Ultimately, it may take a crisis for the U.S.-China relationship to reach a stable equilibrium. But in the current context, I believe the doom-laden scenario of a U.S.-China naval clash in the South China Sea to be remote. The greater risk is that China will use U.S. FoN operations to justify an overtly military phase to the island construction project.
In the absence of a common narrative shared by the U.S. and China, the two nations are likely to drift more rapidly apart. The relationship needs a new strategic concept for the future that is capable of sufficiently embracing both American and Chinese realities, as well as areas of potential common endeavor for the future, and to do so in language which is comprehensible and meaningful in both capitals. Trust builds on itself just as distrust builds on itself as well, compounding into deep enmity over time.
SEOUL -- With the U.S. economy yet to recover fully from the global economic crisis, and American politics increasingly dysfunctional, there is a global power vacuum that China, with shrewd diplomacy and economic might, hopes to fill -- beginning in Asia. This may not yet mean Asia for only the Asians; but it could mean a reduced regional role for the U.S. -- especially as America turns inward during the presidential election season that starts this year.
However neatly wrapped, self-interest is the underlying theme of foreign policy. India will have to tread with extreme caution on this path of a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. will only walk on this path up to a point. Australia and Japan have not exhibited consistency in their China policy.
The prevailing mood among China-watchers in 2014 was one of anxiety and skepticism. The year began in the shadow of Chinese assertiveness in the East and South China Seas. Economic concerns quickly took over: by February the property market seemed on the verge of an epic collapse thanks to the previous year's sharp monetary tightening. At midyear the worry was that an endless anti-corruption campaign had caused government sclerosis, making it impossible to get anything done. And by October, as the Communist Party held its law-focused Fourth Plenum, many bemoaned both the lack of evident progress on the economic reforms outlined at the prior year's Third Plenum and the Party's unwillingness to let its power be constrained by Western-style rule of law.
The president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, became the second of two close American allies (after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) to shake hands with President Xi Jinping of China this week. Xi and Aquino shared promises to constructively manage tensions in the South China Sea, a promising step forward after several years of maritime incursions into territory both countries claim as their own.
Beijing's sparring with Abe has produced underwhelming results. An international public relations blitz following Abe's Yasukuni trip -- to remind the world of Japan's past aggression and warn of resurgent militarism -- resulted not in a chorus of condemnation of Tokyo but in wariness of excessive Chinese rhetoric. Nor did harsh criticism of Abe undermine his standing at home.