B S Raghavan

US quest for Asia policy not over

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on November 15, 2017 Published on January 15, 2012

Ihad concluded my last column (Jigsaw pieces of US Asia policy, January 4) by pointing to the ambivalence in the US attitude towards China.

This stems from that country having a stranglehold over the US as the biggest foreign creditor with $1.5 trillion in American government debt. Its prodigious trade and current-account surpluses have made it a financial giant with foreign currency reserves exceeding $3 trillion, unsurpassed by any other nation.

It is also closer than the US to the countries of the Asia-Pacific region geographically, historically and culturally and can, if it sets its mind to it, outpace the US in forging networks of alliances by dangling a range of tempting offers in the form of collaborations, projects and financial assistance.

In any case, confrontation, leave alone retaliation with military force, cannot any longer be the solution in world affairs. The days are long past when the ugly American or the cowboy style of arm twisting, browbeating, sabre-rattling or the actual use of force would have done the trick. In the current context, all that the US can do is to mask in diplomatic verbiage its real intention to somehow keep China in check and look for proxies through whom it could finesse whatever hidden agenda it has.

Hence, the eagerness to embrace India in an all-encompassing strategic partnership, and build it up as a “regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region”, with the expectation of making it, at one level, an effective counterpoise to China and at another, the lightning rod for absorbing any shocks generated in the process.

UNNATURAL BUNDLING

Hence the insistent call by the US urging India to play a more vigorous leadership role as the “linchpin” of the broader Asia-Pacific region, and go beyond its languid “Look East” policy to a dashing “Act East” policy. The US no doubt hopes that to a considerable extent, this will lighten its load in making China soften its stand on contentious issues such as political and economic liberalisation, cyber war, intellectual property protection, maritime security and human rights.

Of late, the US has begun to bracket India with Indonesia, with equal praise for both as “two of the most dynamic and significant democratic powers of Asia” with which it wants to have “broader, deeper, and more purposeful relationships”. It gives a number of reasons to justify this unnatural bundling, but, to me, the real reason is that the US considers it impolitic to seem like leaning on India (in both the British and American senses of the phrase) exclusively, excessively or too obviously.

The US foreign policy makers are smart enough, they will not be still willing to put up with Pakistan's brazen and perfidious prevarications, its continued dalliance with China and its total loss of credibility from the time Osama bin Laden was found ensconced in the prominent military cantonment of Abbotabad right under the noses of the military brass.

There is certainly enough indication of Pakistan being in the dog house in their reckoning. It cannot be mere coincidence that no explicit reference to US-Pakistan relations occurs in any of the policy pronouncements made by the US from public platforms after its daring exploit of eliminating Osama by caring two hoots for Pakistan's sovereignty and international law.

SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

However, the US is on a cleft stick with respect to Pakistan. It can neither write it off nor go on pouring billions of dollars into that bottomless pit. There is also the imperative need to guard against Pakistan's nuclear assets falling into terrorist hands — a danger of truly unthinkable proportions. Pakistan must be giving the US sleepless nights.

With so many uncertainties and complexities bedevilling a region, the US has not yet worked out with clarity all the implications of an ambitious forward thrust. The region further bristles with hot spots that are apt to flare up. The US quest of a coherent, balanced and durable Asia policy, whether in itself or as an adjunct of an Asia-Pacific policy is yet to be over. At the moment, its best bet lies in focusing on the crystallisation and consolidation of relationships with China, India and Japan and use the resulting leverage to hammer out a full-fledged and definitive Asia-Pacific policy.

Published on January 15, 2012
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