Why is America starting to flex its muscles in the Asia Pacific region?

With the economic crisis in Europe and the winding down of the western presence in Iraq and Afghanistan the US government have moved their focus onto the Asia Pacific region. The USA recently hosted the annual Asia-Pacific economic forum which was held in Hawaii, which is Barack Obama’s birth place and the main US territory in the region.

Barack Obama also made a trip last week to Indonesia and Australia where he met a number of politicians and diplomats and also delivered several speeches in which he outlined his ideas for future US involvement in the region.  Obama announced on his tour of the region that he would send 250 Marines to North Australia and promised to increase this number in the near future.  Surely this military strategy would strengthen the already large American military power in the region; it would also send a message to other military powers in the region, such as China and North Korea.  China have questioned the move and many believe that it is a move which is counter to Chinese influence in the region.  China and the US are definitely  two of the largest powers in the region and an increase of US activity in the region is bound to worry the Chinese.

As the US is focussing on the Asia Pacific region this could cause a monumental power struggle between the US and China as they are two of the biggest powers in the region, along with Russia.  Obama stated during a speech in Canberra that he would like to improve relations between the US and China but once again called on China to reform some of their controversial policies.  For example, the US challenged China on its reported human rights atrocities and its conflict with Taiwan.  China responded by asking the US not to get involved in matters which do not concern it.

In a response to Obama’s criticisms, the Chinese state-owned news agency Xinhua said in an editorial that “Today, when the world is still facing many difficult global challenges, the United States needs to first revisit its double standards on international rules and start observing them itself instead of lecturing China”.

Why has Obama suddenly decided to focus on Asia and therefore become less interested with Europe, the Middle East, the Arab Spring and the US led war on terror?  The death of Bin Laden, the withdrawal of US troops from the Middle East and the economic turmoil in Europe may be reasons why the US has decided to focus on a new area, but why the Asia Pacific region?

Obama has stated that he believes that Asia Pacific is the most important region in the world and also the fastest growing in terms of economics.  He also says that the region will determine the shape of the world in the 21st Century.  While delivering a speech in Canberra he said, “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 co-operation, needless suffering or human progress”.

The US involvement in the region could boost the economy of the US and other countries within the region.  Increasing the US involvement in the region could also improve trade in the area.  The US already trades with many countries in the area but further commitment to the region could improve international relations even further and increase international trade between countries.  An increase of international trade would generate more jobs across the region and also improve the economies of many countries including the US, who are struggling the recover from the recession.

An increase in US involvement in the Asia Pacific region will probably be beneficial for the US and many other countries in the area.  As already stated, the economy of the region will probably improve as trade between the US and other countries increases, and the international relations between the US and many countries will also improve.

The stability of the region may also improve.   An increase of US military presence will probably act as a counter towards Chinese military presence.  Many people within the region had been worried about the increase in Chinese military might. However it could cause a massive power struggle with multiple countries fighting to become the superpower of the region and the superpower of the world.  Existing poor relations between the US and China could improve or they could deteriorate.  The increase in numbers of US troops in the region could also worry and irritate Kim Jong Il’s North Korea, who have had well documented poor relations with the US for years.

The US government says that they have made the region a priority to improve the US economy and improve stability in the region.  Another reason could be that the US want to be seen as the biggest power in the region and also challenge China’s dominance in the region and it’s role as an emerging world superpower.

Obama says that he welcomes a “rising and peaceful China”.  However this does not guarantee that relations between two of the world largest superpowers will be as smooth as anticipated.  It is widely held that the move will improve stability and security in the region.  The reality is that it could have the opposite effect; only time will tell.

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Posted on November 25, 2011, in Foreign Affairs, General, US Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. It could be some kind of realist containment strategy. If the US was following a Realist IR logic, they would see China as threat to the US’s position as superpower, and therefore try to undermine them by strengthening their influence in the area at the expense of China’s.

  2. I think that is likely to be one of the reasons behind the move to the Asia Pacific region. I’m sure China see the increase of US military personnel in the region as a possible threat.

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