retain any kind of presence in Iraq, the United States is beginning to draw down in Afghanistan; a long-term U.S. presence there is now arguably less likely than the reformation of a Taliban government.

In Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. military presence is unlikely to endure beyond the expiration of the current lease on the Manas air base in 2014. The country’s new president, Almazbek Atambayev, has said he plans to close the base, and he will probably stay truer to his word on this sensitive issue than his persuadable predecessors. Last month, Russia finally slammed the door on the possibility of U.S. Central Asian involvement, cajoling the CSTO into agreeing that no foreign military base could be established on any member state’s territory without the consent of the other members. Russia has always bridled at the U.S. military presence in its Central Asian backyard, and it’s close to realizing its goal of seeing all U.S. troops there pack up and leave.

In Pakistan, the United States has already been evicted from the Shamsi airbase, from which it used to launch drone strikes against militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt. The relationship with Islamabad may now, finally, be broken – and the incentive to mend it is no longer so strong. The withdrawal from Afghanistan greatly diminishes Pakistan’s relevance as a partner; and the United States can’t continue to funnel military aid to a country that values China as an ally more than the U.S. itself. Apart from retaining a limited interest in Pakistan’s nuclear security, Washington’s torturous involvement in the country could soon be over.

The United States has effectively been outmaneuvered in Central Asia by Russia, Iran, China, the Taliban and Pakistani military intelligence.

From a security perspective, this is a grave development. Balancing against China in the Pacific by boosting ties with the likes of Singapore and the Philippines is reasonable enough, but the major threats to American security aren’t going to come from the South China Sea. War with China is really just a bottom-drawer contingency: it’ll never happen. In the next decade, the threat to American lives is more likely to emanate from Afghanistan and Pakistan, just as it did in the last decade; or from Tajikistan, whose government is failing to contain a range of jihadist insurgencies; or from restive areas of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.

With the imagination of the American electorate increasingly captured by the rise of China, talk of re-engaging with the Asia-Pacific might make for smart politics in the run-up to a presidential poll. But when it comes to snuffing out the enduring threat of Islamist extremists, stationing Marines in Australia won’t make up for the dangerous disappearance of American influence in Central Asia. 

January 17, 2012 at 07:30

You fail to recognize one major thing about the “rise” of the Islamic civilization – half of them hate the other half and they have no single unifying leader. Further, the problems of the Islamic world are far from over, most Arab states are still autocratic, especially the big powerful states like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc.

January 13, 2012 at 01:09

The Hawks would not hear anything of it.

January 13, 2012 at 00:32

We might not have the Military Equipment but if you land on our shores we can very well defend ourselves. Do you not think US will not send us arms at the very least? Philippines is well within the range of US long range Bombers and its B-2.

So taking over the Philippines wouldnt be that easy, also Philippines has a Fit for Service: 41,570,732 men.

January 13, 2012 at 00:26

That is not the case. If you are China and you will launch an attack on the US Homeland you cannot do so undetected the American Allies would be able to track you. Hence, in order for you to be able to successfully attack America without looking at your back and also your supply lines being cut is to attack it’s allies first.

So first and foremost you need to secure the allies of the United States in the Asia-Pacific Rim for you to be able to move in and attack the United States homeland. That is why Asia-Pacific will always be America’s backyard.

John Chan
January 12, 2012 at 14:17

I thought you are here to debate for the good of China, your idea is just one of the ideas but it seems you behave like the most anti-China clique, the minute other’s idea is not to your liking, you start to labelling and trashing others relentlessly. Your abusive and aggressive behavour surely is the first among the Chinese bloggers.

The style of you writing made me wonder you real motive, actually you write a lot like the guy called Reason. Demonizing China is the net effect of your comments. Your 100 trillion economy theory is a fallacy, because it is a manipulation of exchange rate, it is not a substance of growth.

January 12, 2012 at 09:53

>>Liang’s response:
“Philippines is a start. Then Vietnam. After 5 years, India. After 10 years Japan.”

What do India and Japan have to do with The South China Sea?
And you want to be the visionnaire of a future 100 trillion $ GDP country, admired by the rest of the world?
And you said that you are part of this super-intelligent race that represent “25% to 30%, or more” of scientists and engineers in the US?

You should propose to start first with attacking Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. This way PLA will liberate your compatriots who are enslaved by Westpac. This way, PLAN will control all the accesses of supply routes for Japan and South Korea. The blue sea will be opened to your strategic undersea nuclear force. All US cities will be under MAD threat. Deterrent will be truly effective. Then PLA will fight mano a mano. Like Stalingrad and Berlin, like Normandy and Iwo Jima. Come one! Show your guts if you want respect! Show that you truly want to be the Emperor in place of the Emperor!

On the other hand, if you want to play safe, if your generals have soft bellies, better continue harassing fishermen and cutting seismic cables. Smile and hit, hit and run, “ta ta; tan tan”, as your idol, Chairman Mao, always taught you.

January 12, 2012 at 04:31

nirvana wrote:

January 11, 2012 at 9:14 am

>>”So China should go ahead and wipe Philippines out of the S. China Sea and not be intimidated by the US pivoting to Asia” (Liang1a)

And why just Philippines?
Leadership is not gained by always choosing the option of least effort.

Liang’s response:
Philippines is a start. Then Vietnam. After 5 years, India. After 10 years Japan.

January 12, 2012 at 04:29

John Chan wrote:

January 12, 2012 at 1:55 am

You can criticize CCP as harshly as you like, but I cannot agree with your assessment on the performance of CCP. Overthrowing CCP is equivalent to breaking up China; it is the ultimate objective of the predatory imperialist Westpac. More assertive policies and more emphasis on self-reliance are definitely a right direction for CCP to take.

China has been thru too many overhaul changes as you advocate, those drastic changes did not bring China anywhere, it is the time for China to change the approach, Deng Xiaoping has given the direction and advices, last 30 years proved CCP did the right thing to follow Deng’s wise words.

Liang’s response:
Deng is the one who had set the stage for China’s 奴才政策 or lackey policy. He is the one who has turned China into a big slave camp for Japan and the foreigners. With his policy dominating China, there will be no chance for China to rise. The so-called miracle for the last 30 years is nothing more than selling Chinese labor and resources cheaply while Japan and the West systematically take over China’s economy. Another 5 to 10 years more of this lackey policy and China will never be able to get rid of the Japanese and the West from China’s economy. You people are truly pathetic. You are the collaborators who support the sell out of China. You are the ones who are endangering China. 100 years ago you would have been supporting the corrupt Qing Dynasty arguing that China cannot withstand the chaos of revolution.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief