Page 2 of 2 US plants a stake at China's door
By Peter Lee
It remains to be seen whether US attention to this issue speeds up a settlement
or simply exacerbates the problem. But in any case, the South China Sea is now
declared to be part and parcel of America's vital interest in "stability and
freedom of navigation", giving the US the right to a say in the situation - and
mandating the forward military presence that is inseparable from the US defense
of its "vital interest".
The most interesting tack in Secretary Clinton's argument is an implicit
acknowledgment that the unthinkable might happen. With the major players in the
region pursuing economic development and integration, peace - or at least the
election of governments in
South Korea and Japan that distance themselves from the US and cozy up to China
- might break out.
This could validate the Chinese position that peaceful economic development -
and accommodating a certain authoritarian regional superpower - trumps the
imposition of an expensive and destabilizing security regime - favored by a
certain global hyperpower - as the best way in Asian geopolitics.
Not much chance of that happening, right now, of course.
Governing with US backing is still good politics and geopolitics for South
Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and even Taiwan (which could swing to the
anti-mainland Democratic Progressive Party come January).
But just in case local enthusiasm for the US presence diminishes, well, there's
an app for that. Clinton declared:
Harnessing Asia's growth and
dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests … broader
commitment to elevate economic statecraft as a pillar of American foreign
policy. Increasingly, economic progress depends on strong diplomatic ties, and
diplomatic progress depends on strong economic ties. And naturally, a focus on
promoting American prosperity means a greater focus on trade and economic
openness in the Asia-Pacific.
By this calculation, therefore,
the US claims a decisive role in Asia not just to protect the homeland from Kim
Jung-il's missiles or American allies from Chinese military and economic
pressure. Advantageous participation in the Asian economic rise is "central to
American economic and strategic interests."
Inevitably, this means sustaining the military assets, alliances, and political
and economic pressure points necessary to make sure that Uncle Sam is getting
his fair share out of Asia.
That really appears to be the bottom line: that there is little justification
for the United States to "lead" in Asia other than the China threat ... to hog
the Asian economic pie.
People's Daily was not amused.
In an article which confounded Secretary Clinton's "return to the Pacific" with
General Macarthur's "I shall return" (apparently they translate into the same
Chinese phrase), an editorial sniffed:
[A] few Asian countries hope to
take advantage of the United States, especially its military power, to strike a
so-called strategic balance with China. If the United States adopts this
mentality in "returning" to Asia, it will face a zero-sum game with China, and
will neither benefit from Asia's development nor play a positive role in
promoting the regional security.
... a leading role requires more than ambition. The United States' status in
Asia ultimately depends on its input. It should play a more constructive role
in promoting the regional economic development and cooperation in multiple
fields, instead of expanding its military presence to show off its
irreplaceability because it has proven to be a dead end. Certain Asian scholars
are worried that once the United States finds itself unable to maintain its
leading role, it may extort more money from Asian countries in the name of
protection and even stir up trouble by playing dirty tricks. 
The "extortion" slam is presumably referring to Clinton's statement that Japan
is providing $5 billion in host-nation support - and a warning to other Asian
nations that alliance with a financially-strapped US might become a cost center
instead of profit center.
On the issue of dirty tricks, Clinton doubled down on the whole economic
diplomacy deal before the New York Economic Club, shamelessly invoking the
bogus China rare earths scare of 2010 as a justification for integrating
foreign policy, economic , and military policy. 
She also made the rather chilling statement that international trade and
business is a matter of national security, as Bloomberg reported:
rivals are entering markets directly or deploying natural resources "to build
and exercise power," she said.
That "critical concern" hit home for U.S. officials last year when China cut
production of rare earth minerals - used in products as diverse as flat-screen
televisions and weapons systems. China controls more than 90 percent of the
"The challenges of a changing world and the needs of the American people demand
that our foreign policy community - as Steve Jobs put it - think different,"
Clinton said. "We have to position ourselves to lead in a world where security
is shaped in boardrooms and on trading floors, as well as on battlefields," she
The United States has shown itself willing to inflict
immense amount of collateral damage on regions, people, and the world economy
in pursuing its national agenda.
"Creative destruction" or maybe just "destructive destruction" might work for
the United States, particularly when it is inflicted at arm's length against a
rival or competitor.
Whether a policy of militarized, destabilizing economically-oriented security
arrangements would also be good for Asia, let alone China, is open to question.