US policy shift towards Asia Pacific region
After prolonged US engagement in Middle East and Afghanistan on War on Terror there appears to be a major policy shift of US about its global role. This is evident from US President Barack Obama's recent weeklong visit in the Asia Pacific region and Hillary Clinton's visit to the Philippines and Thailand. US policy makers have now decided to focus on Asia Pacific region where it has political, economic and security interest.
During the visit, President Barack Obama had announced an enhanced security agreement with Australia providing for up to 2,500 military personnel to be stationed in the country in the coming years. The deployment would help maintain what he described as the security architecture in Asia, assist with quick responses to humanitarian disasters and response to threats to the region's crucial shipping sea lanes. While in the Philippines, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a declaration reaffirming a longstanding mutual defense treaty between the two countries. Later in Thailand, Clinton pledged $10 million in aid and the assistance of a U.S. naval ship to help relief efforts in the flood-ravaged country.
In a speech to Australian parliament Mr. Obama said the US diplomatic focus would now shift from the war on terrorism to economic and security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. Emphasizing bilateral security ties with Australia he said, "From the trenches of the First World War to the mountains of Afghanistan, Aussies and Americans have stood together. We have fought together; we have given lives together in every single major conflict of the past 100 years, every single one. The solidarity has sustained us through a difficult decade. We will never forget the attacks of 9/11 that took the lives not only of Americans but people from many nations including Australia".
President Barack Obama also said that the Asia Pacific Region is critical to achieving his highest priority as it is the world's fastest growing region and home to more than half the global economy. With most of the world's nuclear powers and some half of humanity Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, he added.
Brigadier General Ronald Baczkowski of US Marine called the enhanced US Marine deployments consistent with a "geographically distributed, operationally resilient force posture in the Pacific" and includes combined arms training with Australian allies.
Upgrading of the 60 year Australian-American alliance is seen in this region as a clear message from Washington to Beijing, amid concerns about possible conflict over the South China Sea. White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes called the US-Australian agreement "perfectly appropriate" and supported by other nations in the region."There is a demand signal from the nations of the region, and this is something that we're doing in concert with one of our closest allies," he said. "So we believe it's not just entirely appropriate, but an important step to dealing with the challenges of the future of the Asia-Pacific region" he added.
In the Philippines, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US would boost the Philippine's naval defenses and work to ensure there isn't a "big thumb on the scale" that pushes development or strategic issue.
These events clearly indicate that the US is going to reenergize its activities in this region. So question may arise, what makes US to shift its focus from the oil rich Middle East region and Afghanistan to Asia Pacific region after so many years?
The US has been maintaining dominant military and economic posture in this region since after Second World War. After the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 the US became the only dominant power in the world. After 9/11 the US and her allies got heavily engaged in ME and Afghanistan, fighting the war on terror under Bush-Blair leadership which not only cost them heavily in terms of men, material and resources but also cost the lives of millions of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Barak Obama, on assuming the office of White House continued US Global War on Terror and shifted his focus from Iraq to Afghanistan against Al Qaida and has been finally able to kill its top leader Osama Bin Laden through a contingency operation by special navy seal team. Despite killing many of the top ranking al Qaeda leaders the US is still stuck in fighting its global campaign against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US and her allies must pay the price of such a prolonged war against humanity. The final result is US and European economy is now on the verge of collapse and going through a difficult period to generate new employments.
On the other hand China had started as an emerging economy after the Cultural Revolution under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. The subsequent Chinese leadership has been able to maintain impressive economic growth, as such today China has been able to raise its regional profile both economically and militarily. China is Asean's biggest trading partner, accounting for 11.6 percent of all commerce, compared with 9.7 percent for the U.S. in 2009, according to the latest available statistics.
To recover from the stagnant economy Obama has set a goal of doubling US exports to $3.14 trillion a year by the end of 2014 and he said Asia is the key to that goal. The US this year has exported more to the Pacific Rim than to Europe.
Against these backdrops it might have led President to say forcefully that the US is an Asia Pacific power and it is here to stay.
Since long, the US has been trying to rein in China's influence and making effort to rally her smaller neighbors with whom she has disputes. The US has already come to strategic engagement/strategic relationship with India with whom China fought war in 1962. Currently, China is having disputes with her smaller neighbors around South China Sea. The assertion of China's sovereignty over the South China Sea is likely to become a flash point for future regional conflict. China's smaller neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam have competing claims to the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea that have caused some naval incidents blamed on China. China and Japan had been involved in skirmishes over maritime claims in East China Sea in the past.
The US is already having good relation with Australia, Japan and the Philippines and her forces are stationed there since after World War II. The current US initiative for closure political and military ties with Vietnam to the extent of reviving former military bases of Vietnam War and Hillary Clinton's visit to Myanmar gives a clear indication that the US is highly committed and will be deeply engaged in the Asia Pacific region in order to balance China's influence.
Besides, US appetite for energy is well known. Her deep engagement in ME oil rich region in the past is driven by her motivation of ensuring free flow of oil essentially required to boost her economy. The South China Sea contains oil reserves that may total as much as 213 billion barrels, according to Chinese studies cited in 2008 by the US Energy Information Agency.
With the departure of US from Vietnam in 1975 Asia Pacific region has been in peace for quite some time. Her reentry into this region and effort in reshaping it might lead to uncertain possibilities. The leaders of Asia Pacific nations have to make cautious calculations in order to maintain the peace and stability of this region.