US attempt to unite Asian allies against China fails to live up to expectations: observers
Published: Mar 21, 2021 10:32 PM Updated: Mar 21, 2021 10:25 PM
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh address a joint media briefing held in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: AFP

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh address a joint media briefing held in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: AFP

The US' attempt to build an Asian alliance to counter China has proved bleaker than expected, perhaps even fizzling out, after two of the three countries, India and South Korea, were reluctant to directly point fingers at China in their joint statement with the US, despite Washington's hard sell of the "China threat" theory, said Chinese observers. 

During the Asia tour of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Japan stood out as it was eager to prove itself as "the vanguard" of the US alliance in attacking China in the India-Pacific region. Yet observers warned that Tokyo's move to serve as a political "toady" of Washington while it eyes economic benefits from Beijing, is "cheap and sneaky" and will surely be countered by China. 

China was absent from the joint statement issued between US and Indian defense chiefs. In India, Austin's last stop in his Asian trip, his discussion with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh centered mainly on military cooperation between the two. India's border disputes with China were also mentioned.

Speaking at a special briefing after holding talks with Singh, Austin said on Saturday that the US does not think that "India and China were at war" and that Washington will continue to work with "like-minded countries" to ensure the right things are done to maintain peace.

The situation is similar when Austin told his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook that the US alliance with South Korea is ever more important because of growing security concerns over China and North Korea, and the latter, without mentioning China, only stressed its stance on North Korea. 

"It seems the Biden administration's attempt to sway Asian allies to counter China did not live up to its expectation," Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday. Yang noted that to form a solid alliance, the US needs to provide substantial benefits to those countries, but whether it has the ability to do so, and to glue them together is doubtful.

India has been eyeing upgrading its military cooperation with the US to give itself leverage to confront China. But cooperation with Washington cannot significantly improve New Delhi's military capacity, due to the latter's ties with Russia and lack of money, said Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University. 

"We certainly urge all our allies, our partners to move away from Russian equipment... and really avoid any kind of acquisitions that would trigger sanctions on our behalf," Austin told reporters in New Delhi. No S400 systems have been delivered to India and so the possibility of sanctions was not discussed, he added.

Yet Indian officials were quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that they nonetheless plan to go ahead with the purchase of the Russian missile system because it represents a significant upgrade to their defense capabilities.

"India will never settle for being just a subordinate ally of the US, the stance is determined by its fundamental principle of nonalignment and ambition to become a world major power. Moreover, New Delhi cannot afford the cost of provoking China by publicly taking sides of Washington," Qian said. 

Observers attributed the US failure to get South Korea on board to its Indo-Pacific strategy still pivoting to an "American first" agenda and also because Washington is struggling to present a clear-cut plan in dealing with the Korean Peninsula issue. Both these prevented Seoul from moving closer to Washington.

"I seriously doubt the actual amount of resources the US is willing to put in, as it is bogged down in retreating from the Middle East, tackling domestic problems such as COVID-19 pandemic and saving its sluggish economy," said Yang, noting that a strong alliance is not formed based on "lip service."

As China is holding firm to its development path, continues to open up and expand win-win cooperation with other countries, the US' "fragile alliance of a small coterie" will soon fall apart, according to Yang. 

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga greeted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Photo: AFP

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga greeted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Photo: AFP

A 'sneaky' Japan

Unlike India and South Korea, Japan has fallen for the US "lip service," and suddenly portrays itself as the "anti-China vanguard" in this region.

At the end of Blinken and Austin's trip to Japan, Tokyo and Washington issued a joint statement saying that "The US and Japan acknowledged that China's behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military and technological challenges."

Blinken told a press conference following the meeting that their meeting covered not only the Diaoyu Islands, where China and Japan have disputes, but also Hong Kong and Xinjiang, on which Japan rarely openly criticizes China. 

The Japanese government has always said, in a high profile, to separately deal with political, diplomatic issues and economic ones. At the core of such policymaking is to collaborate with the US to contain a rising China, while taking advantage of China's development, Lü Chao, a fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Lü said that at this point, Japan has finally taken off its mask of hypocrite and sided with the US to counter China. "China should strike back hard at Japan and not allow it to benefit economically from Beijing while openly criticizing China's domestic affairs."

Citing multiple government sources, Japan's Kyodo News reported that Japanese and US defense chiefs agreed in their meeting last week to closely cooperate in the event of a military clash between the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan.

There was no discussion on how their countries should coordinate their response to such an emergency, said the news agency.

China-Japan ties will spiral downward sharply if Japan gets involved in the Taiwan question, said Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and commentator, noting that military drills conducted by the Chinese People's Liberation Army near the Taiwan Straits target partly against the US' intervention, but if confirmed, drills targeting US-Japan alliance could also be scheduled, to plan for the worst. 

The Taiwan question is the bottom line question, and any foreign military interference will invite the most fierce retaliation from China, even fiercer than that of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea, Yang warned.