Published : 2012-07-20 20:18
Updated : 2012-07-20 20:18
If U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to leave a positive legacy in our region, she must make sure that her constant presence, smile and speeches do not further divide ASEAN and cause discord with other major powers and among countries.
Clinton has just made another tour of the region as her tenure in office nears completion. She is not going to take up any post in the next U.S. administration. Whatever she has done in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia, will be gauged carefully from now on.
Over the past years Clinton has brought the U.S. closer to Asia, after the previous administration focused more on the “war on terror” in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
At times one could say that the closeness has been too close for comfort because some countries have lost their strategic balance. She is charming and direct and very effective in communicating with Asia’s leaders. More than anything she genuinely likes Asia, with no need to pretend. Unlike her female predecessors as U.S. secretary of state, she has attended every ASEAN ministerial meeting and been very proactive. Indeed, her contribution has gone beyond what one could ever imagine of other American leaders.
Without her, the U.S. “pivot” to Asia would be just a slogan and the U.S.-Asia policy under the Obama administration little more.
But there is one caveat, regarding the aggressive U.S. moves in the region. Everybody knows Washington’s real intention, despite its officials’ beautiful rhetoric to hide their diplomatic manoeuvers.
The U.S. is a superpower with a global strategy, so it tends to see others as auxiliaries in its grand plan, and especially in its plans to counter China’s rise. So far, Washington has been quite successful because American leaders have been more enthusiastic and clear in their foreign-policy outlook ― something China has not yet matched. But China is also contemplating ways to win hearts in Asia, in the aftermath of America’s accomplishments.
One reality in the region we cannot deny is the role of China. Like it or not, China is here to stay and will become a permanent fixture in the scheme of things in this part of the world. In the next decade China’s role will be even more important given the current state of the world economy.
It is important for the region to engage with China and ensure that both sides understand each other. In the past, misunderstandings have caused great damage at the most unpredictable times. To prevent history repeating, all Asian powers must commit to consult and communicate fully with each other.
With November’s U.S. presidential election looming, the Obama administration is making great efforts to win votes at home and also support from overseas. After the election, the wooing will die down and the reality will set in. It is imperative that the countries in our region understand this new strategic environment. They must not allow themselves to be carried away, thinking that their own security could be better protected by larger superpowers.
Solidarity among countries in the region, especially in ASEAN, must be maintained, otherwise other major powers will exploit the region’s weakness to their advantage.