Thursday, July 3, 2014

Never-ending Posturing in Asia: What's China's Next Move?

China, long seen as the instigator of Asia and, more broadly, wherever the United States is involved diplomatically, is again posturing in the region in an effort to weaken the ties President Obama has sought to strengthen over the past several years with Japan, South Korea, and other up-and-coming Asian nations. Once considered a grand pivot of influence, Obama's decision to build rapport in the region and fortify militarily seems to gradually becoming undone, if recent weeks are any indication. And just as the region was seemingly figured out, with various alliances being established, things appear to be shifting quite rapidly - developments that President Obama will have to watch carefully if the U.S. is to remain an influence in regional politics.

In it's not-so-subtle move to damage U.S. influence in the region, Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Seoul currently, meeting with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye. The two will be discussing China's interesting move away from North Korea, who has continued to defy all regional and global demands to cease testing short-range missiles. President Jinping has thus far made no attempt to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye

Why the sudden warmth for South Korea? Well, because South Korea's ties with Japan have been damaged as of late. Japan - the United States' predominant ally in the region - recently restructured their pacifist laws to enable the country to join with allies in military combat under "self-defense" conditions. After months of disputes over various territories in the region and other tensions that have flared periodically, Japan is signaling their resolve to use combat if necessary, something that should worry other regional players. In addition to this change to their constitution, Japan has also vowed to "review" an apology made to South Korean women who were forced to work in droves as sex slaves during the World War II era. South Korea has lambasted Japan for the move, a low diplomatic blow.

The last piece of the bizarre puzzle being put together recently is Japan's unusual warmth towards North Korea. North Korea has set a unique precedent by forming a panel to investigate claims of Japanese nationals being abducted and held in North Korea. In response, Japan has vowed to lift some of its unilateral sanctions on the country, bringing the two closer together and in effect, pushing South Korea and Japan even farther apart.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe

How can China capitalize on all of this? Meeting with South Korean leadership is a good start. The United States will have to ensure that they are not squeezed out of the region with an increase in a positive Chinese presence. China still has ways to go, specifically when it comes to bolstering trade between themselves and others in the region and making concessions on territorial disputes, but they are certainly making a concerted effort to head in the right direction.

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