▲Flags in a welcome ceremony given to the US vice president in Tokyo, in February 2018 [White House]
COMMENTARY / Gabriel de Lange [Spanish version]
Over the last few decades China has grown in economic and political strength. One of the most recent developments was the inclusion of the document Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era in the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Constitution, which took place during the 19th Congress held in Beijing in October 2017. Later on, in March 2018, the National People's Congress approved to remove from the country's Constitution the limit of two presidential terms. These steps have consolidated the power of the current Chinese leader.
The United States of America on the other hand has been criticized in multiple fronts for its dealings in Asia. Some authors say that Trump’s approaches to North Korea, China, and other Asian countries “are damaging US interests” in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically in his rash handling of the threat of North Korea. In terms of economics, withdrawing the US from the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) “has undermined America’s influence” in shaping the Asia-Pacific’s future and “given China an enormous opportunity to shape that future on its own terms.” The withdrawal has made many Asian countries concerned with what the United States brings to the table in terms of economic engagement, and this may encourage them to look to China to fill this void.
One of the main factors that keep Asian countries’ foreign policy at a distance from China and closer to the US is due to trouble in the South China Sea, such as in the case of the Philippines with the Spratly Islands or Vietnam with the Parcel Islands. Many have noted these countries’ concerns about Chinese intentions “have pushed them closer to the United States.” Unfortunately for the US, this dependency is more reliant on China’s own decision whether or not to insist their claims to particular islands. This is subject to change if the Xi administration decides that the benefits of stronger relations with their neighbors are more important than these disputed territories.
The question now is, who will the other Asian countries, especially those members of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) look to rely on as a political ally? With signs of firm, stable, and lasting Chinese power under the authority of Xi Jinping, compared to a seemingly unpredictable, divided, and internationally criticized Trump administration, one may not be surprised to see Asian foreign policies leaning more towards China in the near future.