On September 21, 2010, the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States and Wilson Center on the Hill co-hosted an event examining the increasingly important and changing relationship between the United States and China and the ramifications for neighboring countries. Providing opening remarks was Kent Hughes, Director of the Wilson Center's Program on America and the Global Economy. J. Stapleton Roy, Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, moderated the panel of experts from four different Eurasian countries, each of whom provided a brief overview on how the relationship between the United States and China may affect their country.
Seiichiro Takagi, professor in the School of International Politics, Economics, and Communication at the Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, detailed the recent growing tensions between Japan and China, specifically maritime confrontations. Takagi argued that the issue of "alliance dilemma" amongst the three countries is crucial, and specifically the state of Chinese-U.S. relations "is of serious concern to the Japanese" due to the historical friction between the two neighbors. He noted that Japan saw President Nixon's visit to China in 1972 as holding the potential fora major division between Tokyo and Washington. However, Japan soon came to view the improvement in U.S. China relations as a "blessing in disguise" because it allowed Japan to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing. Even after the Cold War ended, Sino-Japanese relations have been complex and fluctuate, comparable to a swinging pendulum. Professor Takagi concluded, however, that although the maritime confrontations continue, the problems have not escalated, adding that it "is very worrisome in the Japanese perspective."
Brahma Chellaney, professor of Strategic Studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, India, outlined five challenges that Asia faces in which past tensions and grievances must be addressed. Chellaney noted that "harmful historical legacies weigh down all major interstate relationships in Asia," and said that the negative stereotypes must be addressed to overcome the lengthy history. The first challenge noted was inter-state relations and the need to increase cooperation, followed by a second challenge that he called caging the demons of nationalism, where foreign relations must take precedence over continually secluded governments, specifically China and North Korea. Third is the challenge to balance the threat of hegemony by any single state in order to create healthy inter-state relationships, using Europe as an example. The fourth challenge is to create common norms and values amongst the Asian states in order to build consensus and create an efficient bloc on the world stage. The final challenge is improving regional geopolitics in which "Asia is becoming more interdependent economically yet more divided politically." Professor Chellaney went on to give several possible scenarios and where the United States would fit into the equation, noting that the most likely is a fusion of two ideas where the U.S. will remain the principle anchor of Asian security while an emergence of an Asian alliance with shared ideals will provide political stability in the region.
The legacy of the Cold War was a prominent theme amongst the panelists, and one that continues in Russia, as noted by Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs. The inclusion of the Russian point of the view in the panel was important given the geopolitical influence the Soviet Union had during the Cold War, and the trade relations Russia currently has with the United States and China. Lukyanov noted that China's relationship with the United States is recovering, and Obama's "reset" policy has bred new life in hopes of increased cooperation. However, he argued that the "U.S.-China relationship turns into the most important relationship for Russia on the world stage because they lay out the whole framework for Russian behavior." The Cold War mindset has now shifted from treating the two countries separately to treating them multilaterally in which Moscow is pushing for a new framework for cooperation. Lukyanov stressed China's growing ambition and economic reach in which ten to fifteen years from now the eastern part of Russia will be part of the Chinese economic sphere. An attempt must be made to build a "peaceful and constructive but balanced relationships with China," that will shape a successful relationship amongst the three states.
The final panelist, Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, centered his comments around a continued U.S. engagement in the region, especially economically. He pointed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a crucial opportunity to consolidate relations and establish healthier cooperation, much like the scenario for which Professor Chellaney argued. While optimistic that the Obama administration has increased high level talks with the region, he cautioned that the United States best not attempt to dominate the region for risk of potential tensions with China. That scenario would put the rest of the Asian countries in an "either-or" choice – a significant dilemma because many of the ASEAN countries look to the United States for strategic and economic leadership. Tay concluded that while the situation between U.S.-Asian countries has room for improvement, China is still overshadowing much of the progress where "a lot of the economic horses are tied to the galloping Chinese wagon."
While the impact of U.S.-China relations on Asia is a concern both economically and politically, cooperation between Asian nations needs to be addressed. Recent inter-state tensions, such as the North Korean sinking of a South Korean ship, China's holding Japanese fisherman, and the long term Kashmir conflict overshadow potential progress. The Chinese currency issue, as well as China's authoritarian government policies, also cast doubt on the future relationship between the two world economic powers. However, the panel felt that the Asian countries are coming together to build consensus for the benefit of the collective future of the region and for continued stability.
By: Michael Darden
David Klaus, Consulting Director, Wilson Center on the Hill