Rising United States-China tension has been a noticeable feature this year which shows no signs of abating. When President Obama assumed office, he went out of the way to accord China recognition that under his leadership the United States attaches great value to a strong relationship between the United States and China. His visits to China and a flurry of visits by senior officials of the US Administration gave an impression at that time that President Obama was being far more deferential to China than what obtaining strategic realities warranted. This seems to be a marked feature of the last few American Presidents soon on their assumption of office. Such United States deference to China seemed to have misled China into mistakenly believing that United States was doing so as a declining power especially in East Asia, where China’s power was rising.
China seems to have misread United States overtures wrongly as borne out by subsequent developments in US-China relations in the last six to eight months. From a situation where the United States was perceived by the rest of Asia as having entered a phase of China-appeasement the situation has emerged where China and the United States seem to have entered a phase of more adversarial stances.
In both cases, Asia and especially East Asian countries, stood concerned and unsettled as the state of United Sates-China relations, good or otherwise, creates national security implications for them. This is a facet which seems repeatedly to be overlooked by the United States political leaders and their policy-making establishment.
Relations between the United States and China have cumulatively emerged as tense lately as a result of China calling- off US Defense Secretary’s scheduled visit to China after the Shangri-La in Singapore earlier this year and more notably followed by the sinking of the South Korean Navy ship ‘Cheonan’ in March by North Korea in March this year.
Following the ‘Cheonan’ sinking the United States announced large scale joint naval exercises with the South Korean Navy in the East China Sea which China perceives as its own backyard and not to be intruded into by other Navies. Tense weeks followed and protests by China that such exercises would be perceived by China as hostile and provocative acts. In the end this US Navy-South Korea Navy Joint Exercise went off as scheduled but the United States watered down the incident by shifting the locale of the Exercise from the East China Sea to much further South bordering on the Japan Sea. This was regionally perceived in East Asia as yet another appeasement of China by the United States.
The United States resolve to signal that America would not tolerate aggressive incidents by China’s wayward protégé North Korea of American allies in the region tied to it by Mutual Security Pacts evaporated in the face of strong protests by China.
The moot question that arose in the wake of such a capitulation by the United States to Chinese protests was as to how credible were the security guarantees to South Korea and Japan, both of whom are “front-line States” of the forward defense perimeter of the United States in the Western Pacific?
There are a host of other issues which bedevil relations currently between the two countries and add considerably to tensions in US-China relations. The latest addition is the strategic moves by the United States to establish a cozy relationship with Vietnam and even an offer of nuclear cooperation. Also, strong statements during her recent visit to Vietnam by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the South China Sea disputes in which China is involved with ASEAN countries.
In the years to come we can expect much more strategic jostling between the United States and China in the strategic region of East Asia generating strong tensions in United States-China relations.