P. S. Suryanarayana

The U.S. wants China to demystify its military investments, as part of its "obligation" to preserve the existing world system Washington wants to preside over.

UNITED STATES Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Washington's "grand design is transparent, to coin a phrase." Addressing the `Asia Security Summit,' organised in Singapore by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mr. Rumsfeld said, on June 3, that America's "grand design" across the continent, "is to contribute to peace and stability and prosperity in this region." But there is more to this mantra than meets the eye.

Asked by a delegate whether Washington had been able to convince its Asian allies that "the Chinese should be of concern, strategically, in the next 10, 20, 30 years," Mr. Rumsfeld said: "To some extent, where you stand depends on where you sit. So, it is not surprising that some of our friends and allies, that sit in different locations than we do, have somewhat different perspectives about what the world looks like to them. ... Sovereign nations have their own views."

Surely, an admission by the Pentagon chief that all is not all that well with the U.S. camp in Asia. And, during the conference, he rode his hobbyhorse of China-bashing over its alleged "lack of transparency" on military matters. U.S. sources, however, believe that his anti-China remarks at this summit are "pretty moderate" in comparison to some of his previous salvos.

Mr. Rumsfeld did not ignore the perception of Washington's critics that its camp in Asia had already developed fissures. He said "there should be no ambiguity at all on the part of either China or Japan what our interest in the Pacific is." China and a "re-emerging Japan" were regarded at the conference as the "rising great powers" in East Asia today.

Of the two, Official Japan remains firmly within the U.S. camp. And, Mr. Rumsfeld wants China to "demystify" its military investments or face an unspecified "consequence" for any failure to do so.

There was a negative message to China in the atmospherics, as well, of his assertion about a possible "consequence." He theatrically prefaced his answer with an exclamatory "Oh" that sounded as a sarcastic response to the very mention of China as the country that a non-government delegate, Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University, hailed from. In a significant portion, Mr. Yan's question was as follows: "America's military transparency is better than China's, but Americans have been involved in more wars since the end of the Cold War than China. And so, can you give us more explanation why military transparency can help for world security?"

Responding to a different question from Qingguo Jia of Peking University, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "People's Republic of China is an important stakeholder in the world system, and as such they have an obligation to see that the system is successful because they benefit so enormously from its success."

Now, this answer may appear somewhat conciliatory towards China, in contrast to the near-threat of a "consequence" as regards Beijing's military modernisation. The reality, however, is that Mr. Rumsfeld sees it as China's "obligation" to preserve the existing "world system," which the U.S. wants to preside over as an everlasting "hyper-power." This reinforces his view of America's "grand design" as the pursuit of peace and prosperity in Asia that would sustain the stability of the present "world system."

While Mr. Rumsfeld spoke of an emerging "true partnership" with India, without saying how it was relevant to the Pentagon's "grand design," it is the current China-Japan hiatus that looms on Washington's radar as a challenge and an opportunity. At one level, Tokyo's problems with Beijing suit Washington as it seeks to manage China's rise.

However, Washington is aware that China may be trying to deflect Australia and South Korea off their orbits around the U.S. Surely, Mr. Rumsfeld still counts these two as allies in the U.S. camp, but they fall in his category of "sovereign nations" that may not always see eye to eye with the Pentagon on China.

For the U.S., the new signs of autonomous actions by some of its allies can be somewhat offset by its latest military-related accord with Official Japan. Christopher W. Hughes, a Western specialist on Japan's current "re-emergence as a normal military power," has emphasised how the U.S. is "reinforcing [its] hegemony" in East Asia by strengthening this alliance.

Why? An answer from an altogether different standpoint. Robert Sutter, currently a professor and formerly a U.S. National Intelligence Officer for East Asia and the Pacific, said, in a chat with The Hindu in Singapore on June 9, that Washington "has a very mixed relationship with China, ... lots of areas of positive interdependence and very serious negative areas, too." So, the U.S. would have to "pay attention" to its assessment that China's "exercises, their doctrine and their weapon systems are all focussed on the United States." Is this American view a challenge for China's defence diplomacy?