China and U.S. Relations in Defining East Asia
    Category: Column By : Jusuf Wanandi Read : 138 Date : Friday, February 09, 2018 - 09:54:06

    Although the Korean nuclear proliferation has grabbed the limelight, and rightly so, but digging deeper, it can be seen as a symptom of the region’s uncertainties, which is the new normal. Since the Cold War’s end in 1991, East Asia has undergone dramatic changes. First, it lived through a short era of the U.S. reigning supreme as a global superpower, after the demise of the Soviet Union. This era didn’t last long. The 2008 global financial crisis badly weakened the U.S. economy just as other powers, particularly China, were rising, marking the beginning of a multipolar world. China, meanwhile, was catching up fast. China has transformed in the last four decades, not only the economy, but also in politics, society and culture.

    Within the next 30 years, China will become even more powerful. Its strategic vision is to build a socialist system with Chinese characteristics, moderate and prosperous in all fields, and actively pursuing modernization. China will become a large modern socialist state, in all its dimensions. Another development is the role that President Trump seeks for America. Trump is creating a new challenge for East Asia with his policy of putting America’s interests ahead of everything else, thus effectively withdrawing his country from global leadership.

    During his East Asia trip in November, which included China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, Trump was willing to follow the advice of his aides during summits in Vietnam and in the Philippines, but it’s possible he will return to his earlier positions. He may have adjusted his policies with the reality on the ground, but he remains single-mindedly a unilateralist.

    East Asia must see positive growth and stability based on shared prosperity. The U.S. remains a powerful force, particularly its military, and still has a major regional role. There are strong arguments why the U.S. must have a regional presence, and maintain the balance of power—but Trump’s policies are not encouraging (despite comments that he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping). In the end, East Asia must protect itself and its countries should cooperate to fill in the vacuum if the U.S. withdraws from East Asia’s international trade, climate change or common security arrangements.

    So far, U.S. has had ambiguous policies towards China, but recent new developments could bring more confrontations in East Asia’s development. More certainty is needed about U.S.’s stance to future relations with China. In the U.S. government’s official National Security Strategy, released in December 2017, published every several years, both China and Russia were called revisionist states seeking to oppose U.S. supremacy.

    Simultaneously, both side should nurture cooperation. Yet the U.S.’s now ambivalent policies towards China are in danger of turning more anti-China, not only on North Korea’s nuclear problem, but also Taiwan, the South China Sea and trade relations. To prevent more tensions or potential conflicts, the U.S. and China should try to stabilize bilateral relations.