US Pivot And The Rising Security Dilemma In South East Asia


“Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world,” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Obama administration introduced a pivot in the shift of policies from the West and the Middle East towards South region as an attempt to create a better economic integrated region that would yield a better more risk-free alliance for the US and its economic market. However, the success of the foreign policy is only calculated years after it has been implemented. The pivot was most probably the single policy change that changed the US approach globally, it was supposed to end the need for expensive military ventures and introduce a new economic approach. Obama’s vision was not the first step in the initiation of relations with South East Asia, his successors George W. Bush had military ties with Japan and Vietnam but it was primarily restricted to defense deals only.

Over the years the policy didn’t bear the fruits as it should have done under the eyes of the US policymakers, there were a number of reasons that led to the dismay of Pivot. First of all US never really did shift its focus from the Middle East as it needed resources to feed its industry and cover the costs of expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The policies thus once devised were left halfway as Gulf deals were more tempting for instant cash and resources.

Secondly, South East Asia was more inclined towards the presence of a regional power rather than attempting to build a long-lasting partnership with the non-regional USA. China brilliantly projected its image as a soft power dedicated to bringing stability through economic deals. This resulted in the partial success of economic ventures of USA being accepted by the ASEAN states and their likes, as they were more comfortable relying on cross-border trade with China rather than international trade that put a strain on their economies due to an economic gap and finding a stable exchange rate.

Thirdly, China was growing exponentially with their pure focus of promoting the economic stability and integrating the smaller states into its economic markets whereas the US was promising a more strategic and military approach towards the economically challenged states.

If the first mistake of US was to project the pivot as a military alliance expansion, the second one was to continue to uphold the tradition of boasting their dominance rather than looking for an alternative that was more appealing than just arms deals and extension of weapons technology.

The short handiness of US policy left Chinese markets to flourish as they developed their industries and increased exports rapidly among the regional states and enterprise massive aids and loans to states that were not able to develop their economies on their own. South East Asia (SEA) has a significant number of states that are still under the process of developing their economies, in a scenario like this, the economic aid from a regional state strengthens the ties up a notch as to when compared with building ties resting on purely military assistance and technology.

Competition in the South China Sea involves many actors but the two main actors remain China and USA, struggling for dominance over the blue waters as stakes are high for both powers. Beijing needs a territorial freedom minus the presence of American naval elements in order to expand its horizons as a regional leader and strategically secure these waters. On the other hand, US needs to keep a close eye on the Chinese projection and the best way they deem possible is to keep a fleet of naval ships and convincing smaller states to hedge against the ambitions of Beijing.

However radical actions taken by either state have led to a worsening security dilemma in the region pointing towards reactive security strategies that may well lead to dangerously destabilized relations and create another conflict zone involving both the powers. The rise of a new power (China) will surely challenge the hierarchy of the International led world order by the USA, the question is if the rise of China will lead to another global war or not.

There is also a speculation that over time these disputes of maritime boundaries and protection of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) will cool off due to the sensitivity of the states involved, states like Thailand and Indonesia predict a future where Beijing will eventually drive the US out of the region and this had led them to increase their military spending’s and budgets creating the notion of an arms race in South East Asia.

The excursion attempts by the US have led Beijing to believe that the main aim of the pivot policy was to limit the peaceful rise of China and has forced them to act aggressively in order to protect their national interests, the US has been unable to take control of this situation effectively as the prominent Chinese denominator in all matters grows stronger.

The US pivot whereas aimed at creating an international acceptable approach of American values in terms of economy and trade didn’t quite accomplish its true goal over the years, the reason for failure was mainly because of the indulgence of US military in the region. The other states thus caught between this dilemmas have been forced to take actions of their own to protect their national interests in a scenario where the US might budge out of the region and China is left as the sole power in the region.

These two power have been contesting each other, particularly in South East Asia we can see that the Chinese have been more tangible and successful in gaining the support of states because of their major economic motivations, whereas US military ambitions have been taken as a doubtful choice in the long run regarding the security of states.

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