US “Policy” in Asia

Is there one? It would seem not. Everywhere President Barack Obama went on his recently concluded Reset trip through Asia, his lack of any sort of policy vis-à-vis Asia was made plain by concerns expressed about his failure to perform regarding Ukraine.

On each stop in Asia, including South Korea and Malaysia, Mr Obama’s trip was accompanied by concerns over aggression by Moscow and its militant allies in defiance of warnings by the US and other Western powers.

Because yes, Virginia, there really are linkages.

Under threat from Russia, Kiev earlier this year appealed to Washington for small arms and ammunition, as well as for nonlethal items like flak jackets and night-vision goggles. Wary of antagonizing Moscow, the White House dragged out internal deliberations for weeks before deciding earlier this month to send helmets, sleeping mats and other nonlethal gear deemed by US officials to be less provocative—but no arms.

The PRC isn’t oblivious to this, as any thinking adult knows. Nor is it lost on them that this administration is more at pains to avoid angrifying the perpetrator than it is in defending or otherwise meaningfully supporting the perp’s victim.

US officials say Asian allies who want to know how Washington would respond to future acts of Chinese aggression shouldn’t look at what the US is doing to aid Ukraine but instead at Pentagon moves to reassure Eastern European allies and Baltic states since the US is bound by treaty agreements to help defend them.

Yet what our Asian allies, as well as potential allies, see is the US reneging on exactly those treaty agreements—see the Belgrade Memorandum, for instance, coupled with the continued occupation of a Ukrainian oblast by the Russians. See, also, the earlier withdrawal from a missile defense shield agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic—on Russia’s demand.

The steps can be taken without risking a shooting war, officials say, citing intelligence that suggests there are divisions within the Chinese military establishment about how to respond. … “Never push your enemy into a corner because you might get a reaction you don’t want.”

But sometimes the risk of “a shooting war” needs to be imposed on the other side—no situation is only about us. This also is a misreading of Sun-Tzu, who didn’t say never. After all, it’s the threat of shooting him that’s necessary to encourage him to take the way off the field, especially if his preference is to come through you. And sometimes, after all is said and done, you do have to fight.

The incoherence, as well as the timidity, of Obama’s moves regarding Asia (and Europe) would be palpable were there enough of a policy to be timid or incoherent.

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