Gulliver’s Travels

As some of you may know as the lone American representing the empire here in the MIR program this year i’ve felt obliged to fulfill my patriotic duties to write about my mother/father/homeland and the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific for my 586 essay. My research can be fun to do at times in part because it’s sexy (like a pant suit), topical, current, relevant to New Zealand and this part of the world, and not least of which because people love to wax poetic on the subject. My current favorite comes from Donald Weatherbee and the annual Regional Outlook: Southeast Asia[1] when he describes China and the US as two giant Gullivers, one ensnared by the Lilliputians of ASEAN, the other poked and prodded by the same small actors.

ASEAN’s regionalist strategy to meet the challenge has been two pronged. The first is that of the Lilliputians: to bind the giant Gulliver that is China in a web of ties. Although no thread is alone sufficient to restrict the giant, all the threads together hopefully serve to constrain Gulliver’s freedom of movement. (Weatherbee pg. 3-4)

And on the other hand:

From ASEAN’s perspective, the American Gulliver has been distracted for most of the last decade by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the so-called war on terror. According to most Southeast Asian political analyses, this inattention has led the United States to neglect its broader interests in the region and to fail to defend its great-power turf in the face of a rising China. Rather than tie the American Gulliver down, there has been an uncoordinated but consistent effort to stir it up. (Weatherbee pg. 4-5)

Metaphors are fun, but quips aside Weatherspoon has hit the nail on the head (i guess figures of speech haven’t been set aside), at least from a regional perspective. From the Malacca Strait to the Senkaku’s, China sets the agenda, not the US. The Sleeping Giant (ok, i guess metaphors are back) wasn’t really sleeping, it was busy picking on the neighborhood kids down the street in the Middle East. The slow boat to China loaded with American dollars which set sail at the end of the 1970s finally arrived in port and pivot or no the US must face reality.

The question now becomes what happens when two giants collide? It need not be a clash of titans as traditional power politics would predict.

Better for all involved if they do as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi described the situation when he said “our two nations are trying to do something that has never been done in history, which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”[2]

My answer – why not redefine the problem as two regional powers meeting in international space (no Aidan, there will be no Moon Summit hosted by a shirtless Vlad with Laika by his side) to frolic in the economic waters of prosperity and friendship.

*I know this doesn’t get graded David, just posting for fun.

**Weatherbee bio – this guy calls it like it is.

***Procrastinators rejoice – a fun little Easter Egg awaits the curious.

[1] Donald E. Weatherbee, “Southeast Asia’s Security and Political Outlook,” in Regional Outlook: Southeast Asia 2011-2012 (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), 3–9.

[2] “Remarks With Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi” (Remarks, Beijing, September 5, 2012), http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/09/197343.htm.

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