US Defends Asian Alliances Against China Criticism

By Matthew Pennington 3 December 2014

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration pushed back Tuesday against veiled Chinese criticism of America’s alliances in the Asia-Pacific, saying without them, the region would be more volatile.

China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan last month called for countries to abandon what he described as “Cold War thinking,” and in a high-profile foreign policy address last weekend, President Xi Jinping spoke of a “growing trend toward a multipolar world.”

Those comments have been widely seen as jabs at the role of the US as the sole global superpower.

The US has enjoyed military predominance in the Pacific since the end of World War II—a region where China wields growing clout. The US retains tens of thousands of forces based in Japan and South Korea, and treaty alliances with countries such as Australia and the Philippines.

Evan Medeiros, the top White House official on Asia policy, defended the US effort to modernize and strengthen those alliances as part of its foreign policy “pivot” toward Asia, and build new partnerships with the likes of Myanmar and Vietnam. He said the US wasn’t imposing its will but responding to strong demand for it from the region.

“What would the regional security environment in Asia look like if the US abandoned its alliances and dismantled its partnerships? I would argue that it would be far more uncertain, unstable and volatile,” Medeiros told the National Bureau of Asian Research think tank.

“And the global implications of that for a country like the United States which has alliances all over the world would be very, very serious. Could that really be in any country’s interest?” he said.

China views the Obama administration’s “pivot” policy as an attempt to contain its rise. As China looks to take a bigger role on the global stage, it is promoting an alternative vision that stresses security cooperation among Asian nations themselves—although many have been spooked by China’s own military buildup and expansive territorial claims.

While their strategies clash, Washington and Beijing are at the same time striving to deepen their relations. Xi hosted President Barack Obama in Beijing last month and they announced a significant agreement on combating climate change.

Medeiros underscored the point Tuesday, saying the US wants its allies to have cooperative relations with China, including its military.