Much is being made of China's unease at President Obama's initiative this week to raise the U.S. presence in the Pacific Rim. The real story is Asia's unease with China's expansionism. It wants America back.Though many in the left and in the media deny it, the United States has generally been a force for good in the world. Where the US goes, good things usually follow.
Beijing was taken by surprise at the U.S. president's newfound interest in making America a presence again in the Pacific.
But in reality it was a sign that Asian states prefer a U.S.-centric Pacific over a China-centric one.
Up until now, the only message being sent by this White House was of kowtowing, isolationism and weakness in the face of a supposedly inevitably rising China.
The media made much of Beijing's discomfort at the new American assertiveness, as if there was something unnatural about it. "China uneasy over U.S. troop deal in Australia," blared the headline in the U.K. Guardian.But Beijing's discomfort is irrelevant — it's a tyranny and Asia's neighborhood bully. It's not the model of economic development many believe, as its growing imbalances show. Nor is it a particularly peaceful presence.
China is building a deepwater navy patrolling sea lanes, intimidating Asian nations with territorial claims up and down the Pacific. It's aiming satellite surveillance on Asian states and has launched cyberattacks.
Beijing's neighbors — the tiger states of Southeast Asia, the allies of northeast Asia, such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea, along with Australia and New Zealand, are all uncomfortable with China's rising assertiveness.
Like it or not, the U.S. has a historic 60-year role as the most important player in Asia.
The U.S.'s Great White Fleet patrolling Pacific sea lanes has been the foundation that enabled the Southeast Asian nations to peacefully rise out of poverty in the fastest economic transformation of a region within just a generation, and preserved peace in the north, too. They all know where that came from.
The reality is, Obama's newfound interest in Asia is in response to a region that has seen what a world without America looks like after China's rise to prominence.
Today in the Middle East and East Asia, we are seeing what happens when the US retreats. Right now, China is not a force for good in the world. It is a malevolent power behaving with an arrogance rarely seen in history. The most murderous dictators in the world (North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe) have backing from China. It seeks to hurt the US at every turn. It bullies its neighbors over issues like the Spratly Islands so much that even Vietnam wants the US back in Asia, that for the first time since World War II a nervous Japan has completed construction of an aircraft carrier.
Perhaps China's behavior and, indeed, its philosophy will change with a change in government and a change in its governing system. I strongly suspect that it will. But for now, China should be treated as an enemy.
They certainly treat us as one.