IR of East Asia
October 24, 2014
The US Role in Asia
Since the end of the Opium Wars and the British treaty of Nanjing, and the proceeding American Treaty of 1844, the US has endured a peripheral influence, if not leading force, for international affairs in East Asia over the past one and a half centuries. It was following the end of World War II that America began evolving as one of the main Asia-Pacific powers, with fluctuating success. The loss of China to communism after the fall of China’s nationalist party, the Kuomintang, placed a rift between the US and China. A failed Vietnam War, and a costly Korean War undermined a strong sense of authority the United States hoped to have early on. Japan’s rise as an economical powerhouse in the region further pushed the US out, as the Western country struggled to compete in the area. Like most outsiders looking in on Asia, the US has had to learn through a process of trial and error how to relate and apply its influence in the region. In David Shambaugh and Michael Yahuda’s text International Relations of East Asia Robert Stutter’s contribution and fourth chapter asserts America serves a “durable leader” in the region (Stutter, Loc 2237). However, as Stutter points out, America was largely frustrated during the period following World War II until the 1990’s, until just after the fall of the Soviet Union, during Japan’s recession, and China’s internal conflicts which led to the protests in Tiananmen. With its history in the region, the US has waited for the right moment to apply pressure to stabilize the region. Given its history, it may be argued the US was opportunist leader, but durable? Since the end of WWII many countries in the region have relied on the US for military, diplomatic, and nuclear deferment. The reliance on many countries in the area on the US to be an answer to the growing China, and caustic North Korea has boosted the perception of US leadership over the years. However, Stutter admits that following the 1990’s America’s influence, and reputation, as a leading force would decline quickly. With multiple conflicts in the Middle-East, the US’s war weary citizens would be further broken down by one of the worst recessions since the early part of the century. Meanwhile, in China, the behemoth communist-capitalist country would be growing economically, and militarily by the double digits annually, becoming a diplomatic powerhouse in the region and the America’s largest creditor. Undermining and enmeshed with US interests, China has been able to expand, largely undisputed, into neighboring territories along its borders with a more assertive zeal then it has in the last century (Stutter Loc 2252).
Many have argued, including Xania Dormandy and Rory Kikane in their report: “Asia Pacific Security: a changing role for the U.S.”, that the East Asia region is one of the most increasingly unstable regions on earth. Also increasing on a global scale is the perception of a deteriorating US military influence and diplomatic leverage (Dormandy & Kikane, 8). In their 12 month study that was published this year, Dormandy and Kikane, paint a picture of a changing Asian-Pacific region by highlighting 6 Countries (Australia, Singapore, India, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia) and their perceived threats in the region, namely China and North Korea. Each country has different perception of America’s role in the region in regards to these threats. What are changing are the nature of these non-traditional threats in the form of cyber attacks, space/satellite communications, economic and energy levers. New threats such as food, energy and water security, as well as increasing natural frequency of natural disasters are also largely considered. Long-standing allies are questioning the reliability of the US and questioning its shared interests. Moving toward more domestic capabilities, and military effectiveness. There is a beginning of