And indeed, Walter Russell Mead recounts these events:
The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China’s column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn’t enough, a critical mass of the region’s countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers.Readers of our site know that there is more, too, under the cover of darknessthe US is looking to tighten our relationship with Afghanistan to prevent Chinese monopolization of the rare earths market, as well; this is something India is very interested in, and Pakistan is increasingly agitated about.
The Republican candidates (with the probable exception of Herman Cain) all know this, and Jon Huntsman makes a strong argument that China may suddenly find herself playing an aggressive defense; however, the current Department of State positionshared by many of the GOP hopefulsis that China could do well to shut up, sit down, and play nicethere is immense profit to be made by all countries (including China) if China would open up her markets. Of course, this would require an end to her deplorable currency diddling, which Mitt Romney has (correctly) declared a major impediment to global economic progress.
The United States is testing that theory with a multilateral plan, and as Mead notes in his essay, the first test passed. China, whom we know likes to test America by naval provocations and other blue water incidents, does not seem to know what to do when the same game is played against her, albeit diplomatically and not with fishing boats.
Bear in mind, this is all very exciting news. President Obamas foreign policy has been heretofore a mix of inexplicable to outright incompetentthis new Asia approach, spearheaded by Secretary Clinton (and probably thought up by her) is quite good for America.
Mead notes that the next move is Chinas, and offers a few possibilities as to what she might do in response to the United States demonstrating dominance in the region. Almost all of then end with China suffering a worse setback, internally. He curiously omits one strong possibility, though: China may do nothing. She might elect to sit back and take one: China may be in no position with her teetering economy to risk very much, and historically she has backed down with a wink and a nod. Also, it reaches the end game foreseen by Mead, but of course with less trouble up front.
So what happens next? The recent stepping up of US power in the Pacific went flawlessly, by all accounts. And we sit back and wait: whether China responds or not, it seems that the State Department has the chessboard set, and we have quite a few moves ready to go. Let us tip our hat to the State Department and say well done.