On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Phillippines, killing thousands and leaving millions in need of aid. Immediately, the United States and other nations pledged monetary and material, with US Marines arriving within days to provide relief assistance. The exception was China, who initially pledged a paltry $100,000, less than one percent of what the US contributed at $22 million. The slight by Beijing, even after it raised its contribution to $1.6 million, has given the United States a boost in its regional influence as it proves its willingness to assist its allies in the region on more fronts than militarily at China’s expense.
The USA’s so titled “Pivot” to the Pacific under the Obama Administration has been much maligned by many, who questioned the US’ ability to focus primarily on the Pacific nations and how it would clash with China’s more assertive regional influence. American assistance to its allies and friends in the region has been all the more increased by China’s blunt policy moves that have inflamed tensions with multiple countries, and thus far America has come out the better off in the battle for the hearts of regional governments.
China further inflamed tensions by expanding its air defense zone to include several uninhabited islands that are jointly claimed by China, Japan, and Taiwan. The expanded zone also included Open Ocean claimed by South Korea. The United States sent two B-52 bombers on patrol through the newly claimed air defense zone, in a move heavily criticized by China but reassuring to America’s allies, especially Japan. The patrol proved a strong assertion by the US that it would not abandon its allies in the region and would back up their territorial claims in the face of Chinese aggression.
These recent moves by the US have, at the very least, shown that the US still has the ability to assert itself in the Pacific. As China seeks to expand its global influence and regional power, its alienation of its neighbors is playing into America’s regional objectives. Japan, the Philippines, and others are less likely to raise objections of American military bases on their soil when the bases serve as both a deterrent to the Chinese and as a means by which the United States can provide fast and efficient disaster relief assistance.
The United States must continue to challenge China in the political battle for influence. While it must seek to avoid military confrontation with China and at the same time reassure its allies that its presence is not a threat to their independence, but rather a friendly assistance lent to pursue joint political goals. So far, China has done a great deal in harming its own reputation, and if it continues to act in a belligerent way, it will further American interests more than the US could do on its own.