What Barack Obama’s re-election means to Asia
After Obama was rewarded the second term in the White House, millions of people across the other side of the Pacific Ocean are as happy as the Americans voting for him. Of course, they do not expect Obama to give more free lunches to Asia, nor do they idolize him as an inspiring great leader of the world who always talks about change-what they are badly in need of. In fact, the reason behind Asian support of Obama is simply pragmatic: to counter-balance the rise of their most concerned Big Brother: China.
For most of its neighbors, the period of Chinese peaceful rise has ended, and now comes the time of the more fearful rise. Over the last decade, China has increasingly asserted its “core interests” over any disputed territories, refusing any meaningful tools of solving the issues by international consensus and threatened to use military power when necessary.
From the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with Japan in the North, to the South China Sea with ASEAN countries in the South, from big emerging power like India to its small comrade Vietnam, literally China has problems with everyone around them. What makes its neighbors feel more insecure is along with its economic boom, China has reinforced their military forces, which now has the largest standing troops.
In fact, sovereignty dispute is not new to Asia, or perhaps any other place in the world. However, disputes between a much more powerful but lawless state and other small ones will easily turn into catastrophic conflicts, unless suitable mediations by other powerful countries are to be used. It is worth noting that Chinese hawkish foreign policy has been applied more intensively since the financial crisis began, which is believed to severely damage American power.
None of the Asian countries could be strong enough to challenge such a rising powerful dragon. So what can they do? If Asians cannot be dragon trainers, then they would wish to have another dragon in the region to refrain it. Who can possibly be the challenging dragon? The only feasible answer is the United States.
Therefore, that is the reason why Asians want America so bad. Yet of course, a couple cannot be made from only one side: does Uncle Sam want Asia as well? Under the first presidency of Barack Obama, the answer is yes. Unlike his predecessor G.W. Bush and even Bill Clinton, Obama has shifted American foreign policy from Middles-East to “Asian strategic pivot”.
One important note is that Obama administration does counter-balance the Chinese rise, but in a way that will not force them into a rival. That is because he uses the so-called “liberal inclusion” policy, by which he tries to “include” China in the international liberal word order. In other words, he attempts to make China more engaged in the system, so that they cannot overthrow its core rules, say, using force to solve disputes. Asians are happy with that, since it would be a dangerous game for them to walk the fine line between two rival powers.
This smart approach to the Chinese rise would not be applied if Mitt Romney, a Republican hawk, had won the election. Firstly, Mitt Romney seems more interested in the Middle East than Asia. Secondly, his policy is much more hostile to China than Obama’s. Both are far from what Asians hope for an American president at the present.
Indeed, after being re-elected, Obama has followed the path that Asian supporters expected him to do. His first foreign trip is to Asia, where he continued being a gatekeeper for the territorial disputes at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia. With Obama appearance at the summit, the Philippines, American ally, had the guts to challenge China’s ambitious claims on the South China Sea. Even Vietnam, once American’s most hated country, now sides the US in counter-balancing their Big Brother China.
The warm welcome of Burmese to Obama, the first serving American president to visit the country, tells how much Asians need him to represent American interests in Asia.