Illustration: Liu Rui
The US “return to Asia” declared by US President Barack Obama last year means that discussions over whether East Asia will remain stable are unlikely to end any time soon.
The US says that its involvement in Asian affairs is beneficial to regional stability. Is it true? The US has underlined three key points in its Asia-Pacific strategy: preserving a prosperous economy, a stable region and a safe alliance.
To some extent, the US, in its role as “global policeman,” is committed to East Asian stability and security. But long-term safety and stability of East Asia can only be realized through a multilateral safety mechanism.
The current alliance system, headed by the US, is only advantageous to some of its members and is not sustainable in the long run.
There are many obstacles to establishing multilateral security mechanisms in East Asia, but it is definitely needed. The new mechanisms could alter the current US-dominated regional security pattern.
It is self-evident that it will took time to reach this goal. Even if one day the new mechanisms are set up, no one could oblige the US to leave or stay. The world giant will make its own decision.
Consequently, the US created various situations in East Asia to preserve its dominance there, such as heightening tensions, consolidating its relationships with allies, holding military drills and balancing regional powers against each other.
But the US will not act on its own. It will neither take sides in a war between other two nations nor resort to force unless its own interest are involved. Therefore, the US might intervene in some disputes in East Asia but will never plunge headlong into them.
Even if there might be easy-to-gain profits, the US will not make a reckless move if there are still alternative choices.
Some nations naively hold that the US will fight for its interests but in reality it will act only for its own sake. Only when the common interest of the US and another nation was threatened will Washington involve itself, as, for example, happened during the Korean War (1950-53).
In order to avoid presumptuousness by some nations, the US will take the role as a balancer and moderator.
Strategically speaking, many people hold that China and the US are opponents, East Asia is the future battlefield and a new Cold War is unavoidable.
The idea however ignored the fact that there is no strategic competition between the two nations currently. Belief in this so-called competition is popular among some media outlets and interest groups but has no basis in reality.
Sino-US strategic competition would probably be a lose-lose game, profiting only third parties and undermining bilateral achievements. Rogue states could threaten the global order. Hence, maintaining Sino-US strategic stability both regionally and globally is of profound significance.
Keen-edged conflicts among superpowers has gradually faded from history. Instead, there are an increasing number of asymmetrical collisions between big powers and weak states, which could lead to regional wars in East Asia if they spin out of control.
Therefore, regional stability could be generally preserved if the great powers could keep calm.
Some nations believed that there could be no more strategic cooperations between the US and China after the former’s “return to Asia.”
In fact, they misread the situation because a number of Sino-US strategic dialogues and exchanges were not self-promoting stunts but of practical significance.
Moreover, we should remain alert to the non-traditional security threats that could be posed to any nation at any moment.
A stable Sino-US strategic relationship remains critical to everyone.
The author is a professor of the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University.