East Asia still needs the US

Updated On: Nov 24, 2006

Despite the noisy anti-Bush protests in IndonesiaEast Asia still needs to seriously consider a world without the US, the world’s only superpower.

These were the sentiments expressed by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Minister Mentor, at the World Leadership Summit. The region should be concerned about the possible change of power if US power diminishes. US influence has been and is still the premium stabilizing factor in the Singapore as China and India become balancing forces in the region.

Reflecting the importance of American financial power and its impact on the region, the US’ global influence on the market remains the worries of many financial powerbrokers around this region. Recently rattling the markets is the alleged decline of the New York Stock Exchange and Singapore’s media coverage that it was losing its shine to London.

In 2005, the New York Stock Exchange gained only six net new listings and Nasdaq just 14 and in the same year, not one of the 10 largest new listings globally was registered in the US. These were certainly causes for worries in the region, particularly in regional financial sectors like Singapore which was why this became a cover story. Such developments also signify the decline of US power to some.

Of course, the weakness of US power, while real, should not be overplayed. For example, it may be instructive to note that American institutions actually own nearly one third of the London Stock Exchange (LSE). On November 20, 2006, NASDAQ increased its ownership of the LSE to 28.75%. The ultimate goal is to take over the LSE entirely. Nevertheless, media perceptions of US losing its shine in the region should be addressed.

Similarly, US cannot take East Asia for granted. US should be worried of being left out of the Sino-India partnership, especially the US$20 billion bilateral trade cementing the two emerging regional powers. This figure has a goal of doubling by 2010 to US$40 billion. Both Asian states have also forged an alliance and put forward joint bids in one of America’s centers of political-lobby – the oil industry. The dynamic cities of Guangzhou and Kolkata will also get spanking new consulates to reflect growing Sino-Indian partnership.

US also needs Chinese clout to rein in a nuclear North Korea. The decline of US power in part because its troops are being tied up in Iraq and thus unable to make good the military deterrence on North Korea. The Stalinist state knows this as US threats have shifted from outlining North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil to public declarations that US would not tolerate a nuclear Pyongyang and, now that North Korea has tested a semi-successful nuclear weapon, the US could only continue its weak verbal protests to no effect.  

Some have suggested making India a France-like US ally with vigorous and strong ideological and worldview differences but standing on the same line of democracy while seeing China as an important strategic stakeholder in world power. This would allow US to keep its preeminence in world affairs while accommodating the two rising regional powers and tapping on them in the realization of the limits of US power. It is a concept of a community of nations with close alliances (Japan, South Korea), new friends (India) and partners (China) rather than the variety of superpower Bismarckian rivalry that nearly destroyed Europe. 

However, such progressive thinking is constantly counteracted with the forces of conservatism. President Bush goes to the Nato summit with an invitation to Japan, Australia and South Korea to join in “partnership agreements” with Nato. Such invitations have connotations of containment policies on Chinese military power in East Asia. Nato itself is a relic of the Cold War and is a military alliance targeted at the former Soviet Union.

Some moderation is, however, emanating from the invitees when they declined seeking formal membership in the Europe-centered alliance. Perhaps, this may indicate that East Asian partners are keen on seeking faster reaction times and access to greater resources for disaster relief efforts rather than cold hard military retaliations.

Washington also had its own agenda besides the rumoured China link. US needs urgent assistance in manpower in Iraq and is hoping that non-European allies are more forthcoming with help than their European counterparts. Australia is also already doing this with 20 000 ground troops in Afghanistan. In other words, this is an expanded version of the coalition of the willing against the Axis of Evil. North Korea may be another target of this coalition.

However, perceptions are always important and the People’s Daily is already watching such developments with great concerns: “With its tentacles stretching further and further…Nato’s forces are exceeding the ‘defensive mode’ and are going hand-in-hand with the US global strategy…Nato’s great ambition draws concern.” From Nato’s perspective, China’s alliance with Russia and their Eurasian neighbours in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a infantile shadow of the former Soviet bloc designed to push back Washington from Central Asia.


China-India ties can be model for the world: Hu (Straits Times, 23 November 2006)

US can’t take India for granted (Straits Times, 23 November 2006)

US invites key Asian allies to be Nato Partners (Straits Times, 23 November 2006)

Let’s get on with it, say India and China (Today, 22 November 2006)

Diminished US power will be costly: MM Lee (Straits Times, 22 November 2006)

New York, we have a problem (Today, 22 November 2006)