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Rebalancing The Rebalance China India And The United States

  • Alyssa Ayres
  • July, 2019
  • 148
  • Power Politics

WHEN THE BRACK OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCED ITS PIVOT, LATER BRANDED A REBALANCE, TO ASIA IN 2011, TWO ELEMENTS CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC ATTENTION: THE MILITARY AND EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA.

Critics variously assailed the “military buildup,” which they argued would anger China, and accused Obama of walking away from European allies and Middle Eastern friends.

Yet the rebalance was never just about the military, nor should observers have skipped over its implications for South and Central Asia. Those regions were left out of rebalance discussions, despite the fact that the strategy specifically sought to strengthen ties with India and despite the fact that long-term U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan hinge as much on helping both countries develop stronger trade ties with their Asian neighbors as on counterterrorism.

As the United States has focused on East and Southeast Asia, China has won a more prominent role for itself across South and Central Asia as the foremost regional investor, infrastructure provider, and champion of alternative multilateral organizations. The United States has long played a central role in the creation and maintenance of economic and security architectures in the Asia Pacific, but in South Asia, Central Asia, and the Indian Ocean, there are fewer established regional organizations-and those that do exist lack deep ties with Washington. China’s rising influence underscores the need for the United States to secure its own interests where they differ from those of China.

In short, it is time for Washington to rebalance the rebalance and give adequate attention to U.S. national interests in South and Central Asia. For the United States to shore up its influence in Asia-across the entirety of Asia-Washington should revisit its economic engagement in the South Asian and Indian Ocean region.

China’s deepened involvement across South and Central Asia has the potential to fulfill much-needed infrastructure development needs and alter the region’s geopolitical balance.

Future History

In July 2011, Hillary Clinton-then secretary of state-delivered a speech at the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai, a city on India's southeast coast that looks out across the Bay of Bengal toward Southeast Asia. From India, she offered a phrase that would come to be a hallmark of the Obama administration’s rebalance to Asia. “We understand,” she said, “that much of the history of the twenty-first century will be written in Asia.” The Asia she was describing encompassed India, one of the rising powers with which the United States needed to strengthen its ties.

Halfway through the speech, she pivoted northwest, and discussed U.S. Afghanistan policy, laying out for the first time a U.S. strategy to prepare for the eventual withdrawal of the international military presence that Obama had already announced.

A little more than two years later, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a series of remarks outlining a new Chinese strategy: a Silk Road Economic Belt to cross Eurasia, and a Maritime Silk Road spanning the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean. Within a year, the two were combined into One Belt, One Road-later reduced to just Belt and Road. In parallel, Xi proposed the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which would support related projects, among others, and by mid-2015 the China Development Bank announced plans to offer Belt and Road financing to the tune of nearly $900 billion.

Separately, Xi unfurled plans to develop a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which involved energy, transportation, and communications infrastructure projects intended to spur growth and bring greater stability to Pakistan.

China’s deepened involvement across South and Central Asia has the potential to fulfill much-needed infrastructure development needs and alter the region’s geopolitical balance. Chinese projects will mainly be built with low-interest loans, rather than grants, as is common with U.S. Agency for International Development projects. And whereas the USAID budget for such projects is around $1 billion each year, China could spend trillions.

Not surprisingly, U.S. foreign policy critics began to describe the U.S. New Silk Road idea as mainly “rhetoric.” It is true that Beijing is willing to spend more than the United States, which means that Washington must be smarter about how it uses its tools of economic statecraft.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor could be an important test case for Washington’s use of creative economic statecraft. As Chinese investments pour into Pakistan, U.S. officials should work with their Pakistani counterparts to ensure that American firms-backed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation-will enjoy a level playin...

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