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Weekly Column by Ravi Dutt Bajpai

Ravi Dutt Bajpai,  Weekly Column No. 1003/2014


Why Asian Pivot

In 2011, US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton writing for the magazine Foreign Policy made a case for the continuation of American domination inthe Asia-Pacific region and claimed that“the region is eager for our leadershipand our business—perhaps more so at any time in modern history”. While it can not be denied that Asia has grown in the esteem of US strategic planners in the last few years, it is also true that US believes that only the American power can save Asia from self-implosion; and therefore American idea of ‘Asia pivot’ is compulsory for regional stability. It is true that American strategic interests drive US involvement in the region. However, an important question remains,does Asia need a rebalance and can such a rebalance be managed by regional powers?The craving of such an Asian pivot in the contemporary globalised world may be construed as an expressionof anti-colonial sentiments or a blatant exhibition of bravado by the newly rich Asian states. However, it can be argued that the need of an Asian Pivot goes much beyond the emotive and the normative discourse and is based upon the pragmatic and the strategic objectives.

Prior to discussing the American or Asian flavor of the rebalance, it is imperative to address the more fundamental question; does contemporary Asia really need a rebalance?  It is true that most of the Asian states are post-colonial entities and their idea of statehood is based upon the Western concepts and these states treasure their territorial sovereignty as their most prizedasset. In an interesting paradox while on one hand the colonial legacy of haphazard territorial boundaries has bequeathed serious distrust and suspicion among the Asian states. On the other hand the advent of globalisation and rise of Asian economic miracle has demonstrated the extent of interdependence between the Asian states. The emergence of several Asian economic powerhouses require greater interdependence among these Asian economies, this deepening of interdependence demand a restructure of the existing regional order. Most importantly the spectacular ascent of China and the rise of Chinese ambitions for greater respect and recognition in the region mandate a rebalance of the existing power dynamics.

While the need for rebalance in the Asian regional order must be acknowledged, one need to explore the possibilities of Asia’s rebalance undertaken and controlled by the Asian states. One can attribute several factors driving the need of an Asian pivot rather than an American controlled Asia pivot. Primarily US’s Asia pivot is grand on rhetoric but short on strategic vision, tactical operations and coordinated actions. It is imperative that the region will not wait for a badly conceived and inappropriately operated American plan to reinvent itself but an alternative structure will certainly replace this vacuum. The prevalent American inspired narrative in West and also in Asia depicts the lack of US involvement in Asia as virtual handover of the region’s strategic control to China. However, the reality may be quite different than simple and unchallenged domination of China over the region. While it is certain that the lack of US involvement in the region will compel the regional powers to devise an alternative order. In case this alternative strategic order is shaped by the regional powers alliance, such a frame work may be termed ‘Asian pivot’.

 The most critical aspect of Asian pivot is to find acceptance of this concept among the regional powers. The vision of an Asian pivot cannot materialize unless the Asian states identify their strategic future in the formation of genuine regional alliances. It is extremely difficult to predict whether the regional alliance framework will adopt a bipolar order of cold war era or a comprehensive regional alliance framework. It can be argued that the quest for regional stability and continued economic growth may encourage the regional states to acknowledge the fact that contemporary Asia is not big enough to accommodate a bipolar regional order.  However, the current economic growth and interdependence has not inspired the Asian states to even contemplate a single, unified and inclusive regional security order, a prerequisite for envisioning a truly Asian pivot. Furthermore there is no denial of the fact that inherent contradictions exist among major regional Asian states, a fact quite well documented and also expertly exploited by global powers.

 However, it can be argued that despite the current environment of mutual distrust and competing narratives of nationalism in Asia, genuine regional cooperation is not only conceivable but also attainable. The idea of Asian pivot does not mean removal of all form of regional competition and contradictions but a regional framework that can handle these issues within the region itself. One should not believe that Asian states are destined to be in aperpetuallyantagonistic relationship. The Asian states have found avenues for genuine regional cooperation;Association of South East Asian Nations  (ASEAN) is an excellent example of regional organisation nurturing greater regional cooperation. ASEAN and some of its offshoots have managed to include even historical rivals such as China, Japan and South Korea under one umbrella. It must be underlined that the security framework has undergone a virtual transformation and the challenges emerging from non-traditional security threats pose far greater dangers to Asia than traditional military actions. The natural disasters such as earthquakes and Tsunami in Indonesia (2004) and Japan (2008), climate change, infectious diseases like SARS, bird flu, dengue, environmental pollution, and lack of proper food, water and energy resources pose serious threat to the Asian population.Asian pivot can be constructed by addressing these real and human security threats rather than being obsessed with notional and discursive security threats to the idea of nationalism and sovereignty.

( Ravi Dutt Bajpai is currently pursuing a Masters in International Relations at Deakin University, Melbourne. He is associated with the Institute for Post Colonial Studies in Melbourne and is a regular social and political commentator with the Hindi daily, Prabhat Khabar, published from Bihar and Jharkhand. With expertise on China, India and Australia in world/Asian politics, he is a regular commentator on Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Hindi in Australia. Email id:  bajpai.ravibajpai@gmail.com. )

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