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The farther into the East, the closer the dilemma
September 14, 2010 20:03

U.S.-South Korean naval exercises

Alexei Fenenko, Leading Research Fellow of the Institute of International Security Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences says in his article for Nezavisimaya Gazeta that August 2010 showed an obvious increase in U.S. military activity in the Asia-Pacific region. Joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises Invincible Spirit and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the naval maneuvers Pacific Reach involving the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, and the first ever U.S.-Vietnamese joint naval exercises took place. Some Japanese media report that in December Washington and Tokyo are to hold joint naval maneuvers in the south-west of Japans territorial waters. Experts believe they will test the defense of Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu) claimed by China.

Such military exercises involving the United States and its allies demonstrate, in Fenenko's oppinion, the general contradiction in the U.S.-Chinese relations. On July 22, a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers was held in Hanoi (Vietnam). At this meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington supports the free navigation regime in the South China Sea. However, in March 2010, Beijing announced this sea an area of its key interest. Moreover, Beijing viewed the increase in U.S. military activity in Asia Pacific as an attempt of the White House to interfere with China in its territorial disputes with the neighboring countries. On August 16, the U.S. Department of Defense submitted an annual report on the development of Chinas military capability to Congress. The Foreign Ministry of China said that this report caused serious damage to the development of military cooperation between China and the United States.

The problems in U.S.-Chinese relations affect Russian interests as well. American experts are increasingly concerned about the strengthening of economic relations between China and the Russian Far East. U.S. media have discussed the possibility of American business participation in the development of the Russian Far East. This could involve increasing the capacity of Russian ports in the Pacific Ocean, creating a free trade zone in the Bering Sea or between Alaska and Chukotka, and construction of Russian railways. They also mentioned the ambitious plans of building the Transpolar Route, Northern Trans-Siberian Railway or the Bering Bridge. These projects are only under discussion now, yet even this demonstrates that Washington is opposed to Chinese economic policy in the Russian Far East.

At first sight, the U.S. interest in the Far East is beneficial for Russia. The participation of American business in the Far East infrastructure development would help address many social and economic issues. But Washingtons Far East policy may also have a negative impact on Moscow.

First, the plan to weaken Russias control over the Far East has already been repeatedly discussed in the United States. In the first half of the 20th century, the White House debated ways to oppose Japan in the Far East in case Russia/USSR is defeated. In the early 1920s the United States fully supported the independence of the Far Eastern Republic. In the 1990s, American experts argued about the danger of the Far East becoming a part of the Chinese geo-economic space. Of course, this is not the official U.S. position, but it gives Russia enough food for thought, Fenenko says.

Second, Russia and the United States have a number of potential territorial conflicts. Moscow has not ratified the Washington Agreement (1990) on the transfer of the disputed sector of the Bering Sea. Also, Washington does not recognize Russias exclusive rights to a number of sections along the Northern Sea Route. Moreover, the United States has the Treaty of Alliance with Japan (1960) and supports Tokyos claims to the Kuril Islands. Finally, the Americans do not recognize the Sea of Okhotsk as Russias territorial sea.

Finally, the current U.S. economic policy in the Far East may alert China leaders. Beijing may consider options for countering the U.S. strategy in this region. This could jeopardize the Russian-Chinese treaty of 2001 and the border agreements between Russia and China.

Summing up his reasoning, Fenenko says that no matter how bad Russia needs U.S. investment for the development of the Far East, the need to maintain effective control over the Far East is more crucial. Therefore, Russia should be extremely careful about the U.S. breakthrough economic projects for the so called joint development of the Far East.

      Nezavisimaya Gazeta


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