Pivot to Asia: Prepare for Unintended Consequences

Part of the 2012 Global Forecast

Under the current administration, the pendulum in U.S. policy toward China has swung from attempting to cooperate with China on global problems to pushing back against Chinese assertiveness and challenges to international laws and norms. Getting tougher with Beijing was necessary, but it has also created unintended consequences that the next administration, either a second Obama team or a Republican lineup, will have to contend with.

The Obama administration’s initial policy in 2009 raised fears in many Asian capitals of a G2 condominium that would make decisions over the heads of others. Those concerns were unwarranted and short lived. Beijing interpreted the U.S. approach as weakness, which, along with China’s economic success and America’s struggles, led to a year of Chinese hubris that manifested itself in a series of intimidating actions in China’s neighborhood. Subsequent entreaties by regional states to counterbalance China increased U.S. attention to the Asia-Pacific region. Now, the U.S. Asia “pivot” has prompted Chinese anxiety about U.S. containment and heightened regional worries about intensified U.S.-China strategic competition.

Bonnie S. Glaser