China’s response to the US in contemporary Asia

5 Apr 2013

In the midst of heightened territorial tensions in Asia and lack of transparency within Beijing’s policymaking machine, analysts draw conclusions from China’s response to the US ‘pivot’ at their peril. The volume of Western supposition regarding China’s response to the US pivot vastly overshadows analyses of actual responses from Chinese sources.

Studying official Chinese commentary and media coverage on US activity in Asia from November 2011 to January 2013 reveals three major trends. The tone in Chinese reportage on the US pivot ranges from a more moderate discourse from official sources to higher levels of alarm across state‑sponsored media. The media coverage of the US–Japan alliance or US engagement in ASEAN generally displays a high degree of nationalistic intensity, particularly when compared to the largely moderate Chinese reactions to Australia–US Marine and Air Force cooperation.

US involvement in the South China Sea disputes and the US–Japan alliance in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute have also elicited strong nationalistic responses in the media. A common theme of containment was recorded across all sources: the bulk of Chinese commentary on US Asia–Pacific policy is a response to the destabilising effect of what is perceived as a ‘Cold War’‑style encirclement of China.

US Asia–Pacific foreign policy is discussed widely and actively in China. Understanding the nuances of China’s differentiated response from the time of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2011 ‘America’s Pacific Century’ essay in Foreign Policy magazine is important: it makes us examine the accuracy of Western perceptions of China’s ‘stance’ on US foreign policy in the Asia– Pacific. Doing so provides greater depth to analyses of the narratives and strategic culture of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Greater insight into foreign policy and decision-making in China is useful to regional stakeholders, even if the evidence does not always provide for lucid conclusions.

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