The US “Pivots” Back to Asia. How are the Region’s Major Powers Reacting?

In our previous blog post, we examined Asian reactions to the economic aspects of America’s “pivot” back to Asia strategy. Today’s post looks at what China, India, and Japan are saying about the geopolitical implications of US plans to strengthen its presence in Asia.


Official commentary specifically on this topic was expressed by the Foreign Ministry spokesperson during a regular press briefing: “In handling Asia-Pacific affairs, one should comply with the basic trend of peace, development and cooperation upheld by regional countries, and respect the diversity and complexity of the region.”

Similarly, the press has stressed China’s commitment to peaceful development and coexistence with neighbors. Commentaries characterize US intentions as reflecting a “Cold War mentality” aiming to encircle China, then explain why such plans are likely to fail:

  • China may also retaliate economically at neighboring countries, such as the Philippines, for cooperating militarily with the US. The Philippines is “walking a very fine line,” warned a Global Timeseditorial that recommended economic “punishment” such as postponing the implementation of investment agreements and decreasing imports from the Philippines. In the meantime, “China should enhance cooperation with countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, allowing them to benefit more from the Philippine vacuum.”

For reactions by Chinese netizens, the Dutch nonprofit foundation Global Voices has a report here.



Across the board, commentary in India is welcoming of America’s plan to strengthen its presence in Asia, and sees this renewed attention on the region as a chance for India to assert its strategic role.

It is unclear exactly what kind of strategic role India can and should play, however.

  • Anita Inder Singh of the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi also cautions that “India cannot take the US for granted” because the reality of America’s fiscal constraints, coupled with the US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, mean that India should strengthen its own military capacities so that it can play a role in maintaining regional stability.
  • On the other hand, Nitin Pai, founder of a strongly nationalistic strategic think thank in India, wrote in aBusiness Standard op-ed that “India today is in a position to be a swing power.” In his confident outlook, Pai further commented that “China today is at its most vulnerable since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989,” in all matters from geopolitics to economics and internal security.



Japanese press focused on the speech President Obama delivered last Thursday in Australia securing an agreement to station as many as 2,500 U.S. Marines in Darwin and announcing that the U.S. would expand its role in the Asia-Pacific for the long term.

Citing fears of a fast-growing China with expanding military and economic power, commentators welcomed the expanded U.S. role:

  • Obama’s announcement “does not mean that U.S. bases in Japan are any less important,” declared the Asahi Shimbun. “The Japan-U.S. alliance remains the linchpin of the American forward presence in Asia. But new geostrategic realities have necessitated adjustments in the U.S. military posture.” As for China, stated the Asahi, “it has only itself to blame. By throwing around its increasing weight over the last couple of years, China has unnerved much of East Asia,” thereby driving U.S. friends and allies even more firmly into Washington’s arms.

About risingpowers
Sigur Center for Asian Studies Elliott School of International Affairs The George Washington University

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