Unfortunately for China, exclusion from the recent Asia-Pacific mutual-appreciation party should be (and is) a cause for concern on the military front. In a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on November 16th, President Obama announced the planned deployment of 2,500 U.S. Marines to an existing Australian outpost in Darwin, a port city located across from Indonesia on the Timor Sea. Under this arrangement, American forces will rotate through the base for joint training and exercises with Australian troops, and the U.S. Air Force will receive increased access to Northern Territory airfields. The deployment of the first 200 – 250 troops in 2012 will mark the first long-term expansion of U.S. military forces in the Pacific region since the end of the Vietnam War. The Obama Administration has also announced plans for enhanced military ties with the Philippines and a visit by Secretary of State Clinton to Myanmar, making her the first Secretary of State to visit the latter nation in 50 years.
China also shouldn't be giving thanks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an Asia-Pacific trade agreement negotiated by nine regional states from four continents. In addition to typical trade-agreement issues such as agriculture and intellectual property, the TPP seeks to make member states' regulatory systems more compatible in order to improve ease of members' business operations in TPP markets. The agreement will also address ways to more actively incorporate small businesses into international markets, as well as fair competition between state-owned enterprises and private businesses. Earlier this week, the governments of Japan, Canada and Mexico shared their interest in joining this initiative, which already includes the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. If all interested parties actually join the TPP, the pact's member states will account for 40% of world GDP; in contrast, the EU accounted for approximately 20% of world GDP in 2010. Noticeably absent from this arrangement to date is China, whose economy accounted for 13% of world GDP last year.
Exactly how worried should China be about these aggressive U.S. policies? During his press conference with PM Gillard, President Obama said that the newest U.S. Pacific military presence is not meant to isolate China, but is rather a response “to the wishes of democratic allies in the region” who have expressed concern that the U.S. is ceding its local leadership role. The President also didn't completely freeze China out of this week's proceedings, holding an unscheduled meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on South China Sea territorial disputes earlier today. However, in light of China's recent military modernization efforts and projections that forecast its continued economic rise, American and Asia-Pacific states' desires to counterbalance the PRC's power are both obvious and prudent from a security standpoint.
China should be particularly wary of the pushback from its neighbors, several of whom appear less than eager to usher in an era of Chinese leadership. Of the 20 state leaders present at this week's ASEAN summit, 16 officials expressed dissatisfaction with boundary policies in the South China Sea, where China currently disputes territorial control with such states as Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's announcement of interest in TPP membership, which would radically alter Japanese trade policies and is less than popular among some domestic parties, signals a preference for continued U.S. economic leadership. As the Asia-Pacific region talks turkey with the U.S. this Thanksgiving, China had better keep an eye on its share of the pie.