Balancing the U.S. Rebalance
by Lucio Blanco Pitlo III

April 19, 2016/

It is not easy to be an established world power – and the lone surviving world power post Cold War for that matter – in a fast changing geopolitical and geo-economic environment. The international community looks upon you for leadership, initiative and boldness. Either way, you get criticized for being there and for not being there, or for coming there too late and indecisively. In the context of the rise of new emerging powers, notably China, U.S. foreign policy and the values that it promotes seem to be on the defensive. While China’s nascent grand strategy One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative seem to be gaining steam, attracting interest, as well as apprehension, its American counterpart, the U.S. Rebalance is still distancing itself from perceptions of being uni-dimensional (given its original defense/security orientation) and for being more reactive and less strategic.

China’s OBOR seems to have stronger economic motivations in its desire to export surplus capital and capacity and while gaining new markets, and less security motivations—although if one would argue for economic security, OBOR promises long term economic security gains for China. The fact that China was able to attract a lot of countries to take part in OBOR and one of its financing vehicles, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in a short span of time, suggests that China is tapping into a pressing regional need for infrastructure and public works. In contrast, the Rebalance initially took off from a strong military impulse (increase U.S. Navy and Air Force deployment in the Asia-Pacific to 60%) and it requires serious effort to move beyond this security genesis.

Seen from this angle, the Rebalance appears to be antagonistic or adversarial in nature, especially on the part of the purported target country, China, and the westward direction of OBOR appears to be a countermeasure to mitigate potential adverse effects of containment in the east. Rebalance appears to be an effort to counter growing Chinese influence and power projection in East Asia but U.S. should balance not only against China’s increasing assertiveness in the region’s contested territorial and maritime spaces, but also against China’s increasing trade and economic clout. The fact that regional states showed less enthusiasm in openly supporting the Rebalance in its initial iteration reflects strong domestic self-interest at play – China is their biggest trade partner and investor and they would not want to jeopardize this burgeoning economic ties by siding or being seen as siding with its geopolitical rival.

Even disputants in the South China Sea (except the Philippines) which engage the U.S. in the defense/security aspect, likewise engage China in varying capacities on the same field in an effort to demonstrate their balancing act. To this end, the inclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as an economic pillar of the Rebalance, was a step in the right direction. This would firm up the case that the Rebalance is more than military and is in fact comprehensive. Read more…



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