BENEATH the radar, almost by stealth, the tectonic plates of power are shifting in the Pacific Ocean.
CHIANGRAI TIMES – Re-elected US President Barack Obama now has four more years to extend US influence with the superpower in waiting, China. President Obama has made it clear he likes to be seen as a ‘Pacific President’. He talks often of a “pivot towards Asia“. It gives you an idea of just how important he sees China and this part of the world.
After ending the war in Iraq and nailing the timeline of America’s exit strategy from Afghanistan the president’s eyes are focused here in Asia for his second term.
That’s because China is the rising power of the world and America knows that China wants to take over the title, if not of superpower of the world then certainly economic superpower, over the next 10 years.
President Obama has said he wants 60% of America’s warships stationed in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. He wants to extend America’s influence as China seeks to spread and cement its dominance in the region.
China took delivery of its first aircraft carrier a few weeks ago, sending shudders through American military circles about China’s ambitions.
China is already the resident superpower in Asia. It practically built Cambodia and Burma’s new infrastructures with its no-strings loans. It is busy wooing Thailand, offering it technology for a high-speed rail link.
That all stacks up to a head-on geo-strategic rivalry in the Asia-Pacific region between the US and China.
China’s GDP, while having slowed, is still at a staggering 7.4%. Mitt Romney had said if he won the election he would declare China a “currency manipulator”. He says China is stealing American jobs by keeping its currency artificially low, enabling it to deliver cheap exports.
It is clear that the issue of trade between the US and China is a top priority for President Obama too, if he is to deliver on his pledge of rebuilding the US economy and delivering more jobs.
We watched the US election unfold on big screens at a Beijing hotel at an event hosted by the US embassy. There was a mock-up polling booth – and people dishing out stickers which said ‘I voted’.
It is more than an ironic twist that the event was held on the eve of China’s once-a-decade power transition – the 18th Communist Party Congress.
During the Congress China unveils its leaders for the next 10 years – chosen by the minute inner circle of the Communist Party elite.
China is the world’s most populous nation – 1.3 billion people – amounting to a fifth of the world’s population. Yet none of them have a say in who will lead them.
At the US embassy event, invited Chinese guests could choose whether to stand next to lifesize cut-outs of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to have their pictures taken. It is the only choice these Chinese people get to make when it comes to political events in China this week.