If the Russian provoked Ukraine Crisis was not enough to test US soft power and the legitimacy/effectiveness of the International Community, China’s move to flex its muscle is quickly becoming the second major world power conflict the globe is facing. While the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyu Islands sets America up for a potential conflict with China, thanks to our close alliance with Japan, the Obama Administration’s repeated attempts to pivot to Asia, along with the economic significance of the region, puts the US on a trajectory where we must confront China when its actions and policies conflict with our interests, the interests of our allies, and the conventions of the International Community.
Unfortunately, China has decided to reject international norms and violate the sovereignty of Vietnam by deploying an oil rig, which it considers to be its floating territory, within waters claimed by Vietnam. Due to out-of-control civil unrest aimed Chinese business interests and a minor conflict at sea accelerating, tensions are on the rise and, at some point, the Vietnamese government will have to forcefully confront China to assert its interests. Although Vietnam is a communist country and has no military partnership with the US, it is an important trade partner. More importantly, Vietnam is part of a block of Asian countries the US needs to reassert our influence in the region.
In the Ukraine Crisis, America’s strategy has largely been rooted in economically isolating Russia. That strategy, however, depends upon the ability of the US to rally our European and other regional partners. The size of Russia and its significance as a major energy provider means the world is reluctantly confronting Russia and struggling to take more drastic steps to punish Russia for its destructive behavior. As China is the world’s second largest economy, the hesitation when it comes to confronting Beijing is far more intense while isolating China would require a major shift in the global economy and take years to accomplish.
That said, dealing with China hinges upon the US being able to unite minor powers in Asia to rebalance economic, as well as military, interests away from Chinese dominance. In many respects, it also hinges on America’s ability to shift trade relations in favor of countries like Japan and Vietnam. Like Russia, this will likely mean a major change in trade policies, i.e. far less free trade for China, as well as responsible efforts to expand trade with minor powers in Asia.
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