Asia's Pivot to Asia
This opinion piece appeared in Foreign Policy and version of it appears on Nikkei Review.
Much has been made of the intensifying strategic competition between the United States and China, with Beijing working to edge America out of its Asian neighborhood even as Washington doubles down on its regional partnerships and presence. Less attention has been paid to regional dynamics underneath the umbrella of a U.S.-China relationship that mixes nascent rivalry with cautious engagement. In fact, Asia is undergoing a wider set of geopolitical realignments that could reset conventional expectations about the region’s strategic future.
Russia is tilting towards China and away from the West, as demonstrated by several recent energy-supply deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ensuing U.S. and European sanctions have led President Vladimir Putin to pivot eastwards in hopes of building an anti-Western alliance with Beijing. Chinese and Russian armed forces are stepping up joint exercises. Both countries’ leaders are ideologically united in ruthless defense of one-party rule at home and against Western leadership in international institutions.
Yet Putin holds a weak hand in this high-stakes game of geostrategic poker: a rising China’s power threatens to overwhelm that of a declining Russia, with Beijing increasingly holding the trump card in commercial negotiations and in joint clubs like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Nonetheless, Putin’s own strategic choices have dashed hopes in Japan and elsewhere that Russia might be a partner in constraining China’s regional ascendancy.
Meanwhile, Japan is actively shaping a regional future that depends less exclusively on its U.S. alliance and more on strategic and economic partnerships with like-minded nations in South and Southeast Asia. With a close eye on improving its position within the Asian balance of power, Japan is investing heavily in a nascent alliance with India that could unite the gateway powers of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Tokyo is also intensifying military, diplomatic, and economic cooperation with pivotal Southeast Asian nations, including Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
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