A New Cold War in Asia?

GettyImages_106648562_jpg_210x594_q85Pankaj Mishra over at the NYRB blog:

Is Asia about to enter a new cold war? Accusing the United States of undervaluing the dollar, China has, after its mainly “peaceful” rise, recently assumed an aggressive posture toward its neighbors. In recent visits both to longstanding American allies (Korea, Japan) and to erstwhile enemies (Vietnam, Cambodia), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has proposed the US as a counterpoint to China. Seeking to match the Bush administration’s landmark nuclear agreement with India in 2005, Barack Obama is also supporting India’s case for permanent membership on the UN Security Council.

The columnist Thomas Friedman interprets such moves as “containment-lite,” invoking George Kennan’s proposal in 1947 that Soviet expansionism “be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.” Apparently, such counter-force against China is already being applied. An Indonesian political scientist told the New York Times last week that his government feels the US is putting “too much pressure” on Indonesia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “to choose sides.”

Battered by the mid-term elections, and aware of America’s diminished economic clout, Obama himself has been more circumspect in his pronouncements. The US, he said in Indonesia last week, is “not interested in containing China.” But many politicians, journalists, and strategists seem excited by the prospect of a dramatic new standoff, especially as the “war on terror” and the “struggle against Islamofascism”—campaigns deeply shaped by nostalgia for the cold war’s ideological certainties—enter an uncertain phase.

“India’s emergence as a great Eurasian power,” Robert D. Kaplan asserts, “constitutes the best piece of news for American strategists since the end of the cold war.” Charles Krauthammer argues that since China “remains troublingly adversarial,” India “must be the center of our Asian diplomacy.”