BY Ramesh Thakur, Japan Times –
U.S. policy on Asia seems adrift under the Trump administration.
China is on the march to a dominant military footprint while American policy lacks strategic intent
Two recent events, apparently unconnected, highlight the fast moving readjustments to global geopolitical equations.
On May 1, the 19,500-ton helicopter carrier Izumo of the Maritime Self-Defense Force — Japan’s largest post-1945 naval vessel — left the naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, to provide armed escort to a U.S. Navy supply ship off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. This marked the first operation by the MSDF to protect U.S. military vessels since the enactment of two new security laws in 2015 that loosened key constraints of the pacifist Constitution, allowing Self-Defense Forces personnel to guard vessels and weapons belonging to U.S. forces engaged in activities relating to the defense of Japan. The supply ship under Izumo’s escort will refuel other U.S. vessels deployed in waters near Japan.
Meanwhile on April 26, China launched its first indigenously built aircraft carrier. Its first carrier, the Liaoning, was made from a retrofitted Soviet hull and launched on Sept. 25, 2012. Although primitive by U.S. standards, the launch of a home-built carrier marks both a symbolic milestone and a vital statement of geopolitical intent at a time when U.S. policy on Asia seems adrift without any coherent strategic intent and the new president is “sowing confrontations with allies,” according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Aircraft carriers will give operational content to shift China’s maritime strategy from the defense of offshore waters to open-sea protection.
I have noted in my previous columns that the deliverables from the 2014 BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa) summit were economic in form and content — the creation of a New Development Bank and a Contingency Reserve Arrangement — but its larger import was geopolitical: the rising powers were rewiring the institutions of global economic governance so they would no longer run through Western capitals. This was followed by the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the launch of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The last is simply mind-boggling in scale and ambition.
In retrospect, the “Made in USA” global financial crisis of 2008 would seem to be the moment when China chose to discard Deng Xiaoping’s counsel of hiding its light under a bushel and biding its time. The growth of its comprehensive national power has been accompanied, it now seems clear, by a sophisticated strategy of harnessing that power to serve China’s security and commercial interests on the global stage. In particular, massive economic growth has given China the financial wherewithal to acquire military muscle to serve three layers of a national security strategy.
Ramesh Thakur is a professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.