By Roy Mabasa
The rise of China may have caused a seismic shift in the balance of power in Southeast Asia, but is not enough to unseat the United States as a dominant power in the region – at least not in the near future.
Japanese Professor Dr. Mie Oba of the Tokyo University of Sciences expressed this view on Monday when she spoke about the future of Japan-ASEAN relations during a symposium commemorating the 41styear of the Fukuda Doctrine at the historic Manila Hotel.
Dr. Oba pointed out that the rise of China has had big impacts on regional circumstances when it achieved large-scale economic development and is now mobilizing that expanding power to promote the further buildup and modernization of its military.
More importantly, she noted that China is pursuing a two-pronged, proactive foreign policy by asserting sovereignty in South China Sea and the East China Sea since the end of the 2000s.
All these, she added, are occurring at a time when the leverage of the United States is becoming “nebulous.”
“I do not believe that there will be an easy transition of power from the United States to China in the near future. The United States is continuing to try to keep its commitment to Asian affairs alive,” Oba said in her speech.
The Japanese professor said this was evident last August when US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo proposed an Indo-Pacific Fund to support infrastructure development and financial assistance for security cooperation.
Last August, the US State Department announced that the Philippines will receive some US$60 million (about P3.24 billion) from the Indo-Pacific fund.
“With tactics such as these, I do think that the United States is working to hold onto its hegemonic power in Asia and the world,” she said.
Dr. Oba, however, said the administration of President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy has had a negative effect on Asian countries’ trust toward the US.
Oba, who is an expert in international relations, explained that from a long-term perspective, the US’ hegemonic power is on the decline relative to the rapid rise of China.
She also said ASEAN is facing with the weakening of the liberal international order, which include components such as restrictions on the use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect for international cooperation and multilateral institutions.
“The changes in the balance of power and the decline of the three international liberal order have shaken the solidarity and resilience of ASEAN,” Dr. Oba said.
Accordingly, she said this weakness of ASEAN “will lead to the collapse of its centrality, which will have a strongly negative impact on peace and prosperity in East Asia and the Asia Pacific.”
For this reason, Professor Oba said cooperation between Japan and the ASEAN should aim at the enhancement of the region’s solidarity, resilience, and integration.