Pivot strategy brings quick gains but long-term risks

By Zhou Fangyin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-22 20:48:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Since 2010, the most prominent part of US global strategy has been its rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific region. This strategy has been inseparably interconnected with the Obama administration. Whether it succeeds or not will directly affect the evaluation of US President Barack Obama's global strategy.

There are two aspects embedded in this strategy. One is the maintenance of the US' global status by redistributing resources to different regions at a time when the US invests the same or slightly less globally as a whole. The biggest change is to invest more military, economic, political and diplomatic resources in the Asia-Pacific region. The other goal is to maintain the US leading position in the region against the background of China's persistent rise.

So far it has been three years since the US "pivot" to Asia. It seems that the US has partly realized its strategic goals. At least, China has been feeling under pressure from this strategy.

But at the same time, problems have arisen with the strategy. From the long-term perspective, it requires the US to invest in the Asia-Pacific region at a speed that matches China's rise if the US is to realize its strategic aims as scheduled. However, such investment has been constrained by domestic economic and political issues in the US.

In addition, China has been focusing on enhancing its own comprehensive capabilities, the rise of which will naturally influence its neighboring regions. However, the US influence on the region brought by equal input of resources could be diminished due to geographic distance. If the US pivot to Asia does not change, it means its investment of resources as a whole will be more tied to the Asia-Pacific region. This will make the US global strategy less flexible.

Once other regions need US resources, the US will face a dilemma. If the US transfers resources from Asia, it will be hard to keep up its strategic momentum in the region. It will also breach its promise to enhance its presence and investment in the region, and its allies and partners will question Washington's credibility.

But if the US does not transfer resources from Asia, then it will find it hard to display its role in other regions, which will encroach on its influence there. US restraint in Syria and Iran reflects its strategic plight against the backdrop of its pivot strategy. If the strategy does not succeed, it will harm the leading global position of the US.

The past three years, to some degree, have been a period when the US has had reasons to be proud of its Asia-Pacific strategies. But in the long run, the US needs to consider whether it might play out its hand.

Usually, when a country plays out its cards one after another, it can get benefits in a short time, but this comes at the cost of holding less cards. In the near future, the increasing rate of interests brought to the US by its "pivot to Asia" will decline, while China's rise can be sustainable. Strategically, this trend indicates no success guarantee for the US from a long-term perspective. The US may have to reconsider its strategy sooner or later.

Even tactically, the US' success in its strategy should not be highly assessed. It is worth asking: What concrete interests has its pivot bring? Does it add risks to the US' foreign policies? Compared with the interests and risks, do the former outweigh the latter?

As time goes by, it would be wise for the US if it can adapt to the changing momentum of US-China strength, which would bring a brighter future to the Asia-Pacific region.

The author is a professor at the National Institute of International Strategy of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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