Hanoi (Vietnam): India is promoting itself throughout the Asian region as a counter-weight to China, and so are some other countries located in the area.
China’s military expansion and assertive trade policies have set off jitters across Asia, prompting many of its neighbours to rekindle old alliances and cultivate new ones to better defend their interests against the rising superpower.
According to the New York Times, Japan is settling a dispute with the United States over a marine air base; the Vietnamese are negotiating a deal to obtain civilian nuclear technology from the United States, and the Americans, who had largely ignored the rest of Asia as they waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, see an opportunity to come back in a big way.
Washington is engaged in a whirl of deal making and diplomacy, from Tokyo to New Delhi, with the objective of reasserting itself in a region where its eclipse by China has been viewed as inevitable.
During his visit to India in the coming week, President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are expected to sign a landmark deal for American military transport aircraft and to discuss the possible sale of jet fighters, which would escalate the Pentagon’s defence partnership with India to new heights.
Japan and India are courting Southeast Asian nations with trade agreements and talk of a “circle of democracy”. Vietnam has a rapidly warming rapport with its old foe, the United States, in large part because its old friend, China, makes broad territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The deals and alliances are not intended to contain China. But they suggest a palpable shift in the diplomatic landscape.
Most Asian countries, even as they argue that China will inevitably replace the United States as the top regional power, have grown concerned at how quickly that shift is occurring, and what China the superpower may look like.
The Obama administration has been quick to capitalize on China’s mis-steps. Where officials used to speak of China as the Asian economic giant, they now speak of India and China as twin giants. And they make clear which one they believe has a closer affinity to the United States.