Smaller Asian nations don’t want to pick sides
Smaller Asian nations group together to cope with Sino-US uncertainties
Published: Nov 29, 2017 09:13 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US analysts believe that President Donald Trump's trip to Asia earlier this month has made Asian countries, in particular China's neighbors, more convinced that the US is receding from the region. And these countries will opt to lean toward a growing China.

They look at the issue as Americans traditionally do: they consider others as either US friends or friends of US rivals. Yet by making such judgments, they have fundamentally misunderstood the changes taking place in Asia.

There is no doubt that the view has influenced some observers in China, who childishly hold that Trump's withdrawal of the US, especially his dealing with Asian countries from a trade perspective, will push these countries more to China.

But it's not that simple. While we say the world is becoming multipolar, we are often subject to the traditional logic that it is still major powers that dominate the world.

It's true that Asian countries are concerned by the policy changes of the US, but under the circumstances, they prefer to huddle together in a bid to shape the trajectory of the political, economic and security landscape in the region.

Japan, the champion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Trump withdrew the US from earlier, pushed the remaining TPP members to form the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). This is because Japan has certain influence as a trade power and more importantly, the CPTPP members hope to join hands against uncertainties in the future. They want to do the utmost to be part of the rulemaking so as to protect their interests as much as possible.

Last week, Australia unveiled its first Foreign Policy White Paper in 14 years. It says the US alliance will remain the bedrock of Australia's security and Australia is committed to strong and constructive ties with China, and proposes to strengthen and diversify partnerships across the globe.

The White Paper also emphasized that Australia should strengthen cooperation with Japan, Indonesia, India and South Korea to maintain the balance in the Indo-Pacific region which supports Australia's interests.

It shows the common wishes of these countries that they do not want to live in a security framework dominated by one major power. It is a sign of multipolarization and a main factor causing changes to regional structure in the future.

The uncertainty of the Sino-US relationship makes smaller Asian nations want to group together to protect their own interests. We should not see it as a choice aimed at China's rise, but rather as preparation for changes in US policy and the weakening of its strength.

Among these countries, there are small- and medium-sized countries and also those that are at the top in terms of the global economy and politics. By joining hands, they will restrict the relationships between China and the US, China and Asian countries and the US and Asian countries to some extent.

The Sino-US relationship is still the most important one between major powers in the 21st century. Other nations admit this basic fact, but they do not want their fate to be decided by them. They choose to work together to impact the Sino-US relationship and get ready for the possible problems in the relationship.

If China wants to be a leading major power, it must deal with the relationship with these countries properly and the foundation for this will be the building of a framework which has consensus and basic rules under China's participation and guidance.

China is making efforts toward this. But because China's rise has brought unprecedented changes to the relations among regional countries, so China also faces many harsh challenges.

The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at the Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina