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April 10, 2011

Page: 27/34

Home > 2011 Issues > April 10, 2011

The geopolitics of US presence in Asia
By Manju Gupta

Asia Alone: The Dangerous Post-Crisis Divide from America, Simon S.C. Tay, John Wiley & Sons, Pp 206, Price not given

WHILE framing the new realities and geopolitics that result from the global financial crisis the author explains the danger of Asia’s detachment from America. Simon Tay, a public intellectual focusing on international and public affairs, provides a lucid analysis of how the Bush administration ‘lost’ Asia and how the region is becoming self-absorbed, especially after the 2008 global economic crisis. He focuses on the events from late 2008 to the end of 2009, from the collapse of the Lehman Brothers Bank in New York and the start of the global financial crisis up to the visit by the new US President Barrack Obama to Asia.

The author fears that the trends are not conducive for bettering relations between America and Asia, especially since their economics are interdependent, but their relationship is changing and there is a possibility of the two ending up more divided than united and the poorer as a result. He further says that the United States appears to be facing a relative decline in its power and its political will to engage with Asia, as a result of which its influence seem to be waning. At the same time, he sees Asia rising and developing a stronger sense of regionalism with the result that the region can and will be more ready to take its own path. These trends are perceived to be accelerating the crisis more quickly than either the Americans or Asians recognise and are ready for.

Why does he see the danger? This is because since the end of World War II, the American engagement in Asia provided the foundation for stability in the region, a bulwark against the spread of communism during the Cold War and subsequently for the promotion of democracy and protection of human rights. The United States has also stood for freer markets and trends in investment within Asia.

Asians too seem to have benefited from the American presence and their economies have boomed in this period. If a divide occurs before America and Asia, "economic and business opportunities and synergies" will be marred; a partnership valuable and indeed critical to both will end precipitately. The author feels that this is not inevitable but is increasingly probable.

Against this background, Chapter 1 presents an overview starting with the interdependence between America and Asia that marked the relationship up to the crisis of 2008. It reviews trends that can potentially end that interdependence and create a division between Asia and America.

Discussing the size of Asian regionalism, seeing its growth from the crisis of 1997-98 and into the current crisis, the author says that Asian regionalism "is prodded in part by missteps made by the United States, especially during the Bush administration."

Chapter 3 identifies the main actors in Asian regionalism. It presents the argument that Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have in different ways and also in concert helped to bring the region together. In comparison, "Japan and others in the region have had less influence." He seems convinced that tensions and conflicts cannot be managed by China and ASEAN acting as partners or any other combination "of Asian powers, absent America."

The concluding chapter suggests that a future together rather than apart requires that both sides recognise the changes and continuities to find a path ahead in the uncertain post-crisis future. He also feels that Asians are not yet ready for a reduced United States presence as the former have not learned to trust each sufficiently to ensure peace. He is, however, optimistic about the future with Asia recovering and continuing to rise with sustainable drives for the region’s development. Second, Asians will become more of a region and community with more understanding and acceptance of their diversities and commitment to a shared future. Third, the United States will recover from the crisis and continue to have the will and capacity to engage in the rise of Asia and be accepted by Asians as a positive and welcome partner. To avoid the dangerous divide, leaders, policy-makers, companies and citizens on both sides must help to find a new balance between the United States and Asia.

(John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pvt Ltd, 2 Clementi Loop - # 02-01, Singapore 129809;

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