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    Russian Strategic Moves in East Asia Leave US Policymakers in a Panic

    © AFP 2017/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV
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    Experts from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for a New American Security are worried that as US policymakers jump from one regional crisis to another, Russia's leaders have proven that they are capable of striking an effective balance between crisis management and long-term strategic planning, particularly as far as East Asia is concerned.

    In their analysis, recently published in the US-based international affairs magazine The National Interest, experts Michelle Shevin-Coetzee and Axel Hellman warn that when it comes to foreign affairs, US policymakers "should not favor the short-term to the exclusion of the long-term," particularly when it comes to Washington's long-term plans for its so-called 'pivot to East Asia'.

    Affiliated with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), one of Washington's key think tanks on military affairs, Shevin-Coetzee and Hellman warned that "as Russia manages to straddle" the fine line between crisis management and strategic planning, managing "immediate crises and investing in future partnerships," US policymakers must attempt to do the same.

    In particular, mindful of the Obama administration's long-standing intention to 'pivot' toward Asia, and of Moscow's new, more assertive stand, the analysts suggest that "policymakers cannot afford to neglect the Asia-Pacific [region] and the increasing role that Russia is playing there. Home to vibrant economies, emerging powers and more than half the world's population, the region holds significant economic promise."

    "Yet there are real perils and potential challenges that require careful attention," the analysts warn. These, they suggest, stem from Russia, naturally…

    Commenting on China's recent moves to bolster its security position in the Pacific, something which has irritated US policymakers used to American dominance in the region to no end, Shevin-Coetzee and Hellman warn that "recently…it is not only Beijing's actions that should concern American policymakers."

    "Russia is developing a closer defense, economic and energy relationship with China and other countries in the region. Although this burgeoning Sino-Russian partnership is not a panacea for each country's woes, it is a particularly convenient one as Moscow secures both alternative export markets and political influence, and Beijing counters the United States' reluctance to craft a new world order favorable to China."

    Now, "in light of this newfound entente and Russia's strategic shift eastward," the hawkish analysts suggest, "the Asia-Pacific [region] presents new challenges that were not as salient when the United States first announced the rebalance."

    "From a security perspective, Beijing and Moscow are taking actions that could threaten American interests and those of its allies and partners. In particular, Russia plays a key role in China's military modernization, providing the country with advanced missiles, radar and other systems that are central to Beijing's acquisition of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities."

    Specifically, Shevin-Coetzee and Hellman point to Russia's deal, signed last year, to deliver the S-400 Triumf air-defense system to China, suggesting that the move "represents an important milestone" in the security relationship between the two countries.

    Russia's moves to help China beef up its air defenses, according to the analysts, will be sure to "lead American allies and partners, particularly Japan, to fear the growing A2/AD threat in the Asia-Pacific, raising the costs for Washington to respond to future Chinese actions." Reading between the lines, the experts seem to suggest that to the US and its allies, China's growing ability to defend itself against US airpower is somehow 'threatening'.

    From an economic standpoint, the CNAS analysts suggest that "a deeper Sino-Russian entente also risks undermining the ability of the United States to project economic and financial power," limiting, for instance, Washington's ability to bring Russia to its knees following the crisis over Ukraine last year.

    "Sanctions on Russia imposed by the West, for example, have squeezed Russia's external borrowing by forcing sanctioned corporations to seek emergency funding from the Russian government, thereby drawing down Russia's sovereign reserves. Sino-Russian cooperation in the financial sphere, however, can mitigate these effects. In 2014, Moscow and Beijing signed a currency swap agreement worth $24 billion, a move intended to reduce Moscow's reliance on the dollar and promote the international use of the renminbi."

    "Another pact," the experts note, "encourages billions in Chinese financing to cash-strapped Russian companies through cooperative measures between the China Construction Bank Corporation and the Russian Direct Investment Fund." And, "although Chinese banks have been relatively reluctant to meet Russia's demand for financial assistance, the prospect for desperate Russian firms to turn to Beijing for fresh capital could challenge the financial leverage of the United States and its allies."

    "Overall," the proponents of American hegemony warn, "financial cooperation between the two countries help project a weaker image of the United States, particularly regarding the role of the US dollar in global markets."

    Accordingly, the analysts suggest, "the Sino-Russian entente and the fresh challenges it presents underscore the need for the United States to sustain its focus on the region and broaden the rebalance." 

    Vaguely alluding to the establishment of "a clear interagency approach to best utilize American diplomatic, financial and military power" to challenge "Russian assertiveness," the analysts do not seem to have any specific recommendations on how the US might deal with China, the other partner in the Moscow-Beijing 'entente'. 

    Indeed, it remains unclear exactly what options are really open to a Washington increasingly looking to 'contain' China militarily and economically (including via the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade pact which excludes China), while simultaneously trying to diminish Beijing's friendship with Moscow.

    In any case, Shevin-Coetzee and Hellman suggest that despite the fact that "many Washington policymakers view the Asia-Pacific as just one of the many regions around the globe that requires attention," the reality is that "the dynamism of the Asia-Pacific and the prospect of a closer Sino-Russian relationship will fundamentally shape the international economy and global stability in the twenty-first century." Accordingly, Washington must do something, lest its opportunity to protect its own global hegemony slips away.

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    US foreign policy, expert analysis, pivot to Asia, geopolitics, analysis, Center for a New American Security, China, United States, Russia
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