Paul Gillespie: Obama Channels Nixon in Asia Pivot

Roundup: Media's Take

Paul Gillespie is a foreign editor and columnist for the newspaper The Irish Times.

“If you are a strategic thinker in China, you do not have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the US is trying to bandwagon Asia against China.” So says Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, in a comment on the new United States “strategic pivot” towards the Asia-Pacific region. It highlights what promises to be one of the key geopolitical trends in coming decades.

Last year Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made successive pronouncements on this shift of focus. It was woven into their positions on military spending, trade, regional security and relations with China. Obama repeatedly affirmed the US role as a Pacific power, while Clinton asserted US willingness to mediate conflicts between China and other states about mineral rights and access to the South China Sea and similar sensitive sea zones in China’s neighbourhood.

Bandwagoning in strategic thinking has to do with weaker and smaller states accommodating the most powerful one to appease it or profit from its expected victory. It is usually counterposed to balancing or allying against a threatening power to deter it. Containment has to do with preventing a hostile power expanding. It comes between detente or engagement and rollback or military attack to prevent that.

Such language has been out of fashion since the cold war conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. It has been resurrected now to describe the emerging US policy towards China and the growing importance of trans-Pacific relations for international politics in this century...

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