Guest Column with Dr Pradeep Taneja

June 12 / 88

In the past few years, there has been a great deal of debate in the media and among scholars of international relations focusing on China's re-emergence as a great power and how to deal with it. China's high-speed economic growth over the past three decades has enabled the country to modernise its military and further expand its overall defence capabilities.

China's military modernisation has been accompanied by a more assertive foreign policy and significantly enhanced diplomatic resources. This is reflected in the country's much more active involvement in regional institutions and a more vigorous defence of its national interests, including an attempt to redefine what constitutes its "core" interests. Its recent handling of territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and India has caused some to believe that China is dissatisfied with the status quo in the Asia-Pacific region and that it is willing to use its new-found power to more forcefully purse its interests.

Against this background, a great deal of attention has been centred on the future role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. Some analysts believe that as China's power continues to increase it will seek to challenge the United States for supremacy in the region. Others have argued that such an outcome is not inevitable and that there are steps countries like Australia can take to ensure such a scenario does not materialise. Professor Hugh White from the ANU, for example, has advocated that Australia should use its good relations and influence with the United States to persuade the latter to make room for China.

However, during his visit to Australia last November, the US President, Barack Obama, sent a very clear signal to China that his country has no intention of reducing its strategic presence in the region. In fact, his announcement that by 2016-17, 2,500 US marines will be training in Darwin on a rotational basis was intended to send a message that the region should expect the US to strengthen its presence in the region, not reduce it.

There is no doubt that these recent moves by the US are being closely watched and analysed in Beijing. While the US has made it very clear that it has no intentions of retreating from the region. China, on its part, is unlikely to remain satisfied with the current balance of power in the region. So what is the future of the Asia-Pacific region?

We live in an interdependent world. Unlike the superpower rivalry that characterised the Cold War era, China and the US have a huge and complex economic relationship. China's new economic status has been dependent on its ability to attract capital and technology from America and other developed countries, and to export its products to these markets. The US, on the other hand, has been able to draw on China's huge financial reserves to finance its large fiscal deficit through US treasury bonds. Given this interdependence, it is likely that China and the US will work with the other nations of the region to establish a multilateral framework that will ensure the continuing prosperity of the region while accommodating the interests of the major powers of the region.

Dr Pradeep Taneja is a lecturer in Asian politics in the School of Social and Political Sciences (SPSS).

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