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14 November, 2020 05:42:36 PM

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Why China is surpassing US in Asia

The influence of the US in Asia is decades old. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became one-sided although that has ended in the last decade. Now China is challenging the US in Asia, and as a result, the geopolitical equation of Asia is changing rapidly
Tareq Hasan
Why China is surpassing US in Asia

Asia is the most populous region in the world. At one time, the United States competed with the Soviet Union for influence in Asia.

Gradually China became a major player in world politics. The US now has to deal with Chinese influence although Washington has not been very successful. In this way, China is gradually increasing its influence in Asia surpassing the US.

The influence of the US in Asia is decades old. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became one-sided although that has ended in the last decade. Now China is challenging the US in Asia, and as a result, the geopolitical equation of Asia is changing rapidly. Many US allies have now become pro-China which has become uncomfortable for Washington. Moreover, Asia is being crushed by the economic and military influence of the two superpowers.

Beijing is gradually bridging the gap with Washington over its influence in the Asia region. In this region, the effectiveness and influence of the two countries’ political decisions have been rearranged.

A ranking by the Louis Institute, an Australian-based think tank shows that while the US still tops the list in terms of influence in Asia, China has rapidly narrowed its gap with Washington over the past three years. The index is based on a total of eight military and economic categories which show that the US position is declining compared to the last two years while China's influence is ever increasing or remaining the same, narrowing the gap between the two countries. The index was first released in 2018, the US was ahead in all categories that year, their gap with China was 10 points but by 2020 that gap has narrowed to half.

The coronavirus outbreak this year has turned the world upside down. The calculation of regional politics has also changed a lot. Nevertheless, China's influence in the region has grown significantly this year which could be possible due to the indifference of former US President Donald Trump, said Harvey Lemiou, a researcher at the Louis Institute. The researcher thinks that the Covid-19 epidemic has deviated from that path at a time when Asian politics was at the centre of world power.

The epidemic is a reminder that as long as the countries in the region are not economically self-sufficient, they will remain vulnerable to basic development challenges and China has taken this opportunity. They have made the economy the main tool for dominance.

The US influence in Asia is largely military and the US has military bases in many countries including Japan, South Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The United States has a big role to play in the defense of these countries but China has taken a different path. On the other hand, China has quickly drawn closer to countries that have bad relations with the United States. Beijing has freed Sri Lanka from the burden of huge debts. The Chinese communist government is ready to pay whatever it takes to make Nepal dream of becoming self-sufficient. They helped Nepal survive from the Indian blockade.

The hand of economic cooperation has strengthened ties with longtime US allies such as the Philippines and Indonesia.  China has invested $4.6 million in Indonesia in 2019 with 2,100 new projects being launched.

Forgetting the last seven decades of relations, the Philippines is now largely China-oriented. On the other hand, China has become more sincere about Pakistan when the United States has pushed Pakistan away and brought India closer. They have added Pakistan to the economic corridor and that is why Pakistan-China relations are much closer now. At the same time, China has not neglected the military side. They are sniffing at the end of the war in Afghanistan, talking about the Kashmir issue, they have leased an island to set up a military base in the Maldives, rumors have been circulating for months that there will be a Chinese military base in Cambodia. The Cambodian government has demolished the installation. From these examples, it is clear how tight China is to deal with US in Asia. The steps that China is taking to deal with India in South Asia are also indirectly against the US.

According to a report in the New York Times, Beijing has tied up India's border countries with investment and trade to deal with New Delhi and China has now become the biggest influence in South Asia. Neither the rise of China nor the fall of the United States was inevitable in Asian politics. The main reason why the US has lost influence in the region may be its lack of capacity in regional leadership.

A major component of the Louis Institute's regional impact index said it is caused by a power gap which is the failure of countries to implement all elements of power exercise and regional impact. The US score there is only 2.4 and the reason for this is the unilateral trade policy of former US President Donald Trump and the unwillingness of the allies to shoulder the burden of defense. For example, the Trump administration did not want to spend extra money to provide security for Japan and South Korea which is why the US allies in Asia are very disappointed with Washington however, welcomed US policy on China.

Trump's trade war had not been positive in most Asian countries and that's why the policies adopted in the last four years under Donald Trump on Asia had been detrimental to US influence in the region. The decision was more structural than political. Many of China's neighbours are very cautious about Beijing and some even see China as a threat but not all of them are allies of the US.

US officials seem to understand the situation as many say that in order to deal with China, they need to strengthen their friendship with Asian countries. Former Defence Secretary Mark Asper emphasized the importance of strengthening ties, saying "the US network of allies and partnerships has given us the advantage of not being able to keep up with our rivals."  That may be true but the huge network of trade and investment that China has built is also a big headache for Washington. It is with this in mind that India has initiated a dialogue with Japan and Australia on security issues.

Washington has also signed a number of other defense cooperation agreements with India. This is positive for the US because these countries have different views on China but China on the other hand, prefers security or military power in everything it does. They are trying to boost ties with Asian countries with trade issues at the forefront while China is trying to strengthen ties on many more fronts.

Researchers at the Louis Institute think that the United States does not understand that if it wants to keep China in check, it must deal with it economically as well. Allies need not only security but also money and this is where Washington is being beaten by Beijing's policy and the national leadership of the US is responsible for this. It is feared that this gap could widen further if Donald Trump were elected the White House for another four years. Though Joe Biden comes in his place, will it decrease? That question is difficult to answer because a new administration means a lot will change.

he policy of the new president is also important in this case although it is wrong to think that Biden will change all of Trump's decisions as soon as he arrives. China, of course, relies heavily on this and Xi Jinping is sure to stay in power for many more days. Xi Jinping is now not only a leader but his ideology has been established as the ideology of the country, so there is no possibility of a sudden change in their foreign policy. If it comes, it will probably be aimed at increasing Chinese influence.

The writer is a student of history, Rajshahi University.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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