America–Led Liberal World Order, R.I.P


March 22, 2018

America–Led Liberal World Order, R.I.P

by Richard N. Haass

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/end-of-liberal-world-order-by-richard-n–haass-2018-03

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America’s decision to abandon the global system it helped build, and then preserve for more than seven decades, marks a turning point, because others lack either the interest or the means to sustain it. The result will be a world that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike.

NEW DELHI – After a run of nearly one thousand years, quipped the French philosopher and writer Voltaire, the fading Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. Today, some two and a half centuries later, the problem, to paraphrase Voltaire, is that the fading liberal world order is neither liberal nor worldwide nor orderly.

The United States, working closely with the United Kingdom and others, established the liberal world order in the wake of World War II. The goal was to ensure that the conditions that had led to two world wars in 30 years would never again arise.

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To that end, the democratic countries set out to create an international system that was liberal in the sense that it was to be based on the rule of law and respect for countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Human rights were to be protected. All this was to be applied to the entire planet; at the same time, participation was open to all and voluntary. Institutions were built to promote peace (the United Nations), economic development (the World Bank) and trade and investment (the International Monetary Fund and what years later became the World Trade Organization).

All this and more was backed by the economic and military might of the US, a network of alliances across Europe and Asia, and nuclear weapons, which served to deter aggression. The liberal world order was thus based not just on ideals embraced by democracies, but also on hard power. None of this was lost on the decidedly illiberal Soviet Union, which had a fundamentally different notion of what constituted order in Europe and around the world.

The liberal world order appeared to be more robust than ever with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But today, a quarter-century later, its future is in doubt. Indeed, its three components – liberalism, universality, and the preservation of order itself – are being challenged as never before in its 70-year history.

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Liberalism is in retreat. Democracies are feeling the effects of growing populism. Parties of the political extremes have gained ground in Europe. The vote in the United Kingdom in favor of leaving the EU attested to the loss of elite influence. Even the US is experiencing unprecedented attacks from its own president on the country’s media, courts, and law-enforcement institutions. Authoritarian systems, including China, Russia, and Turkey, have become even more top-heavy. Countries such as Hungary and Poland seem uninterested in the fate of their young democracies.

It is increasingly difficult to speak of the world as if it were whole. We are seeing the emergence of regional orders – or, most pronounced in the Middle East, disorders – each with its own characteristics. Attempts to build global frameworks are failing. Protectionism is on the rise; the latest round of global trade talks never came to fruition. There are few rules governing the use of cyberspace.

At the same time, great power rivalry is returning. Russia violated the most basic norm of international relations when it used armed force to change borders in Europe, and it violated US sovereignty through its efforts to influence the 2016 election. North Korea has flouted the strong international consensus against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The world has stood by as humanitarian nightmares play out in Syria and Yemen, doing little at the UN or elsewhere in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. Venezuela is a failing state. One in every hundred people in the world today is either a refugee or internally displaced.Image result for Liberal World Order, R.I.P.

The Retreating Eagle–“America First” and the liberal world order seem incompatible.–Richard N. Haass

There are several reasons why all this is happening, and why now. The rise of populism is in part a response to stagnating incomes and job loss, owing mostly to new technologies but widely attributed to imports and immigrants. Nationalism is a tool increasingly used by leaders to bolster their authority, especially amid difficult economic and political conditions. And global institutions have failed to adapt to new power balances and technologies.

But the weakening of the liberal world order is due, more than anything else, to the changed attitude of the US. Under President Donald Trump, the US decided against joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. It has threatened to leave the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. It has unilaterally introduced steel and aluminum tariffs, relying on a justification (national security) that others could use, in the process placing the world at risk of a trade war. It has raised questions about its commitment to NATO and other alliance relationships. And it rarely speaks about democracy or human rights. “America First” and the liberal world order seem incompatible.

My point is not to single out the US for criticism. Today’s other major powers, including the EU, Russia, China, India, and Japan, could be criticized for what they are doing, not doing, or both. But the US is not just another country. It was the principal architect of the liberal world order and its principal backer. It was also a principal beneficiary.

America’s decision to abandon the role it has played for more than seven decades thus marks a turning point. The liberal world order cannot survive on its own, because others lack either the interest or the means to sustain it. The result will be a world that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike.

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*Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He is the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

 

US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un


March 16, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

by John C Hulsman*

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-kim-north-korea-talks-by-john-c-hulsman-2018-03

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If US President Donald Trump and his advisers continue to assume that traditional deterrence does not apply to North Korea, they are likely to lose the latest geopolitical chess match. History shows that those who mistake their political or military adversaries for lunatics are usually disastrously wrong.

MILAN – Throughout history, political observers have found decision-makers who are deemed “crazy” the most difficult to assess. In fact, the problem is rarely one of psychopathology. Usually, the label merely indicates behavior that is different from what conventional analysts were expecting.

This was surely true of the twelfth-century Syrian religious leader Rashid al-Din Sinan. During the Third Crusade, the supposedly mad “Old Man of the Mountain,” as he was known, succeeded in disrupting a Crusader advance on Jerusalem by directing his followers to carry out targeted assassinations. After carrying out their orders, the assassins often stayed put and awaited capture in full view of the local populace, to ensure that their leader received proper credit for the act.

At the time, such actions were incomprehensible to the Western mind. Westerners took to calling the Old Man’s followers hashashin, or users of hashish, because they regarded intoxication as the only possible explanation for such “senseless” disregard for one’s own physical wellbeing. But the hashashin were not drug users on the whole. And, more to the point, they were successful: their eventual assassination of Conrad of Montferrat led directly to the political collapse of the Crusader coalition and the defeat of Richard the Lionheart of England. As Polonius says of Hamlet, there was method to the Old Man’s madness.

Today, the problem of analyzing supposedly lunatic leaders has reappeared with the North Korean nuclear crisis. Whether North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is mad is not merely an academic question; it is the heart of the matter.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has stated unequivocally that it will not tolerate a North Korean capability to threaten the mainland United States with nuclear weapons. According to Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the administration’s position reflects its belief that Kim is crazy, and that “classical deterrence theory” thus does not apply.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

During the Cold War, US President Dwight Eisenhower reasoned that even if Stalin (and later Mao) was homicidal, he was also rational, and did not wish to perish in a US counter-strike. The logic of “mutually assured destruction” that underlay nuclear deterrence worked.

If, however, the leader of a nuclear-armed state is a lunatic who is indifferent to his physical safety and that of those around him, the entire deterrence strategy falls apart. If Kim is insane, the only option is to take him out before his suicidal regime can kill millions of people.

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“Kim Jong-un’s dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.”–John C Hulsman

But is Kim truly crazy, or does he simply have a worldview that discomfits Western analysts? His dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.

Consider three strategic considerations that Kim could be weighing. First, his regime might be planning to offer concessions that it has no intention of fulfilling. After all, an earlier nuclear deal that the US brokered with his father, Kim Jong-il, was derailed by duplicity. In 2002, the US discovered that the regime was secretly enriching weapons-grade uranium in direct violation of its earlier pledge.

In fact, North Korea has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t play by the rules. It enters into negotiations to extract concessions such as food aid, and then returns to its objectionable activities, thus starting the entire Sisyphean cycle again. There is no reason to think that this time will be different. But the regime’s deviousness should not be mistaken for irrationality or madness. Simply by expressing his openness to talks, Kim has already won some of the political legitimacy he craves.

Second, rather than being a lunatic, Kim seems mindful of recent history. Whereas Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya paid the ultimate price for giving up their nuclear programs, Kim has advanced his regime’s nuclear capabilities and is now publicly treated as a near-equal by the most powerful man on the planet. The Kim regime has always sought such vindication above everything else.

A third and final consideration is that North Korea is playing for time. Though it has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests in the run-up to the summit, it could be using the intervening months to develop related technologies. For example, it still needs to perfect an atmospheric re-entry mechanism to make its intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland reliably and accurately. Moreover, as long as the summit is in play, North Korea need not fear a US military strike. That is a perfectly rational and sensible prize for Kim to pursue.

All told, North Korea’s “opening” will most likely amount to much less than meets the eye. But one can still glean valuable strategic insights from Kim’s diplomatic gambit. North Korean thinking reflects cunning, to be sure; but it also betrays the regime’s will to survive, and its desire to master the current situation. This suggests that Kim is not “crazy” after all, and that conventional deterrence will still work, as it has since 1945.

That is good news for everyone, but particularly for the Trump administration, given that it will almost certainly fail to secure any meaningful concessions from North Korea in the upcoming talks.

*John C. Hulsman is President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consulting firm, and the author of To Dare More Boldly (Princeton University Press, 2018).

Fighting Piracy on the ASEAN Seas


March 16, 2018

Fighting Piracy on the ASEAN Seas

by Tai Wei Lim

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/fighting-piracy-asean-seas/

Almost half of the world’s pirate attacks happen in Southeast Asia. Among the most common locations for attacks is the Strait of Malacca, where tankers carry oil from the Gulf region to China, Japan, and South Korea, and via Singapore’s refineries.

As piracy becomes more prevalent, collaboration across the ASEAN region is more necessary than ever.

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Ever since oil was discovered in the Gulf area in the 20th century, the maritime route from the Gulf region to East Asia passing through the Strait of Malacca has been the most important passageway for East-West global trade. A recent increase in piracy incidents highlights the need for effective ways to ensure the security of oil shipping in the region.

Malacca Strait, Choke Point for Oil Shipping

The Persian Gulf region supplies about a third of the world’s oil and fulfils most of the major Northeast Asian countries’ (China, Japan, and South Korea, or CJK) oil needs. Oil makes up a large percentage of the Gulf region’s exports overseas and constitutes the crucial backbone of the Gulf economies.

Traveling between Sumatra (to the west of the Strait of Malacca) and the Gulf of Thailand/Malay Peninsula, oil tankers carry their precious cargo to refineries in Singapore for processing. Singapore’s oil refineries on Jurong Island, west of the main island, are some of the largest in the world.

Forty-one percent of the world’s pirate attacks between 1995 and 2003 occurred in Southeast Asia.

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Alternative routes exist, but they add a couple of days to the trip. The fact that the Strait of Malacca is such a convenient, thus popular, route also makes it a choke point for oil shipping.

Oil from the Gulf area destined for Northeast Asia is transported through places like the Gulf of Aden, Strait of Hormuz, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Strait of Malacca, and South China Sea before reaching its destination. Besides adverse natural conditions, tankers also run the risk of encountering manmade dangers like piracy.

Forty-one percent of the world’s pirate attacks between 1995 and 2003 occurred in Southeast Asia. Pirates operate using small boats and skiffs that are fast and can hide easily in littoral zones. They use small arms for speedy operations, which include kidnapping for ransom, stealing oil from ships, robbing crew members, stealing cargo, and even stealing entire ships and repainting them for sale. Although tankers are only one of the categories of ships targeted by pirates, the oil they transport accounts for very real strategic stakes.

Efforts to Secure Maritime Trade

Since WWII, the US has widely been credited as the security guarantor of Pacific maritime trade, with its 7th Fleet based in Hawaii, Guam, and Japan. The Americans were engaged in an alliance with Japan in the 1960s and kept the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) open for trade. The US was considered a benign superpower, welcomed by countries to keep regional and global trade going.

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More countries have developed an interest in Maritime Southeast Asia in recent years. The US and Japan have been lobbying for the opportunity to increase naval presence and to have direct patrols in the region. India has a naval fleet at the mouth of the Andaman Sea, just before it extends into the Strait of Malacca.

The Indian Navy is watching and extending its influence in the Strait of Malacca not only in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, but also on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are geographically close to Southeast Asia. As for the Chinese, they have organized naval drills with their Malaysian partners in the Strait of Malacca.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has resolved to manage piracy in the region and is making important collective efforts to do so. When all the navies of Southeast Asia work together in tasks like patrolling, they constitute a formidable force that can deter piracy.

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The Malacca Straits Coordinated Patrol (MALSINDO) is reflective of such efforts to use joint resources to repel piracy. MALSINDO was started by the littoral states in the Strait of Malacca, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, in 2004. It is complemented by the “Eye in the Sky” (EiS) mechanism, which is one of the most sophisticated air-based patrol systems in the region.

ASEAN has resolved to manage piracy in the region and is making important collective efforts to do so. The circle of states and countries involved in anti-piracy activities is now expanding. Since naval personnel from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore gathered in 2008 to start the Malacca Strait Patrols Information System, Thailand has also begun participating in air patrols.

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In addition to short-term mitigation measures, funding should also be allocated to training that leads to the long-term professionalization of maritime police units. For instance, the Malaysian government has contributed funds to the World Maritime University and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) to expand the infrastructure of these institutions. It has also dispatched officers to study at the schools.

Preventing a New Surge in Piracy

The latest statistics indicate that rates of piracy and armed robberies at sea went up again in 2017. According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre, possible factors include complacency among crews and a decrease in surveillance by littoral countries, but the overall situation is much improved when compared to the 1990s.

Pirates, for their part, are also becoming more sophisticated in their operations. They have evolved from generic groups of criminals to vast webs of operatives with specialized skills. Some of these specialized roles include counterfeiters, informants embedded in shipping companies, ship brokers, robbers, and middlemen who assemble all the stakeholders (and, of course, the pirates themselves).

 

These pirate teams are small and can carry out surgical operations. After they transfer the stolen goods onto their own vessels, they ship the goods to other port cities, sometimes with fake documentation, to sell them.

Anti-piracy measures are one area of policy on which almost all nations in the region can agree. All of the countries benefit from the mitigation of strife, as well as increased maritime safety. Success in anti-piracy efforts can also lead to the region taking on more responsibility in global maritime security.

So far, each ASEAN country has been able to proceed with its anti-piracy contributions according to its own national needs and at a pace that it is comfortable with. That ASEAN is a collective that seeks consensus is one of its strengths. The problem of piracy in the Strait of Malacca is too large for any single littoral state to resolve. As piracy continually reinvents itself, it takes all the stakeholders working together to combat this problem in one of the world’s most congested spaces.

Tai Wei Lim is an adjunct research fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.

This was written for Asia Global Online, a publication of the Asia Global Institute, http://www.asiaglobalinstitute.hku.hk/en/ at Hong Kong University.

READ: http://piracy-studies.org/norm-subsidiarity-in-maritime-security-why-east-asian-states-corporate-in-counter-piracy/

Foreign Policy: US’ New Military Strategy (Quad) to contain China


March 12, 2018

Foreign Policy: US’ New Military Strategy (Quad) to contain China

By: Salman Rafi Sheikh

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/quad-new-face-china-containment/

Over recent months, the ‘Quad,’ the nickname for a regional mechanism comprising the US, Australia, Japan and India and ostensibly established as a security forum by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe almost a decade ago, has increasingly evolved into a central tenet of the US’s new military strategy vis-à-vis China.

Using words taken from the US National Security Strategy document, China is regarded as a “revisionist power” that must be contained and whose increasing influence counterbalanced through alternative economic and military means.

The Quad largely went dormant following the withdrawal of Australia during the tenure of the dovish Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. But Abe, Australian and Indian Premiers Malcolm Turnbull and Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump agreed in Manila last November to revive it. China – and the rest of the world – were delivered a bristling message on the sidelines of the ASSEAN and East Asia summits in Manila last November.

It was a message that was reinforced two weeks ago at a summit in New Delhi in which naval chiefs of the four countries, known formally as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, shared the stage to grapple with what regional news reports termed as “Chinese unilateralism,” which needs to be countered through reviving the Quad, which is seen in China as nothing less than an “Asian NATO.”

Image result for Admiral Harry HarrisCommander of US Armed Forces in Asia, Admiral Harry Harris, has been nominated to the position of US Ambassador to Australia.

 

Representative of the member countries expressed their views, but the reported star of the show was Admiral Harry Harris, the Commander of the US Pacific Command in Hawaii and the next US Ambassador to Australia. Targeting China in perhaps the most explicit terms, Harris said: “The reality is that China is a disruptive transitional force in the Indo-Pacific, they are the owner of the trust deficit in the region,” adding that China’s intent is not only to dominate singlehandedly the South China Sea but also to rival if not match the American military power and force it out of the region.

Harris’s words were corroborated by the Australian Navy Chief who called upon the members to take concrete action against the PLA’s Navy.

A revival is, therefore, clearly in place here. But there are different objectives working behind it. For the US, the primary motivation is that it wants to maintain its erstwhile position in the region as the guarantor of security, a position that has been considerably damaged by the Trump Aadministration’s own scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

While TPP itself could have been an effective alternative to China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), the Quad revival is taking place as a military strategy signifying that the US wants to keep its focus on the military aspects of its engagement with the region, and that it aims to maintain economic relations on bilateral terms, as emphasized on a number of occasions by the Trump administration.

For instance, Japan has its own concerns, which are not just militaristic. While the US seems intent on keeping the Quad a security arrangement, a successor-alternative to the “Asia Pivot” and rebranding it as a pivot to the Indo-Pacific, Japan’s aims are more diverse.

Tokyo has already pledged US$200 billion as an alternative to China’s BRI and promised to invest this money into building infrastructure around the world. Japan, using the Asian Development Bank as the primary vehicle of investment and loans, seems to be intent upon countering China and its ambitious Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), but nonetheless remains interested in maintaining a sound economic relationship with China.

This is purely economic competition, not simply containment of a “revisionist power.” China is already Japan’s second-biggest export market and Australia’s No. 1 export market as well. Wouldn’t containing China then mean a potential economic loss? And wouldn’t a military containment of China establish a conflict of interests between the Quad members? It’s hard to deny.

As for Australia, it was only a few months ago when Canberra signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China, regarding BRI, signaling Australia’s increasing accommodation with China’s economic overtures.

Then there is India, which had a tough last year with China due to the border standoff between Indian and Chinese armed forces over Chinese construction of a road on the Bhutan border. There have been other provocations including a contest for influence in the Maldives.  But in fact their bilateral relations have eased and both countries have increasingly started to show sensitivity to each other’s interests. While this easing doesn’t necessarily imply a major transformation, it does indicate that India is not simply following in the US’s footsteps leading to military containment of China.

 As has been reported, the Modi government recently took the extraordinary step of preventing its officials from attending functions marking the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile in India. Clearly, India was showing a lot of sensitivity to the understanding that had was reached between both countries during the recent visit to China by India’s Foreign Secretary, Vijay Gokhale. As such, while the official Indian readout on Gokhale’s discussions in Beijing included aspects of bi-lateral interests, the catchwords were “mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns and aspirations.”

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Therefore, the US campaign to rope India into its new containment strategy has its limitations. For one thing, while all the Quad member countries except the US want to continue to use the US presence as a counterweight to China, they are more interested in balancing their relations with China than simply taking part in a strategy that stands little chance of success. For another, China’s rapidly increasing economic and military presence in Asia, although it has its own pitfalls, is likely to inhibit other, lesser countries from supporting the Quad.

On the contrary, a military revival of the Quad with its emphasis on countering China might divide the region further and take it towards a highly tense, zero-sum competition. India’s revised China strategy indicates that it would continue to prefer to follow an independent policy vis-à-vis China rather than toe the US line and end up facing stand-offs in the Himalayas.

China, sensing this buildup, has already responded by increasing its defense spending, calling the increase a necessary ‘element of peace,’ thus proving that the adversarial and aggressive depiction of China would do little to develop non-aggressive and non-military relations between the US and China on the one hand, and between China and other regional countries, particularly the Quad members, on the other. Therefore, from the very beginning of its nascent revival, the Quad seems to have been set on a self-defeating path.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a Pakistani academic and regular contributor to Asia Sentinel

A new model of great-power relations?


February 14, 2018

A new model of great-power relations?

Author: Editorial Board, East Asia Forum

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/02/12/a-new-model-of-great-power-relations/

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Asia’s economic ascendancy over the past half century has depended on a period of remarkable regional peace and stability. This is not the natural order of the world: international relations theorist Hedley Bull reckoned that the natural order is prone not to stability but to chaos. The current international order was a product of political choice, framed fundamentally by the post-war choice to put in place the institutions agreed at Bretton Woods that guaranteed the evolution of an open, multilateral regimeThis regime fostered both economic prosperity and international political stability among those who chose to sign on to it.

Asia will continue to prosper and be secure if that framework can be sustained, but for that to happen, the order must evolve. We have with little thought simply taken the current order for granted. The advent of Donald Trump, the potential disintegration of Europe and how these two events interact with the rise of China and other powers mean that taking this framework for granted is no longer tenable.

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The ‘peace’ in Asia resulted from the situation that emerged in the early 1970s when China decided to follow Japan in accepting the United States as the primary strategic power in Asia and in emulating the West’s modern economic development. That choice eliminated major-power rivalry as a source of tension and conflict in the region.

China’s President Xi Jinping perhaps prematurely heralded a successor to the old model of great-power relations in his famous summit with America’s then president Barack Obama at Sunnylands in June 2013. There the focus turned to China-US relations. Xi proposed to inject ‘new momentum’, not satisfied with short-term gains but rather striving for long-term mutual benefit and the achievement of a grand geopolitical win-win. The new model, Xi urged, would promote world peace and the stable development of the Asia Pacific.

The Obama leadership did not reject this notion outright, but never embraced it. Obama himself gave it no traction at all. The model appeared to give Beijing too much space in defining its own core geopolitical interests. Policymakers and analysts in Washington remained in denial about the seriousness of China’s claim to more geopolitical space — a claim that had already become a reality because of China’s new economic and political power.

The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy has discarded all pretence at defining the Sino-American relationship in cooperative terms: it has now cast it in terms of the contest for global geopolitical supremacy in all theatres.

China may no longer accept American leadership as the foundation of the regional or global strategic order, but Beijing is now confronted with explicit rebuff of its new model of great power relations, which stresses cooperation among the major powers. Few, if any, in Asia or around the world want China to get all it wants: US leadership has served the region well and no one wants to live exclusively under China’s shadow. But China is deeply embedded in the current global order both economically and politically, and it has accepted and incorporated into policies and institutions many tenets of the formerly US-led established international order.

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John Kelly is now White House Chief of Staff

Image result for Kirstjen Nielsen is sworn in before testifying to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on her nomination to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, U.S. on November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Kelly’s successor Kirstjen Nielsen 

Not many would see China’s engagement in the global system as an all-or-nothing game. The zealots in Mr Trump’s team and a deep current in the political security community that are innocent of the connection between economic openness and political security would do well to calculate the costs to global prosperity of trying to extricate China’s mutual engagement from the United States, it allies and partners.

The idea that Asia could be transformed economically by the biggest shift in the distribution of wealth in history without its also being transformed politically and strategically is a delusion. It would have been remarkable if China had not sought a bigger global role as its power has grown in the same way that every rising power before it has done. That it has sought such a small role relative to its weight and importance thus far has been remarkable and to the benefit of the international system (which has proven stubborn to change).

Given the stand-off, one might think that there is no future for a new era of great-power relations. Perhaps that will turn out to be so.

This week’s lead essay by Zha Daojiong at Peking University reminds us that short of military conflict — which even the hawks in the Pentagon and a few fledglings in Ichigaya and Russell Hill baulk at openly advocating — the choice will not be entirely Washington’s.

‘It is not difficult to understand the United States’ characterisation of China as “disruptive”’, says Zha. ‘It repeats US insistence on maintaining its own continuous primacy in the regional and global order’.

‘US security elites across the ideological spectrum have for decades argued that the pillars of recent Chinese success are made in the United States’, Zha notes. ‘They argue that Washington carved out this path by letting China into the World Trade Organization and that it continues to facilitate China’s success by providing their navies to help keep the Indian and Pacific oceans open for shipping in and out of Chinese ports’. But China had to deliver on the opportunity from its own starting point. And it has to find its own way through.

China has a right to choose its own path of development, given its own set of historical assets and liabilities, Zha insists. He concedes that some in Beijing are too enthusiastic about associating its ‘unique path’ with ‘superiority’ but notes that China rejects imposing its system of governance as a precondition for engagement through trade, investment or aid upon others around the world.

Zha’s message is this: China should not be tempted to the take up the competition on the terms that Mr Trump and (more tentatively) some of America’s partners appear to be spoiling for. It should stand back from the bully pit.

China would have the most to lose if it foolishly failed to put the new American security strategy rhetoric into proper perspective and to work hard at alleviating feelings of uncertainty about its intentions in Washington and elsewhere.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.