Thoughts from Hawaii

Just returned from a week’s trip to Hawaii.. Here’re some of my thoughts during the visit, unstructured and unedited…

US and PACOM relationship with the Asia-Pacific Region

The US’s interest in the Pacific Region predates President Obama’s “Pivot to the East”. Even before WWII, the US has had interest in the Asia, as evident in its hands in the independence of the Philippines. Crucial to US’s engagement with Asia-Pacific countries is the Pacific Command situated in the Islands of Hawaii. Set up after WWII, PACOM executes a series of exercises and engagement with the nations in the region. Given the long history PACOM has in the Asia-Pacific Region, how much of the American leadership, military and people are aware of the requirements of engaging the Asia-Pacific nations?

During a visit to PACOM, one of the most interesting pick up for me was how a senior officer stated that “Patience” & “Perservance” is a requirement in engaging the Asians. He did not specifically point out China and I tend to agree that this is true not just for China, but all the nations in the region as well. With our array of history and cultures, it makes experts of each sub region and country necessary to engage effectively. In Patience, engagement must go beyond the transactional realm into the relational. Hence, the Confidence Building Measures and multiple annual meetings of ASEAN. Rather than labelling them as just talk shop, they may be seen as necessary to relation building, in which the US must involve themselves in if they wish to be effective in the region. Perservance, because, at the end of the day, ancient  countries like China and Japan as well as newer ones, like Malaysia and Singapore, have long memories and things take time to change. Regime change but the people’s feelings and sentiments regarding superpowers such as the US remind. It will take a long time, perhaps, even generational changes before change begins. As hearten as I am with the statement by the senior commander, I cannot help by question if the middle leadership and the ordinary citizens understand the cultural lens required to understand the region.

How is a “Pivot to the East” not a “China Containment” Policy? Despite their various claims, a simple look at the US troops deployment and USN’s movement in the Indo-Pacific region will show a line stretching just beyond China’s first
chain of islands. Perhaps it is a case of “China seeing threats where they ain’t”, but given their history with foreign
powers (read above about long memories), it would only be natural for China to see PACOM as a means of containing them.

While US keeps harping that it is in US’s interests to see China succeed as a global power, one cannot help but feel that US wants China to succeed on US’s terms. However, China, as an ancient empire, does not necessary want to follow the “international norms” as stated by the Western World.

Strategic Look at Asia-Pacific

How can one address security issues in the region and guage its severity? Regional Security in Asia Pacific is a complicated issue. Security is a porous, transnational issue and the regional diversity will only muddle up the issue. Asia-Pacific Centre for Strategic Studies offered this framework during the visit. One has to balance the regional Security Issues against the available Good Will, Opportunities and Mechanism for Conflict Resolution. In the Asia-Pacific Region, the issues are further complicated by the number of actors in the recent Information Age, the raise of Nationalism and Social Media and finally, the recent flux of Military development in the region. Countering these are the range of dialogues and regional organizations available, the Economical Interdependency as well as the Democratization of the Regional Nations. As they say, it is rare for a democracy to go to war against abother democracy.

It is through the combinations of accepted norms, alliances/partnerships and multinational institutions that one can hope that the region can move towards stability and peace. One advantage that South East Asia has over the rest of the region is the existence of a recognised regional organization, namely ASEAN. Of course, it is to ASEAN’s advantage that they have the +3, +X forums that allows extra-regional players to contribution to the region’s security.

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