Abu Dhabi, Feb. 26, 2019 – The Emirates Policy Center (EPC) on Tuesday held at its headquarters in Abu Dhabi a roundtable discussion entitled “the Geopolitical and Geostrategic Landscape in Asia”. The lecturer was James Crabtree, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School in Singapore, and a senior fellow at the school's Centre on Asia and Globalisation.
Mr. Crabtree’s presentation covered three themes. In the first theme, the geostrategic balance in Asia, he pointed out that Asia is going through a geopolitical competition between China and the US in light of a rapid shift in the relationship between the two powers. This, in turn, according to the lecturer, leads to change in the regional balance. Mr. Crabtree said that it is ironic that despite the US-Chinese competition in Asia, still Washington, under the Trump administration, is less engaged in the Asian regional order.
In the second theme, Mr. Crabtree touched upon the challenges facing China’s endeavor to become a super power. He said that China achieved high rates of economic growth for many years, however, economic forecasts point out that Beijing would not be able to keep up the same levels of growth in the future. He added that it is not in China’s interest to escalate the trade war with the US, pointing out that Beijing would seek a trade deal with Washington.
Within the same theme, Mr. Crabtree discussed the “Belt, Road Initiative” (BRI), describing it as an ambitious project. It is not one of the key elements of China’s foreign policy only, but one of Beijing’s tools in its rise as a great power in the future also, the lecturer said. He pointed out that it is difficult to put limits to this initiative because it includes 55 countries and covers huge land and sea infrastructure projects.
The lecturer also touched upon the criticisms BRI has drawn so far, and the fact that the initiative is different from the US Marshal Plan or the European Recovery Program that started following the devastation of World War II. He added that Western countries claim that BRI is a “debt-trap diplomacy” as some Asian countries already involved in the initiative witnessed protests against BRI projects, as was the case in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. However, these protests need not to be overplayed, Dr. Crabtree stressed. He stated that BRI has also triggered a regional competition as Japan, for example, has started to establish partnerships in infrastructure development. He added that more transparency and more involvement of international institutions is needed so that China can ensure the success of the initiative.
The third theme in the lecture focused on Asia’s regional order. The lecturer said that all Asian nations have responded to China’s rise. He drew particular attention to the fact that the trade war launched by the Trump Administration against China, and Washington’s new disengagement policy has made Asian nations look at the US as unreliable partner. Therefore, they felt the need to get closer to China and build more rational relations with their giant Asian neighbor.
Even though anti-China regional countries wish to limit Beijing’s regional hegemony, the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) that includes India, Japan, Australia and the US is not likely to effectively face China and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region, Dr. Crabtree explained.
The lecturer stressed that the US-China trade war poses a threat to the region, and that regional multi-lateral institutions are not operating effectively, particularly with regard to US-China relations. He added that while the US leadership role is declining in the world, there are still no signs that China wants to assume that role.
The lecturer concluded that powers inside and outside the region can benefit from the available political space in Asia to expand their influence. This applies to India now as it has started to perceive itself as a leading nation rather than a regional balancing power.
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