A new Pew Research Center Survey shows that fear of armed conflict is rampant in Asia. 93 percent of Filipino respondents are concerned about an outbreak of hostilities. 85 percent of Japanese, 84 percent of Vietnamese, 83 percent of South Koreans and 62 percent of Chinese are similarly anxious.
Asia is primed for war.
Nonetheless, the U.S. has foolishly negotiated entangling alliances (or their equivalents) with China’s probable adversaries – Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam – contrary to the warnings of President George Washington’s Farewell Address. We should renounce those gratuitous alliances immediately before Asia’s wars embroil the United States.
Japan has characterized its tensions with China as reminiscent of the rivalry between Great Britain and Germany on the eve of World War I. China and Japan have come close to blows over airspace and territorial seas. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced an unprecedented interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to enable Japan to employ military force in self-defense or in defense of others.
China holds an explosive grievance against Japan for its refusal to make amends for the horrors of the 1937 Rape of Nanking during World War II in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were murdered or raped. In the South China Sea, China is inching towards war with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal while simultaneously constructing artificial islands to advance its territorial ambitions. China has refused the proposal by the Philippines to take the territorial dispute to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
China has long viewed Vietnam as falling within its sphere of influence, just as the United States has treated the Caribbean, Central America, and South America as its backyard since the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. China attacked Vietnam in 1979, but was sharply rebuffed. At present, China is disputing with Vietnam over the Parcel Islands in the South China Sea and a Chinese oil rig positioned off the coast of Vietnam.
Clearly, Asia is primed for war. And yet, the United States maintains dangerous alliances with Asian nations.
President Washington warned against the entangling alliances represented by our defense commitments to Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam in his Farwell Address. He elaborated (substituting Asia for Europe):
“The great rule for us in regard to foreign nations is…to have as little political connection as possible … It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world … Why, by interweaving our destiny with any part of [Asia], entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of [Asian] ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?”
Experience corroborates President Washington’s advice. The United States should pivot out of Asia, not towards it as President Obama has promised.
Wars between China and the aforementioned Asian nations would not threaten the sovereignty, security, or economy of the United States. Indeed, they would deflect or squander Chinese military or financial resources elsewhere. Moreover, Vietnam defeated China handily in 1979, and today could expect support from other nations claiming rights to South China Sea islands or resources. Japan’s military combined with its fiery nationalism is more than sufficient to arrest Chinese aggression.
Moreover, United States interests are harmed, not helped, by attempting to play global policeman or spear carrier of democracy. We entered World War I to make the world safe for democracy, and we got Hitler, Stalin, Hirohito, and Mussolini. Just as the founders predicted, when the U.S. intervenes, bad things happen.
Then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams sermonized in his July 4, 1821 Address to Congress that while the United States is the “well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all,” we are the “champion and vindicator” only of our own. The future sixth President of the United States cautioned that while we “might become dictatress of the world,” we would be “no longer the ruler of [our] own spirit … [America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty.”
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