Volume 12, 2010

In 2010, the US and China took different approaches to managing their relations with Asia-Pacific countries. For the US, the major theme was that the US was “back in Asia” as it sought to enhance its involvement in the region. President Obama met ASEAN leaders in New York and visited India, Korea, Japan, China, and Indonesia. He also hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit in an effort to promote nonproliferation. Other key figures in the US government made highly publicized trips to Asia as well, with Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates making several trips to meet their counterparts. The US also took a major step in engage Asia when it, along with Russia, joined the East Asia Summit. By the end of the year, the US had made significant improvements in its relations with countries around the region including Russia, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan.

China’s relationship with the US and many Asian countries worsened, as its more aggressive policy stance and actions in the seas between China and Pacific Rim countries created concerns. Tensions with Japan over the Shirakaba (Chunxiao) gas field in the East China Sea continued throughout the year and China’s naval adventures in waters near Okinawa at mid-year also raised concerns in Japan. Tensions in the East China Sea peaked late in the year when Japan detained a Chinese fishing boat captain and crew after the vessel collided with two Japanese Coast Guard ships near the Senkaku Islands. In the Yellow Sea, Chinese fishermen fought with South Korean Coast Guard sailors. China also protested ROK/ US military exercises, which were conducted in response to the DPRK’s sinking of a ROK Navy vessel and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Beijing also clashed verbally with the US and ASEAN over activities in the South China Sea. By the end of year, China appeared to be shifting its rhetoric as it promoted cooperation with ASEAN to develop a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.

Hopes for a resumption of the Six-Party Talks took a major step backward as the ROK and US continued to demand that the DPRK demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization and apologize for its military aggression before resuming any form of multilateral dialogue. The revelation by the DPRK that it has developed a sophisticated uranium enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear facility led to further deterioration in relations. Meanwhile, trilateral cooperation among the US, ROK, and Japan was strengthened as a result of DPRK’s provocations. For the first time, South Korean observers were present at a US-Japan military exercise held in early December and there were new efforts to enhance bilateral security relations between South Korea and Japan.

Southeast Asian countries continued to promote ASEAN as the leader of multilateralism in Asia even as several countries experienced growing pains associated with the consolidation of democratic institutions. In Thailand, clashes between the government and the “red shirts,” a political group opposed to the current Thai government, reached a level of violence unseen since the 1970s. In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest following what were described by outside observers as “fraudulent elections” in Myanmar, restoring hope for greater freedom in Burmese politics. Benigno Aquino’s election in the Philippines led to renewed hope for the elimination of corruption and an improved economic situation. Throughout the year, ASEAN saw increased interactions with the US as the US sought to open a Permanent Mission to ASEAN and Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama met with their ASEAN counterparts on several occasions. Despite the South China Sea territorial disputes, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement came into effect on Jan. 1, 2010, establishing the largest FTA in terms of population.