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Singapore PM's Op-ed: The Endangered Asian Century - America, China, and the Perils of Confrontation

Mista

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/2020-06-04/lee-hsien-loong-endangered-asian-century

"In recent years, people have been saying that the next century will be the century of Asia and the Pacific, as if that were sure to be the case. I disagree with this view.” The Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made that argument to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. More than 30 years later, Deng has proved prescient. After decades of extraordinary economic success, Asia today is the world’s fastest-growing region. Within this decade, Asian economies will become larger than the rest of the world’s economies combined, something that has not been true since the nineteenth century. Yet even now, Deng’s warning holds: an Asian century is neither inevitable nor foreordained.

Asia has prospered because Pax Americana, which has held since the end of World War II, provided a favorable strategic context. But now, the troubled U.S.-Chinese relationship raises profound questions about Asia’s future and the shape of the emerging international order. Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, are especially concerned, as they live at the intersection of the interests of various major powers and must avoid being caught in the middle or forced into invidious choices.

The status quo in Asia must change. But will the new configuration enable further success or bring dangerous instability? That depends on the choices that the United States and China make, separately and together. The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others.

Asian countries see the United States as a resident power that has vital interests in the region. At the same time, China is a reality on the doorstep. Asian countries do not want to be forced to choose between the two. And if either attempts to force such a choice—if Washington tries to contain China’s rise or Beijing seeks to build an exclusive sphere of influence in Asia—they will begin a course of confrontation that will last decades and put the long-heralded Asian century in jeopardy.

THE TWO PHASES OF PAX AMERICANA
Pax Americana in Asia in the twentieth century had two distinct phases. The first was from 1945 to the 1970s, during the early decades of the Cold War, when the United States and its allies competed with the Soviet bloc for influence. Although China joined the Soviet Union to confront the United States during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, its economy remained inwardly focused and isolated, and it maintained few economic links with other Asian countries. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Asia, free-market economies were taking off. Japan’s was the earliest to do so, followed by the newly industrializing economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.

What made Asia’s stability and prosperity possible was the United States. The United States championed an open, integrated, and rules-based global order and provided a security umbrella under which regional countries could cooperate and peacefully compete. American multinational corporations invested extensively in Asia, bringing with them capital, technology, and ideas. As Washington promoted free trade and opened U.S. markets to the world, Asian trade with the United States grew.

Two pivotal events in the 1970s shifted Pax Americana in Asia into a new phase: the secret visit to China in 1971 by Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security adviser, which laid the basis for U.S.-Chinese rapprochement after decades of hostility, and the launch, in 1978, of Deng’s program of “reform and opening up,” which allowed China’s economy to take off. By the end of the decade, economic barriers were coming down, and international trade was growing rapidly. After the Vietnam War and the war in Cambodia ended, Vietnam and the other countries of Indochina were able to focus their energies and resources on economic development, and they started catching up with the rest of Asia.

Many Asian countries had long viewed the United States and other developed countries as their main economic partners. But they now increasingly seized the opportunities created by China’s rapid development. Trade and tourism with China grew, and supply chains became tightly integrated. Within a few decades, China went from being economically inconsequential for the rest of Asia to being the region’s biggest economy and major economic partner. China’s influence in regional affairs grew correspondingly.

Still, Pax Americana held, and these radical changes in China’s role took place within its framework. China was not in a position to challenge U.S. preeminence and did not attempt to do so. Indeed, it adopted as its guiding philosophy Deng’s dictum “Hide your strength, bide your time” and prioritized the modernization of its agricultural, industrial, and science and technology sectors over building military strength.

Southeast Asian countries thus enjoyed the best of both worlds, building economic relationships with China while maintaining strong ties with the United States and other developed countries. They also deepened ties with one another and worked together to create an open architecture for regional cooperation rooted in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN played a central role in forming the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 1989, establishing the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994, and convening the annual East Asia Summit since 2005.

China participates fully in these processes. Every year, the Chinese premier travels to an ASEAN member state to meet the ASEAN countries’ leaders, well prepared to explain how China sees the region and armed with proposals to enhance Chinese cooperation with the grouping’s members. As China’s stake in the region has grown, it has launched its own initiatives, including the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These have helped deepen China’s engagement with its neighbors and, of course, increased its influence.

But because the regional architecture is open, China’s influence is not exclusive. The United States remains an important participant, underpinning regional security and stability and enhancing its economic engagement through initiatives such as the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and the BUILD Act. ASEAN also has formal dialogue mechanisms with the European Union, as well as with India and many other countries. ASEAN believes that such a network of connections creates a more robust framework for cooperation and more space to advance its members’ collective interests internationally.

So far, this formula has worked well. But the strategic basis of Pax Americana has shifted fundamentally. In the four decades since it began to reform and open up, China has been transformed. As its economy, technological capabilities, and political influence have grown exponentially, its outlook on the world has changed, as well. Chinese leaders today no longer cite Deng’s maxim about hiding one’s strength and biding one’s time. China sees itself as a continental power and aspires to become a maritime power, too; it has been modernizing its army and navy and aims to turn its military into a world-class fighting force. Increasingly, and quite understandably, China wants to protect and advance its interests abroad and secure what it sees as its rightful place in international affairs.

At the same time, the United States, which is still the preeminent power in many dimensions, is reassessing its grand strategy. As its share of global GDP diminishes, it is unclear whether the United States will continue to shoulder the burden of maintaining international peace and stability, or whether it might instead pursue a narrower, “America first” approach to protecting its interests. As Washington asks fundamental questions about its responsibilities in the global system, its relationship with Beijing has come under increased scrutiny.

THE FUNDAMENTAL CHOICES OF THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA
The United States and China each face fundamental choices. The United States must decide whether to view China’s rise as an existential threat and try to hold China back through all available means or to accept China as a major power in its own right. If it chooses the latter path, the United States must craft an approach to China that will foster cooperation and healthy competition wherever possible and not allow rivalry to poison the entire relationship. Ideally, this competition will take place within an agreed multilateral framework of rules and norms of the kind that govern the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The United States is likely to find this a painful adjustment, especially with the growing consensus in Washington that engaging Beijing has failed and that a tougher approach is necessary to preserve U.S. interests. But however difficult the task will be for the United States, it is well worth making a serious effort to accommodate China’s aspirations within the current system of international rules and norms. This system imposes responsibilities and restraints on all countries, strengthens trust, helps manage conflicts, and creates a safer and stabler environment for both cooperation and competition.

If the United States chooses instead to try to contain China’s rise, it will risk provoking a reaction that could set the two countries on a path to decades of confrontation. The United States is not a declining power. It has great resilience and strengths, one of which is its ability to attract talent from around the world; of the nine people of Chinese ethnicity who have been awarded Nobel Prizes in the sciences, eight were U.S. citizens or subsequently became U.S. citizens. On the other side, the Chinese economy possesses tremendous dynamism and increasingly advanced technology; it is far from being a Potemkin village or the tottering command economy that defined the Soviet Union in its final years. Any confrontation between these two great powers is unlikely to end as the Cold War did, in one country’s peaceful collapse.

For its part, China must decide whether to try to get its way as an unencumbered major power, prevailing by dint of its sheer weight and economic strength—but at the risk of strong pushback, not just from the United States but from other countries, too. This approach is likely to increase tensions and resentment, which would affect China’s standing and influence in the longer term. This is a real danger: a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that people in Canada, the United States, and other Asian and western European countries have increasingly unfavorable views of China. Despite China’s recent efforts to build soft power abroad—through its network of Confucius Institutes, for example, and through Chinese-owned international newspapers and television outlets—the trend is negative.

Alternatively, China could acknowledge that it is no longer poor and weak and accept that the world now has higher expectations of it. It is no longer politically justifiable for China to enjoy the concessions and privileges it won when it was smaller and less developed, such as the generous terms under which it joined the WTO in 2001. A larger and more powerful China should not only respect global rules and norms but also take on greater responsibility for upholding and updating the international order under which it has prospered so spectacularly. Where the existing rules and norms are no longer fit for purpose, China should collaborate with the United States and other countries to work out revised arrangements that all can live with.

The path to creating a new order is not straightforward. Powerful domestic pressures impel and constrain both countries’ foreign policy choices. Foreign policy has featured little in the current U.S. presidential campaign, and when it has, the prevailing focus has been variants of the theme of “America first.” In China, the leadership’s overriding priority is to maintain internal political stability and, after enduring nearly two centuries of weakness and humiliation, to manifest the confidence of an ancient civilization on the rise again. So it cannot be taken for granted that the United States and China will manage their bilateral relations based on rational calculations of their national interests or even share a desire for win-win outcomes. The countries are not necessarily set on a course of confrontation, but confrontation cannot be ruled out.

DYNAMICS IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC
These dynamics will play out all over the world, but one crucial arena will be the Asia-Pacific. The United States has always had vital national interests in this region. It expended blood and treasure fighting the Pacific War to defeat Japan, a war in which the United States nearly lost three future presidents. It fought two costly wars in Korea and Vietnam, which bought precious time for noncommunist countries in Asia to consolidate their societies and economies and win the battle of hearts and minds against communism.

The United States’ generous, open policies that have so greatly benefited the Asia-Pacific derived from deep-rooted political ideals and its self-image as “a city upon a hill” and “a light unto the nations,” but they also reflected its enlightened self-interest. A stable and prospering Asia-Pacific was first a bulwark against the communist countries in the Cold War and then an important region of the world comprising many stable and prosperous countries well disposed toward the United States. To U.S. businesses, the Asia-Pacific offered sizable markets and important production bases. Unsurprisingly, several of the United States’ staunchest allies are in Asia, such as Australia, Japan, and South Korea, and so are some of its long-standing partners, such as Singapore.

China has vital interests in the region, too. In Northeast Asia, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Korean War still cast long shadows. In Southeast Asia, China sees a source of energy and raw materials, economic partners, and important sea lines of communication. It also sees chokepoints in the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea that must be kept open to protect China’s energy security. But one critical difference with the United States is that China sees the Asia-Pacific as its “near abroad,” to borrow a Russian expression, and thus as essential to its own security.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that the Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both the United States and China. But he has also said that Asian security should be left to Asians. A natural question arises: Does Xi think that the Pacific Ocean is big enough for the United States and China to coexist peacefully, with overlapping circles of friends and partners, or that it is big enough to be divided down the middle between the two powers, into rival spheres of influence? Singapore and other Asia-Pacific countries have no doubt which interpretation they prefer. Although they may not have much influence over how things will turn out, they fervently hope not to be forced to choose between the United States and China.

The U.S. security presence remains vital to the Asia-Pacific region. Without it, Japan and South Korea would be compelled to contemplate developing nuclear weapons; both are nuclear threshold states, and the subject already regularly surfaces in their public discourse, especially given North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons capabilities. Such developments are fortunately still hypothetical, but their prospect is conducive neither to stability in Northeast Asia nor to nonproliferation efforts globally.



Xi addresses the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 2015
Mike Segar / Reuters

In Southeast Asia, the U.S. Seventh Fleet has contributed to regional security since World War II, ensuring that sea lines of communication remain safe and open, which has enabled trade and stimulated economic growth. Despite its increasing military strength, China would be unable to take over the United States’ security role. Unlike the United States, China has competing maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea with several countries in the region, which will always see China’s naval presence as an attempt to advance those claims.

Another obstacle that would prevent China from taking over the security role currently played by the United States stems from the fact that many Southeast Asian countries have significant ethnic Chinese minorities, whose relations with the non-Chinese majority are often delicate. These countries are extremely sensitive about any perception that China has an inordinate influence on their ethnic Chinese populations—especially recalling the history of China’s support for communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia until the early 1980s. Those sensitivities will constrain China’s role in Southeast Asian affairs for the foreseeable future.

Singapore is the only Southeast Asian country whose multiracial population is majority ethnic Chinese. In fact, it is the only sovereign state in the world with such demographics other than China itself. But Singapore has made enormous efforts to build a multiracial national identity and not a Chinese one. And it has also been extremely careful to avoid doing anything that could be misperceived as allowing itself to be used as a cat’s-paw by China. For this reason, Singapore did not establish diplomatic relations with China until 1990, making it the final Southeast Asian country, except for Brunei, to do so.

Of course, Singapore and all other Asian countries want to cultivate good relations with China. They hope to enjoy the goodwill and support of such a major power and to participate in its growth. Global supply chains—whether for aircraft, cellular phones, or surgical masks—link China and other Asian countries closely together. China’s sheer size has made it the largest trading partner of most other Asian countries, including every treaty ally of the United States in the region, as well as Singapore and nearly every other ASEAN country.

It would be very difficult, bordering on impossible, for the United States to replace China as the world’s chief supplier, just as it would be unthinkable for the United States itself to do without the Chinese market, which is the third-largest importer of U.S. goods, after Canada and Mexico. But neither can China displace the United States’ economic role in Asia. The global financial system relies heavily on U.S. financial institutions, and the renminbi will not replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency anytime soon. Although the other Asian countries export more to China than to the United States, U.S. multinational corporations still form the largest source of foreign investments in many Asia-Pacific countries, including Singapore. China’s major companies are starting to invest abroad, but it will be many years before China has multinational corporations of the same scale and sophistication as those based in the United States, which tie global production chains together, link Asia with the global economy, and create millions of jobs.

For these reasons, Asia-Pacific countries do not wish to be forced to choose between the United States and China. They want to cultivate good relations with both. They cannot afford to alienate China, and other Asian countries will try their best not to let any single dispute dominate their overall relationships with Beijing. At the same time, those Asian countries regard the United States as a resident power with vital interests in the region. They were supportive—some more overtly than others—when U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the United States intended to “rebalance” American foreign policy toward Asia. They take comfort that although the Trump administration has raised issues of cost and burden sharing with its friends and allies, it has also put forward a strategy for the Indo-Pacific region and announced its intention to build up the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command.

But those Asian countries also recognize that the United States is a global hyperpower, with far-flung preoccupations and urgent priorities all over the world. They are realistic that should tensions grow—or, even worse, should conflict occur—they cannot automatically take U.S. support for granted. They expect to do their part to defend their countries and interests. They also hope that the United States understands that if other Asian countries promote ties with China, that does not necessarily mean that they are working against the United States. (And of course, these Asian countries hope for the same understanding from China, too, if they strengthen their ties with the United States.)

AN INCLUSIVE REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE
The United States and China are not the only major countries with a great deal of influence in the region; other players also have significant roles. Japan, in particular, has much to contribute to the region, given the size and sophistication of its economy. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it has contributed more actively than before. For example, after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, Japan stepped up. It galvanized the remaining 11 members to complete the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which brings together developed and developing countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and is a step toward free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

India also enjoys a great deal of potential influence. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has declared a strategic shift through its Act East Policy, and other countries look forward to seeing this policy put into action. The East Asia Summit includes India as a member because other members hoped that as India’s economy grew, it would see more value in regional cooperation. India was also one of the original countries negotiating to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement that aims to integrate all the major economies in the Asia-Pacific, similar to the way that the North American Free Trade Agreement (now the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) linked together countries in North America. After extensive negotiations, India decided last year not to join the RCEP; the remaining 15 participating countries are moving forward, although without India, something significant has been lost.

As most Asian countries recognize, the value of such agreements goes beyond the economic gains they generate. They are platforms that enable Asia-Pacific countries to cooperate with one another, develop stakes in one another’s success, and together mold the regional architecture and the rules that govern it. Such regional arrangements must be open and inclusive. They should not, whether by design or result, keep any party out, undermine existing cooperation arrangements, create rival blocs, or force countries to take sides. This is why CPTPP members have left the door open for the United States to sign on once again, and why the countries that are working to form the RCEP still hope that India will join one day.

This is also the basis on which Asia-Pacific countries support regional cooperation initiatives such as the various Indo-Pacific concepts proposed by Japan, the United States, and other countries, as well as China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Many other Asian countries view supporting the Belt and Road Initiative as a constructive way to accommodate China’s growing influence in the region. If implemented well and with financial discipline, the initiative’s projects can strengthen regional and multilateral cooperation and address the pressing need for better infrastructure and connectivity in many developing countries. Some such projects have been criticized for lacking transparency or viability, but there is no reason to believe that all of the initiative’s projects, by definition, will impose unsustainable financial burdens on countries or prevent them from growing their links with other major economies. Such consequences would not serve China’s interests, either, since they would undermine its international standing and influence.

Developing new regional arrangements does not mean abandoning or sidelining existing multilateral institutions. These hard-won multilateral arrangements and institutions continue to give all countries, especially smaller ones, a framework for working together and advancing their collective interests. But many existing multilateral institutions are in urgent need of reform: they are no longer effective, given current economic and strategic realities. For instance, since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations in 1994, the WTO has found it increasingly difficult to reach meaningful trade agreements, because any deal requires consensus from its 164 members, which have hugely divergent interests and economic philosophies. And since last year, the WTO’s Appellate Body has been paralyzed by the lack of a quorum. This is a loss for all countries, who should work constructively toward reforming such organizations rather than diminishing their effectiveness or bypassing them altogether.

A FERVENT HOPE
The strategic choices that the United States and China make will shape the contours of the emerging global order. It is natural for big powers to compete. But it is their capacity for cooperation that is the true test of statecraft, and it will determine whether humanity makes progress on global problems such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the spread of infectious diseases.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how vital it is for countries to work together. Diseases do not respect national borders, and international cooperation is desperately needed to bring the pandemic under control and reduce damage to the global economy. Even with the best relations between the United States and China, mounting a collective response to COVID-19 would be hugely challenging. Unfortunately, the pandemic is exacerbating the U.S.-Chinese rivalry, increasing mistrust, one-upmanship, and mutual blame. This will surely worsen if, as now seems inevitable, the pandemic becomes a major issue in the U.S. presidential election. One can only hope that the gravity of the situation will concentrate minds and allow wiser counsel to prevail.

In the meantime, Asian countries have their hands full, coping with the pandemic and the many other obstacles to improving the lives of their citizens and creating a more secure and prosperous region. Their success—and the prospect of an Asian century—will depend greatly on whether the United States and China can overcome their differences, build mutual trust, and work constructively to uphold a stable and peaceful international order. This is a fundamental issue of our time.

  • LEE HSIEN LOONG is the Prime Minister of Singapore.
 

Mista

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In Chinese:

李显龙:濒危的亚洲世纪——美中对抗的危害

https://www.zaobao.com.sg/zopinions/views/story20200604-1058602

“近几年有一种议论,说下个世纪是亚洲太平洋世纪,好像这样的世纪就要到来。我不同意这个看法。”中国领导人邓小平在1988年向来访的印度总理拉吉夫·甘地表达了这一观点。30多年后,邓小平证明了自己的先见之明。几十年来,亚洲取得了非凡的经济成就,如今是世界上增长最快的区域。在这10年内,亚洲经济体的规模将超越世界其他经济体的总和,这是自19世纪以来从未出现过的情况。然而,即使到今天,邓小平的告诫依然让人警醒:亚洲世纪既非必然实现,也非命中注定。

亚洲之所以繁荣,是因为二战结束以来一直维持着的“美国治下的和平”(Pax Americana)提供了有利的战略环境。然而目前,美中两国的紧张关系引发了有关亚洲未来和新兴国际秩序形态的深刻问题。包括新加坡在内的东南亚国家尤其感到担忧,因为它们处于各个大国利益的交汇点上,必须避免被夹在中间或被迫作出令人不快的选择。

亚洲的现状必须改变。但新的格局会带来更多的成功,还是会带来危险的不稳定局面?这取决于美国和中国分别和共同作出的选择。这两个大国必须制定出一种共处模式,在一些领域保持竞争关系的同时,不让两国之间的矛盾危害在所有领域的合作。

亚洲国家视美国为在本区域拥有重大利益的常驻大国。与此同时,中国是隔邻的区域大国。其他亚洲国家不希望被迫在两者之间作出选择。如果任何一方试图迫使亚洲各国作出选择——如华盛顿试图遏制中国的崛起,或是北京寻求在亚洲建立一个专属势力范围——美中将走上一段持续数十年的对峙之路,使长久以来预期会出现的亚洲世纪岌岌可危。

美利坚治世的两个阶段

20世纪亚洲的“美国治下的和平”有两个截然不同的阶段。第一个是在1945年到1970年代,也就是冷战的前几十年,美国及其盟友与苏联集团争夺影响力。尽管中国在朝鲜战争和越南战争期间,同苏联联手对抗美国,但其经济仍然是内向型和封闭的,与其他亚洲国家的经济联系也很少。与此同时,亚洲其他地方的自由市场经济体正在腾飞。先是日本,然后是香港、新加坡、韩国和台湾等新兴工业化经济体。

美国使亚洲的稳定和繁荣得以实现。美国倡导建立一个开放、一体化和基于规则的全球秩序,并提供一个安全保护伞,使区域国家能够在此基础上合作与和平竞争。美国跨国企业在亚洲大量投资,带来了资本、技术和创意。随着华盛顿促进自由贸易和向世界开放美国市场,亚洲与美国的贸易逐渐增长。

1970年代的两件大事将亚洲的“美式和平”带入了一个新阶段:时任美国国家安全顾问基辛格于1971年秘密访问中国,为美中在敌对数十年后,恢复邦交奠定了基础;邓小平于1978年启动了“改革开放”政策,使中国经济起飞。到1990年代末,经济壁垒逐渐消除,国际贸易迅速增长。越战和在柬埔寨的战争结束后,越南和中南半岛的其他国家得以把精力和资源集中在经济发展上,并开始追赶其他亚洲国家。

长期以来,许多亚洲国家一直把美国和其他发达国家视为主要经济伙伴,但它们现在也越来越抓紧中国快速发展所带来的机遇,与中国的贸易和旅游业逐年增长,供应链也紧密结合在一起。在几十年内,中国从在经济上对亚洲其他地区无足轻重的国家,变成本区域最大的经济体和主要的经济伙伴。中国在区域事务中的影响力也相应增强。

尽管如此,“美式和平”依然发挥效用,中国地位的这些根本性变化便是在其框架内发生的。中国没有能力挑战美国的主导地位,也没有试图这样做。事实上,它采纳了邓小平的名言“韬光养晦”作为指导思想,将农业、工业和科技的现代化放在军事力量建设之前。

因此,东南亚国家在与中国建立经济关系的同时,也与美国和其他发达国家保持着牢固的联系,从而享有两全其美的好处。它们还加深了彼此之间的联系,并共同努力,为植根于亚细安组织的区域合作建立一个开放式架构。亚细安在1989年成立亚太经济合作组织、1994年成立亚细安区域论坛,以及2005年以来每年召开东亚峰会等方面,发挥了核心作用。

中国充分参与了这些进程。每年,中国总理都会到访一个亚细安成员国,会见亚细安各国领导人,准备充分地阐述中国对东南亚地区的看法,并提出加强中国与亚细安成员国合作的建议。随着中国在本地区的利益不断增加,它也推出了自己的倡议,包括“一带一路”和亚洲基础设施投资银行。这些都有助于加深中国与邻国的合作,当然也提高了其影响力。

但是,由于这是一个开放的区域架构,中国并没有绝对的影响力。美国仍然是重要的参与者,它通过《亚洲再保证倡议法》(Asia Reassurance Initiative Act)和《善用投资促进发展法》(Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act)等倡议,巩固区域安全与稳定,并加强其经济参与。亚细安还与欧盟、印度和许多其他国家建立了正式的对话机制。亚细安认为,这样的联系网络为合作创造了更强有力的框架,并为在国际上推进其成员国的集体利益提供了更多空间。

至今为止,这个做法行之有效。但“美式和平”的战略基础已发生根本转变。改革开放40年来,中国经历了翻天覆地的变化。随着中国的经济、技术能力和政治影响力成倍增长,它对世界的看法也有所改变。今天的中国领导人已不再引用邓小平的“韬光养晦”箴言。中国视自己为一个大陆大国,也渴望成为一个海洋大国;它一直致力于陆军和海军的现代化,以使将其军队转变为一支世界级的战斗力量。中国越来越希望保护和推进其海外利益,并确保其在国际事务中应有的地位,这是完全可以理解的。

与此同时,在许多方面仍然是超级大国的美国,正在重新评估其宏观战略。随着美国在全球国内生产总值(GDP)中所占份额的减少,目前尚不清楚它是会继续承担维护国际和平与稳定的重任,还是会转而采取更狭隘的“美国优先”方式来保护自身利益。在华盛顿对其在全球体系中的责任提出根本性反思之际,它与北京的关系受到了越来越多的关注。

美中的重大抉择

美国和中国各自面临重大抉择。美国必须决定,是将中国的崛起视为一种生存威胁,并试图以一切可能的手段遏制中国,或是承认中国本身就是一个大国。如果选择后者,美国就必须制订与中国打交道的方法,尽可能促进合作和良性竞争,而不让竞争伤害整体关系。理想情况是,这一竞争将在商定的多边框架内进行,并采用类似联合国和世界贸易组织所遵循的规则和准则。

美国可能会发现这是一个痛苦的调整,尤其是华盛顿有越来越多人认为,与北京的接触已经失败,有必要采取更强硬的手段来维护其利益。但是,无论这项任务对美国来说有多艰巨,在现有的国际规则和规范体系内,尽最大努力满足中国的抱负还是值得的。这一体系规定了所有国家的责任和限制,加强信任,帮助管控冲突,并为合作和竞争创造更安全、更稳定的环境。

反之,如果美国选择试图遏制中国的崛起,就有可能引发反弹,使两国走上长达数十年的对峙之路。美国不是一个衰落的大国。它有很强的韧性和实力,其中之一就是它能够吸引世界各地人才;在九位诺贝尔科学奖华裔得主中,有八位是美国公民或后来入籍成为美国公民。另一方面,中国经济拥有巨大的活力和日益先进的技术;它远不是一个波将金村庄(Potemkin village,编按:指专门用来给人虚假印象的建设和举措),也不是苏联最后几年摇摇欲坠的计划经济。这两个大国之间的任何对峙,都不太可能像冷战时那样,在一个国家和平崩溃的情况下结束。

就中国而言,它必须决定是否要成为一个不受制约的大国,为所欲为,凭借其绝对的影响力和经济实力取胜,但也要冒着遭到美国和其他国家强烈抵制的风险。这种做法可能会加剧紧张和不满情绪,从长远来看,会影响中国的地位和影响力。这是个真实的危险:皮尤研究中心最近一项调查发现,加拿大、美国,以及其他亚洲和西欧国家的人,对中国的看法越来越负面。尽管中国最近努力在海外打造软实力,例如通过孔子学院网络,以及中资国际报纸和电视媒体等,但形势还是对它不利。

又或者,中国可以承认自己不再积贫积弱,并接受世界目前对它抱有的更高期望。在政治上,中国不再有理由享有它在较小和较不发达时所获得的优惠和特权,例如2001年加入世贸组织时的慷慨条款。一个更大、更强大的中国,不仅应该尊重全球规则和规范,也应该承担起更大的责任,维护和更新中国取得如此辉煌成就的国际秩序。如果现有规则和规范不再适用,中国应与美国和其他国家合作,制定出所有国家都能接受的订正安排。

创建新秩序的道路并不平坦。强大的国内压力推动和制约着两国的外交政策选择。在当前的美国总统竞选活动中,外交政策并没有得到太多的关注,即使有,其主要焦点也是“美国优先”这一主题不同版本的论述。在中国,领导层的首要任务是确保国内政治稳定,并在经历了近两个世纪的软弱和屈辱之后,再次展现出一个古老文明正在崛起的雄心。因此,我们不能想当然地认为,美中会根据对国家利益的理性考量来处理双边关系,甚至拥有互利共赢的共同愿望。两国不一定会走上对峙的道路,但也不能排除发生冲突的可能性。

亚太区域的势力变化

世界各地将上演这些势力变化,但一个关键的舞台将是亚太区域。美国在本区域一直拥有至关重要的国家利益。为了在太平洋战争中打败日本,美国消耗了大量资源,也付出了流血的惨重代价,并险些失去了三位未来的总统。它在朝鲜和越南打了两场代价高昂的战争,为亚洲的非共产主义国家巩固社会和经济,赢得与共产主义的思想斗争,争取了宝贵的时间。

美国慷慨、开放的政策极大地造福了亚太区域,这些政策源于根深蒂固的政治理想,及其作为“山巅之城”和“光照诸国”的自我形象,但它们也反映了其明智的自身利益考虑。一个稳定而繁荣的亚太区域,首先是冷战时期对抗共产主义国家的堡垒,然后是世界上一个由许多对美国友好、稳定而繁荣的国家组成的重要地区。亚太区域为美国企业提供了巨大的市场和重要的生产基地。这也难怪美国在亚洲有几个最坚定的盟友,如澳大利亚、日本和韩国,还有一些长期合作伙伴,如新加坡。

中国在本区域也有重大利益。东北亚依然笼罩在第二次中日战争和朝鲜战争的阴影下。东南亚是中国能源和原材料的来源地、经济合作伙伴,以及重要的海上交通线。为了保护能源安全,它也将马六甲海峡和南中国海视为必须保持开放的咽喉要道。但与美国的一个关键区别是,中国将亚太区域视为俄罗斯所谓的“近邻”(near abroad),因此对其自身安全至关重要。

中国国家主席习近平说过,太平洋足够大,容得下中美两国。但他也说,亚洲的安全归根结底要靠亚洲人民来维护。这就产生了一个问题:习近平是认为太平洋足够大,可以让美中两国和平共处,有重叠的朋友圈和伙伴圈呢?还是认为它足够大,两个大国可以将之一分为二,形成敌对的势力范围?新加坡和其他亚太国家会倾向哪种解读,是不言自明的。尽管它们可能对事态的发展没有太大的影响力,但还是热切希望不要被迫在美中之间作出选择。美国的安保力量对亚太区域仍然至关重要。没有它,日本和韩国将不得不考虑发展核武器;两国都是核门槛国家,而这个课题也经常出现在他们的公开讨论中,特别是考虑到朝鲜日益增长的核武器能力。幸运的是,这些事态发展仍然只是假设,但其前景既不利于东北亚的稳定,也不利于全球的防扩散努力。

自二战以来,美国第七舰队为东南亚地区的安全做出了贡献。它确保海上交通线保持安全和开放,从而促进了贸易和经济增长。尽管中国的军事实力不断增强,但它还是无法取代美国所发挥的安全角色。与美国不同的是,中国在南中国海与本地区的几个国家存在海洋和领土争端,这些国家会认为,中国的海军部署是为了推进其海洋和领土主张。

阻碍中国接替美国在目前所扮演的安全角色的另一个障碍是,许多东南亚国家都有为数不少的华裔少数民族,他们与占多数的非华族的关系往往很微妙。这些国家对任何中国对其华裔人口有过度影响的看法都极为敏感,尤其是回想起中国在1980年代初之前,一直支持东南亚共产主义叛乱的历史。在可预见的未来,这些敏感因素将制约中国在东南亚事务中的角色。

新加坡是东南亚唯一以华人为主的多元种族国家。事实上,它是世界上除中国之外,唯一拥有如此人口结构的主权国家。然而,新加坡却为打造一个多元种族,而非华族的国民身份付出了巨大努力。而且,它还极其小心地避免做任何可能让自己被误认为是中国的爪牙的事情。为此,新加坡直到1990年才与中国建交,成为除文莱外最后一个与中国建交的东南亚国家。

当然,新加坡和其他亚洲国家都希望与中国建立良好关系。它们希望得到这样一个大国的善意和支持,并参与其发展。从飞机、手机到手术口罩,全球供应链将中国和其他亚洲国家紧密联系在一起。中国的庞大规模使其成为大多数其他亚洲国家的最大贸易伙伴,包括美国在本区域的所有条约盟友,以及新加坡和几乎所有其他亚细安国家。

美国很难或者几乎不可能取代中国,成为世界最大的供应国,就像美国自己没有中国市场是不可想象的一样。中国是美国商品的第三大进口国,仅次于加拿大和墨西哥。但中国也无法取代美国在亚洲的经济地位。全球金融体系主要依赖于美国金融机构,人民币近期内不太可能取代美元成为世界储备货币。尽管其他亚洲国家对中国的出口超过对美国的出口,但美国跨国公司仍然是包括新加坡在内的许多亚太国家最大的外国投资来源。中国的大公司已开始在海外投资,但它还需要很多年,才能拥有与美国同样规模和水平的跨国公司。这些跨国公司将全球生产链结合在一起,把亚洲与全球经济联系起来,并创造数百万个就业机会。

基于这些原因,亚太国家不希望被迫在美中之间作出选择。它们希望与双方培养良好关系。它们承受不起疏远中国的代价,而其他亚洲国家将尽最大努力,不让任何单一的争端主导它们与北京的整体关系。与此同时,这些亚洲国家视美国为在本区域拥有重大利益的常驻大国。当美国总统奥巴马宣布,美国打算对其亚洲外交政策进行“再平衡”时,亚洲国家的态度大体上支持,不过不是每一个国家都明显表态。让它们感到欣慰的是,尽管特朗普政府提出了与友邦和盟友分担成本和负担的问题,但它也提出了印度洋—太平洋地区的战略,并宣布打算加强美军的印度洋—太平洋司令部。

不过,这些亚洲国家也意识到,美国是一个全球超级大国,在世界各地都有广泛的当务之急和紧迫的优先事项。它们的态度是务实的,如果紧张局势加剧,或更糟的是发生冲突,不能自动把美国的支持当作是理所当然的。它们准备尽自己的一份力量去捍卫自己的国家和利益。它们还希望美国明白,如果其他亚洲国家促进与中国的关系,并不一定意味着它们在与美国作对。(当然,如果这些亚洲国家加强与美国的关系,它们也同样希望得到中国的理解。)

包容性的区域架构

美中并不是唯一在本区域具有相当影响力的主要国家;其他参与者也发挥着重要作用。特别是日本,鉴于其经济的规模和先进程度,对本区域的贡献良多。在首相安倍晋三的领导下,日本做出了比以往更积极的贡献。例如,在2017年美国退出《跨太平洋伙伴关系协定》(Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement,简称TPP)后,日本挺身而出,推动其余11个成员国完成《跨太平洋伙伴全面进展协定》(Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TPP,简称CPTPP)。该协定汇集了太平洋两岸的发达国家和发展中国家,是亚太区域朝自由贸易迈出的一步。

印度也具备巨大的潜在影响力。在总理莫迪的领导下,印度作出战略调整,宣布“东向行动政策”(Act East Policy),其他国家也期待看到这一政策付诸实施。东亚峰会接纳印度为成员国,是因为其他成员国希望,随着印度经济的增长,它将更感悟到区域合作的价值。印度也是最初谈判组建《区域全面经济伙伴关系协定》(Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,简称RCEP)的国家之一。RCEP是一项拟议中的自由贸易协定,旨在整合亚太区域所有主要经济体,类似于将北美国家经济一体化的北美自由贸易协定(现为美国—墨西哥—加拿大协定)。经过广泛的磋商,印度去年决定不加入RCEP;其余15个参与国则继续推进这项协定,可是没有印度,它不免打了折扣。

大多数亚洲国家都认识到,此类协定的价值超出了它们所带来的经济收益。这些平台使亚太国家能够相互合作,在彼此的成功中发展利害关系,并共同塑造区域架构和管理该架构的规则。这种区域安排必须是开放和包容的。它们不应有意无意地把任何一方拒之门外,破坏现有的合作安排,制造对立集团,或迫使各国选边站。这就是为什么CPTPP成员国为美国再次签署协定敞开大门,也是为什么正在努力组建RCEP的国家,仍然希望印度有朝一日会加入。

这也是亚太国家支持日本、美国及其他国家提出的各种“印太”构想,以及中国“一带一路”倡议等区域合作倡议的出发点。许多其他亚洲国家认为,支持“一带一路”倡议,是适应中国在本区域日益增长的影响力的建设性方式。如果实施得当,并遵守财政纪律,该倡议的项目可以加强区域和多边合作,解决许多发展中国家改善基础设施和互联互通的迫切需要。一些此类项目因缺乏透明度或可行性而受到批评,但没有理由相信,该倡议的所有项目就一定会给各国带来不可持续的财政负担,或阻止它们与其他主要经济体建立联系。这样的后果也不符合中国的利益,因为它会损害中国的国际地位和影响力。

发展新的区域安排,并不意味着放弃或忽视现有的多边机构。这些来之不易的多边安排和机构继续为所有国家,特别是较小的国家提供一个共同努力、促进集体利益的框架。但是,许多现有的多边机构迫切须要改革:考虑到当前的经济和战略现实,这些机构已不再有效。例如,自1994年乌拉圭回合贸易谈判结束以来,世贸组织要达成有意义的贸易协定已越来越困难,因为任何协定都需要其164个成员国取得共识,而这些成员国的利益和经济政策却是大相径庭。自去年以来,世贸组织上诉机构因法定人数不足而陷入瘫痪。这是所有国家的损失,我们应该为改革这些组织开展建设性工作,而不是削弱它们的效力或完全绕过它们。

热切的希望

美中两国作出的战略选择,将塑造新兴全球秩序的格局。大国竞争在所难免。但它们的合作能力才是对治国之道的真正考验,它将决定人类在气候变化、核扩散和传染病传播等全球问题上能否取得进展。

2019冠状病毒大流行清楚地提醒我们,各国携手合作是多么重要。疾病不受国界限制,我们迫切需要国际合作来控制这场流行病,并减少对全球经济的损害。即使美中关系大好,对冠病采取集体应对措施,都将是一个巨大的挑战。不幸的是,冠病疫情正在加剧美中之间的对抗,使不信任感加深,比看谁更高人一等,并不停地相互指责。如果疫情成为美国总统选举中的一个主要议题(现在看来似乎在所难免),情况肯定会恶化。我们只能希望,事态的严重性能使人们集中心思,理智地对待问题。

与此同时,亚洲国家正为对抗冠病,以及克服改善人民生活,创造一个更安全、更繁荣的区域的其他诸多难题,而忙得不可开交。它们的成功,以及亚洲世纪的实现,将在很大程度上取决于美中两国能否战胜分歧,建立互信,为维护稳定与和平的国际秩序作出建设性的努力。这是我们这个时代所面临的根本问题。

(作者是新加坡总理。本文经《外交》(FOREIGN AFFAIRS)许可翻译转载,2020年6月9日出版,第7月/8月号。版权所有2020,美国外交关系理事会(Council on Foreign Relations,Inc) www.ForeignAffairs.com。黄金顺译。)
 

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/2020-06-04/lee-hsien-loong-endangered-asian-century

"In recent years, people have been saying that the next century will be the century of Asia and the Pacific, as if that were sure to be the case. I disagree with this view.” The Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made that argument to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. More than 30 years later, Deng has proved prescient. After decades of extraordinary economic success, Asia today is the world’s fastest-growing region. Within this decade, Asian economies will become larger than the rest of the world’s economies combined, something that has not been true since the nineteenth century. Yet even now, Deng’s warning holds: an Asian century is neither inevitable nor foreordained.

Asia has prospered because Pax Americana, which has held since the end of World War II, provided a favorable strategic context. But now, the troubled U.S.-Chinese relationship raises profound questions about Asia’s future and the shape of the emerging international order. Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, are especially concerned, as they live at the intersection of the interests of various major powers and must avoid being caught in the middle or forced into invidious choices.

The status quo in Asia must change. But will the new configuration enable further success or bring dangerous instability? That depends on the choices that the United States and China make, separately and together. The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others.

Asian countries see the United States as a resident power that has vital interests in the region. At the same time, China is a reality on the doorstep. Asian countries do not want to be forced to choose between the two. And if either attempts to force such a choice—if Washington tries to contain China’s rise or Beijing seeks to build an exclusive sphere of influence in Asia—they will begin a course of confrontation that will last decades and put the long-heralded Asian century in jeopardy.

THE TWO PHASES OF PAX AMERICANA
Pax Americana in Asia in the twentieth century had two distinct phases. The first was from 1945 to the 1970s, during the early decades of the Cold War, when the United States and its allies competed with the Soviet bloc for influence. Although China joined the Soviet Union to confront the United States during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, its economy remained inwardly focused and isolated, and it maintained few economic links with other Asian countries. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Asia, free-market economies were taking off. Japan’s was the earliest to do so, followed by the newly industrializing economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.

What made Asia’s stability and prosperity possible was the United States. The United States championed an open, integrated, and rules-based global order and provided a security umbrella under which regional countries could cooperate and peacefully compete. American multinational corporations invested extensively in Asia, bringing with them capital, technology, and ideas. As Washington promoted free trade and opened U.S. markets to the world, Asian trade with the United States grew.

Two pivotal events in the 1970s shifted Pax Americana in Asia into a new phase: the secret visit to China in 1971 by Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security adviser, which laid the basis for U.S.-Chinese rapprochement after decades of hostility, and the launch, in 1978, of Deng’s program of “reform and opening up,” which allowed China’s economy to take off. By the end of the decade, economic barriers were coming down, and international trade was growing rapidly. After the Vietnam War and the war in Cambodia ended, Vietnam and the other countries of Indochina were able to focus their energies and resources on economic development, and they started catching up with the rest of Asia.

Many Asian countries had long viewed the United States and other developed countries as their main economic partners. But they now increasingly seized the opportunities created by China’s rapid development. Trade and tourism with China grew, and supply chains became tightly integrated. Within a few decades, China went from being economically inconsequential for the rest of Asia to being the region’s biggest economy and major economic partner. China’s influence in regional affairs grew correspondingly.

Still, Pax Americana held, and these radical changes in China’s role took place within its framework. China was not in a position to challenge U.S. preeminence and did not attempt to do so. Indeed, it adopted as its guiding philosophy Deng’s dictum “Hide your strength, bide your time” and prioritized the modernization of its agricultural, industrial, and science and technology sectors over building military strength.

Southeast Asian countries thus enjoyed the best of both worlds, building economic relationships with China while maintaining strong ties with the United States and other developed countries. They also deepened ties with one another and worked together to create an open architecture for regional cooperation rooted in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN played a central role in forming the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 1989, establishing the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994, and convening the annual East Asia Summit since 2005.

China participates fully in these processes. Every year, the Chinese premier travels to an ASEAN member state to meet the ASEAN countries’ leaders, well prepared to explain how China sees the region and armed with proposals to enhance Chinese cooperation with the grouping’s members. As China’s stake in the region has grown, it has launched its own initiatives, including the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These have helped deepen China’s engagement with its neighbors and, of course, increased its influence.

But because the regional architecture is open, China’s influence is not exclusive. The United States remains an important participant, underpinning regional security and stability and enhancing its economic engagement through initiatives such as the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and the BUILD Act. ASEAN also has formal dialogue mechanisms with the European Union, as well as with India and many other countries. ASEAN believes that such a network of connections creates a more robust framework for cooperation and more space to advance its members’ collective interests internationally.

So far, this formula has worked well. But the strategic basis of Pax Americana has shifted fundamentally. In the four decades since it began to reform and open up, China has been transformed. As its economy, technological capabilities, and political influence have grown exponentially, its outlook on the world has changed, as well. Chinese leaders today no longer cite Deng’s maxim about hiding one’s strength and biding one’s time. China sees itself as a continental power and aspires to become a maritime power, too; it has been modernizing its army and navy and aims to turn its military into a world-class fighting force. Increasingly, and quite understandably, China wants to protect and advance its interests abroad and secure what it sees as its rightful place in international affairs.

At the same time, the United States, which is still the preeminent power in many dimensions, is reassessing its grand strategy. As its share of global GDP diminishes, it is unclear whether the United States will continue to shoulder the burden of maintaining international peace and stability, or whether it might instead pursue a narrower, “America first” approach to protecting its interests. As Washington asks fundamental questions about its responsibilities in the global system, its relationship with Beijing has come under increased scrutiny.

THE FUNDAMENTAL CHOICES OF THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA
The United States and China each face fundamental choices. The United States must decide whether to view China’s rise as an existential threat and try to hold China back through all available means or to accept China as a major power in its own right. If it chooses the latter path, the United States must craft an approach to China that will foster cooperation and healthy competition wherever possible and not allow rivalry to poison the entire relationship. Ideally, this competition will take place within an agreed multilateral framework of rules and norms of the kind that govern the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The United States is likely to find this a painful adjustment, especially with the growing consensus in Washington that engaging Beijing has failed and that a tougher approach is necessary to preserve U.S. interests. But however difficult the task will be for the United States, it is well worth making a serious effort to accommodate China’s aspirations within the current system of international rules and norms. This system imposes responsibilities and restraints on all countries, strengthens trust, helps manage conflicts, and creates a safer and stabler environment for both cooperation and competition.

If the United States chooses instead to try to contain China’s rise, it will risk provoking a reaction that could set the two countries on a path to decades of confrontation. The United States is not a declining power. It has great resilience and strengths, one of which is its ability to attract talent from around the world; of the nine people of Chinese ethnicity who have been awarded Nobel Prizes in the sciences, eight were U.S. citizens or subsequently became U.S. citizens. On the other side, the Chinese economy possesses tremendous dynamism and increasingly advanced technology; it is far from being a Potemkin village or the tottering command economy that defined the Soviet Union in its final years. Any confrontation between these two great powers is unlikely to end as the Cold War did, in one country’s peaceful collapse.

For its part, China must decide whether to try to get its way as an unencumbered major power, prevailing by dint of its sheer weight and economic strength—but at the risk of strong pushback, not just from the United States but from other countries, too. This approach is likely to increase tensions and resentment, which would affect China’s standing and influence in the longer term. This is a real danger: a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that people in Canada, the United States, and other Asian and western European countries have increasingly unfavorable views of China. Despite China’s recent efforts to build soft power abroad—through its network of Confucius Institutes, for example, and through Chinese-owned international newspapers and television outlets—the trend is negative.

Alternatively, China could acknowledge that it is no longer poor and weak and accept that the world now has higher expectations of it. It is no longer politically justifiable for China to enjoy the concessions and privileges it won when it was smaller and less developed, such as the generous terms under which it joined the WTO in 2001. A larger and more powerful China should not only respect global rules and norms but also take on greater responsibility for upholding and updating the international order under which it has prospered so spectacularly. Where the existing rules and norms are no longer fit for purpose, China should collaborate with the United States and other countries to work out revised arrangements that all can live with.

The path to creating a new order is not straightforward. Powerful domestic pressures impel and constrain both countries’ foreign policy choices. Foreign policy has featured little in the current U.S. presidential campaign, and when it has, the prevailing focus has been variants of the theme of “America first.” In China, the leadership’s overriding priority is to maintain internal political stability and, after enduring nearly two centuries of weakness and humiliation, to manifest the confidence of an ancient civilization on the rise again. So it cannot be taken for granted that the United States and China will manage their bilateral relations based on rational calculations of their national interests or even share a desire for win-win outcomes. The countries are not necessarily set on a course of confrontation, but confrontation cannot be ruled out.

DYNAMICS IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC
These dynamics will play out all over the world, but one crucial arena will be the Asia-Pacific. The United States has always had vital national interests in this region. It expended blood and treasure fighting the Pacific War to defeat Japan, a war in which the United States nearly lost three future presidents. It fought two costly wars in Korea and Vietnam, which bought precious time for noncommunist countries in Asia to consolidate their societies and economies and win the battle of hearts and minds against communism.

The United States’ generous, open policies that have so greatly benefited the Asia-Pacific derived from deep-rooted political ideals and its self-image as “a city upon a hill” and “a light unto the nations,” but they also reflected its enlightened self-interest. A stable and prospering Asia-Pacific was first a bulwark against the communist countries in the Cold War and then an important region of the world comprising many stable and prosperous countries well disposed toward the United States. To U.S. businesses, the Asia-Pacific offered sizable markets and important production bases. Unsurprisingly, several of the United States’ staunchest allies are in Asia, such as Australia, Japan, and South Korea, and so are some of its long-standing partners, such as Singapore.

China has vital interests in the region, too. In Northeast Asia, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Korean War still cast long shadows. In Southeast Asia, China sees a source of energy and raw materials, economic partners, and important sea lines of communication. It also sees chokepoints in the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea that must be kept open to protect China’s energy security. But one critical difference with the United States is that China sees the Asia-Pacific as its “near abroad,” to borrow a Russian expression, and thus as essential to its own security.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that the Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both the United States and China. But he has also said that Asian security should be left to Asians. A natural question arises: Does Xi think that the Pacific Ocean is big enough for the United States and China to coexist peacefully, with overlapping circles of friends and partners, or that it is big enough to be divided down the middle between the two powers, into rival spheres of influence? Singapore and other Asia-Pacific countries have no doubt which interpretation they prefer. Although they may not have much influence over how things will turn out, they fervently hope not to be forced to choose between the United States and China.

The U.S. security presence remains vital to the Asia-Pacific region. Without it, Japan and South Korea would be compelled to contemplate developing nuclear weapons; both are nuclear threshold states, and the subject already regularly surfaces in their public discourse, especially given North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons capabilities. Such developments are fortunately still hypothetical, but their prospect is conducive neither to stability in Northeast Asia nor to nonproliferation efforts globally.



Xi addresses the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, September 2015
Mike Segar / Reuters

In Southeast Asia, the U.S. Seventh Fleet has contributed to regional security since World War II, ensuring that sea lines of communication remain safe and open, which has enabled trade and stimulated economic growth. Despite its increasing military strength, China would be unable to take over the United States’ security role. Unlike the United States, China has competing maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea with several countries in the region, which will always see China’s naval presence as an attempt to advance those claims.

Another obstacle that would prevent China from taking over the security role currently played by the United States stems from the fact that many Southeast Asian countries have significant ethnic Chinese minorities, whose relations with the non-Chinese majority are often delicate. These countries are extremely sensitive about any perception that China has an inordinate influence on their ethnic Chinese populations—especially recalling the history of China’s support for communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia until the early 1980s. Those sensitivities will constrain China’s role in Southeast Asian affairs for the foreseeable future.

Singapore is the only Southeast Asian country whose multiracial population is majority ethnic Chinese. In fact, it is the only sovereign state in the world with such demographics other than China itself. But Singapore has made enormous efforts to build a multiracial national identity and not a Chinese one. And it has also been extremely careful to avoid doing anything that could be misperceived as allowing itself to be used as a cat’s-paw by China. For this reason, Singapore did not establish diplomatic relations with China until 1990, making it the final Southeast Asian country, except for Brunei, to do so.

Of course, Singapore and all other Asian countries want to cultivate good relations with China. They hope to enjoy the goodwill and support of such a major power and to participate in its growth. Global supply chains—whether for aircraft, cellular phones, or surgical masks—link China and other Asian countries closely together. China’s sheer size has made it the largest trading partner of most other Asian countries, including every treaty ally of the United States in the region, as well as Singapore and nearly every other ASEAN country.

It would be very difficult, bordering on impossible, for the United States to replace China as the world’s chief supplier, just as it would be unthinkable for the United States itself to do without the Chinese market, which is the third-largest importer of U.S. goods, after Canada and Mexico. But neither can China displace the United States’ economic role in Asia. The global financial system relies heavily on U.S. financial institutions, and the renminbi will not replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency anytime soon. Although the other Asian countries export more to China than to the United States, U.S. multinational corporations still form the largest source of foreign investments in many Asia-Pacific countries, including Singapore. China’s major companies are starting to invest abroad, but it will be many years before China has multinational corporations of the same scale and sophistication as those based in the United States, which tie global production chains together, link Asia with the global economy, and create millions of jobs.

For these reasons, Asia-Pacific countries do not wish to be forced to choose between the United States and China. They want to cultivate good relations with both. They cannot afford to alienate China, and other Asian countries will try their best not to let any single dispute dominate their overall relationships with Beijing. At the same time, those Asian countries regard the United States as a resident power with vital interests in the region. They were supportive—some more overtly than others—when U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the United States intended to “rebalance” American foreign policy toward Asia. They take comfort that although the Trump administration has raised issues of cost and burden sharing with its friends and allies, it has also put forward a strategy for the Indo-Pacific region and announced its intention to build up the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command.

But those Asian countries also recognize that the United States is a global hyperpower, with far-flung preoccupations and urgent priorities all over the world. They are realistic that should tensions grow—or, even worse, should conflict occur—they cannot automatically take U.S. support for granted. They expect to do their part to defend their countries and interests. They also hope that the United States understands that if other Asian countries promote ties with China, that does not necessarily mean that they are working against the United States. (And of course, these Asian countries hope for the same understanding from China, too, if they strengthen their ties with the United States.)

AN INCLUSIVE REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE
The United States and China are not the only major countries with a great deal of influence in the region; other players also have significant roles. Japan, in particular, has much to contribute to the region, given the size and sophistication of its economy. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it has contributed more actively than before. For example, after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, Japan stepped up. It galvanized the remaining 11 members to complete the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which brings together developed and developing countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and is a step toward free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

India also enjoys a great deal of potential influence. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has declared a strategic shift through its Act East Policy, and other countries look forward to seeing this policy put into action. The East Asia Summit includes India as a member because other members hoped that as India’s economy grew, it would see more value in regional cooperation. India was also one of the original countries negotiating to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement that aims to integrate all the major economies in the Asia-Pacific, similar to the way that the North American Free Trade Agreement (now the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) linked together countries in North America. After extensive negotiations, India decided last year not to join the RCEP; the remaining 15 participating countries are moving forward, although without India, something significant has been lost.

As most Asian countries recognize, the value of such agreements goes beyond the economic gains they generate. They are platforms that enable Asia-Pacific countries to cooperate with one another, develop stakes in one another’s success, and together mold the regional architecture and the rules that govern it. Such regional arrangements must be open and inclusive. They should not, whether by design or result, keep any party out, undermine existing cooperation arrangements, create rival blocs, or force countries to take sides. This is why CPTPP members have left the door open for the United States to sign on once again, and why the countries that are working to form the RCEP still hope that India will join one day.

This is also the basis on which Asia-Pacific countries support regional cooperation initiatives such as the various Indo-Pacific concepts proposed by Japan, the United States, and other countries, as well as China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Many other Asian countries view supporting the Belt and Road Initiative as a constructive way to accommodate China’s growing influence in the region. If implemented well and with financial discipline, the initiative’s projects can strengthen regional and multilateral cooperation and address the pressing need for better infrastructure and connectivity in many developing countries. Some such projects have been criticized for lacking transparency or viability, but there is no reason to believe that all of the initiative’s projects, by definition, will impose unsustainable financial burdens on countries or prevent them from growing their links with other major economies. Such consequences would not serve China’s interests, either, since they would undermine its international standing and influence.

Developing new regional arrangements does not mean abandoning or sidelining existing multilateral institutions. These hard-won multilateral arrangements and institutions continue to give all countries, especially smaller ones, a framework for working together and advancing their collective interests. But many existing multilateral institutions are in urgent need of reform: they are no longer effective, given current economic and strategic realities. For instance, since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations in 1994, the WTO has found it increasingly difficult to reach meaningful trade agreements, because any deal requires consensus from its 164 members, which have hugely divergent interests and economic philosophies. And since last year, the WTO’s Appellate Body has been paralyzed by the lack of a quorum. This is a loss for all countries, who should work constructively toward reforming such organizations rather than diminishing their effectiveness or bypassing them altogether.

A FERVENT HOPE
The strategic choices that the United States and China make will shape the contours of the emerging global order. It is natural for big powers to compete. But it is their capacity for cooperation that is the true test of statecraft, and it will determine whether humanity makes progress on global problems such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the spread of infectious diseases.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how vital it is for countries to work together. Diseases do not respect national borders, and international cooperation is desperately needed to bring the pandemic under control and reduce damage to the global economy. Even with the best relations between the United States and China, mounting a collective response to COVID-19 would be hugely challenging. Unfortunately, the pandemic is exacerbating the U.S.-Chinese rivalry, increasing mistrust, one-upmanship, and mutual blame. This will surely worsen if, as now seems inevitable, the pandemic becomes a major issue in the U.S. presidential election. One can only hope that the gravity of the situation will concentrate minds and allow wiser counsel to prevail.

In the meantime, Asian countries have their hands full, coping with the pandemic and the many other obstacles to improving the lives of their citizens and creating a more secure and prosperous region. Their success—and the prospect of an Asian century—will depend greatly on whether the United States and China can overcome their differences, build mutual trust, and work constructively to uphold a stable and peaceful international order. This is a fundamental issue of our time.

  • LEE HSIEN LOONG is the Prime Minister of Singapore.
free trade is going to be restricted. china made some choices on mercantilism. there is not much Mr Lee can do about it
 

jericho

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Good article IMO.

Two pivotal events in the 1970s shifted Pax Americana in Asia into a new phase: the secret visit to China in 1971 by Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security adviser, which laid the basis for U.S.-Chinese rapprochement after decades of hostility,
Pakistan had a big role in this visit
 

mmr

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Global trade will go on as usual. There might be some pressure for localizations but whole system wont just go away.

Singapore has benefited immensely from globalization and trade.
 

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