With the emergence of China as the world’s second-largest economy and its concomitant renewal of (comparatively minor) territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, the stage is set for a U.S.-Chinese confrontation of a nature and on a scale not seen since before the Sino-Soviet split of 1960.
Following the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization throughout Europe over the past thirteen years – every European nation is now a full member of or involved in one or more partnership arrangements with the U.S.-led military bloc except for Cyrus, which is under intensified pressure to join the Partnership for Peace program – which has enforced a cordon sanitaire on Russia’s western and much of its southern frontier, it was inevitable that the U.S. and its allies would next move to encircle, quarantine and ultimately confront China.
In the past decade the Pentagon has begun conducting annual multinational military exercises in nations bordering China (Khaan Quest in Mongolia, Steppe Eagle in Kazakhstan) and near it (Angkor Sentinel in Cambodia), has with its NATO allies waged war and moved into bases in nations bordering China – Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan – as well as nearby Uzbekistan, and, even before the official announcement of the strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region, acquired the use of new military facilities in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Australia, Singapore and the Philippines.
President Obama’s current visit to Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s simultaneous trip to Australia, Cambodia and Thailand are exemplary of this trend.
Early this year NATO announced the launching of its latest, and first non-geographically specific, partnership program, Partners Across the Globe, which began with the incorporation of eight Asia-Pacific nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Korea.
Since the summer of 2010 the U.S. has been courting the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), several of whom are embroiled in island disputes with China, for inclusion into a rapidly evolving Asian analogue of NATO which includes the eight above-mentioned new NATO partners and is intended to be a super-Cold War era-like bloc subsuming the former members of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) into a systematic initiative aimed against China.