US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman is touring South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos. The United States is concerned that China, a leading trading partner of neighbouring countries, may subjugate them to its influence. Moreover, events in Ukraine have forced Washington and its allies to transfer more troops to Europe. Sherman’s job is to dispel her partners ‘doubts about the United States’ determination to oppose China.
According to the South China Morning Post, a few days ago, US President Joe Biden visited South Korea and Japan, where he announced a new initiative – the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework Program (IPEF), to link the region with America and also talk with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia in the “Quad” format. Both of these structures are expected to counterbalance China. And before that trip, Biden hosted leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to show that he was still focusing on the region.
Sherman will solve different tasks in each capital where she stops. In Seoul, the deputy secretary of state will work to strengthen tripartite cooperation between the United States, Japan and South Korea. Disagreements between Seoul and Tokyo have long weakened this “axis”. However, South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has signalled that he seeks to ensure stronger unity in the three countries’ positions on geopolitical issues.
In the Philippines, Sherman will meet with President-elect Ferdinand Marcos, the son of the former ruler who ruled the country from 1956 to 1986. Here, the guest may note a coincidence in the interests of both countries. China claims control of almost all of the South China Sea. The Peoples’ Republic of China’s (PRC) claim includes large areas of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. However, in 2016, the UN Arbitration Court declared these claims illegal under international law. Marcos said he would rely on the court ruling to defend the waters of the Philippines. And in this, he will probably receive support from the United States. Sherman will talk to local government officials about trade and economic relations in Vietnam. To the extent that Chinese President Xi Jinping pursues a policy of zero tolerance to the coronavirus, there is evidence that many large US companies, including Apple, are planning to transfer production from Chinese factories to Vietnam. Sherman is expected to discuss the possibility with government officials in Hanoi.
As for Laos, it was closer to China than other countries in the region. Sherman will seek to encourage Laos’s quest for more independence by promising economic support and helping clear up the unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War.
But how big is China’s threat to undermine American dominance in the Pacific and Indian Ocean basins?
Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia and now President of the Asian Society in New York, gave an excellent lecture on this topic in Zurich. As per Rudd, the Chinese Communist Party remains Marxist-Leninist. Since Mao Zedong’s time, no Chinese leader has spoken as much about Marxism-Leninism as Xi Jinping. That is why Beijing’s central task remains to keep power in the country in the hands of the party.
Anything that weakens this power is unacceptable. The standard of living of the population should not be allowed to decline. Rudd says that the world should not allow China’s international position to weaken so as not to undermine the party’s prestige in the country. From this point of view, it is irrational to take insufficiently prepared military actions – an example of this is Russia’s actions in Ukraine, says Rudd. China does not refuse to unite Taiwan with its homeland peacefully or militarily. But the Chinese are realistic, says the Australian. China must first overtake the United States and become the world’s first economy, then surpass the United States in military power. This means that the option of unification by force can be realized only in the late 20s or early 30s.
In a conversation with the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Andrei Karneev, head of the School of Oriental Studies at the Higher School of Economics, said there would be no military action in the Taiwan Strait in the next two or three years. He said it is extremely difficult to judge what conclusions Beijing has drawn from the events in Ukraine. It is only clear that they are being studied comprehensively there.
As for the threat to the United States, Beijing has said before: let’s not expose ourselves; we must hide our strength. Now China is talking about a great revival of the Chinese nation, launching its own model of world development. Beijing links these plans to the growth of its economic power and openly declares them.