June 11, 2012
Credit: Credit: FYJS
In the early years of China’s rise to economic and military prowess, the guiding principle for its government was Deng Xiaoping’s maxim: “Hide Your Strength, Bide Your Time.”
Now, more than three decades after paramount leader Deng launched his reforms, that policy has seemingly lapsed or simply become unworkable as China’s military muscle becomes too expansive to conceal and its ambitions too pressing to postpone.
The current row with Southeast Asian nations over territorial claims in the energy-rich South China Sea is a prime manifestation of this change, especially the standoff with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal.
“This is not what we saw 20 years ago,” said Ross Babbage, a defence analyst and founder of the Canberra-based Kokoda Foundation, an independent security policy unit.
“China is a completely different actor now. Security planners are wondering if it is like this now, what is it going to be like in 20 years time?”
As China also continues to modernise its navy at breakneck speed, a growing sense of unease over Beijing’s long-term ambitions has galvanized the exact response Deng was anxious to avoid, regional security experts say.
In what is widely interpreted as a counter to China’s growing influence, the United States is pushing ahead with a muscular realignment of its forces towards the Asia-Pacific region, despite Washington’s fatigue with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon’s steep budget cuts.
And regional nations, including those with a history of adversarial or distant relations with the United States, are embracing Washington’s so-called strategic pivot to Asia.
“In recent years, because of the tensions and disputes in the South China Sea, most regional states in Southeast Asia seem to welcome and support U.S. strategic rebalancing in the region,” said Li Mingjiang, an assistant professor and China security policy expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.