By Li Hongmei, Special to Sina English
Before Barack Obama was sworn in for his new term, he and his powerful political colleagues Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta descended upon Asia-Pacific, shuttling through China’s “soft belly”.
Starting the weekend, Asia-Pacific will be witnessing an unprecedented rise in the U.S. diplomatic activity in the region which until lately was a "black spot" in Washington's foreign policy but has acquired new significance after the administration announced the "strategic pivot" towards Asia.
The diplomatic offensive begins with Washington’s triumvirate - President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta - visiting Cambodia. The agenda includes both bilateral talks with the respective counterparts and the participation in the East Asia summit in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.
Later, the US President and his men (as well as the woman) will also visit Thailand and Myanmar.
What makes the tour historic is not just the fact that never before had any US President visit Cambodia or Myanmar, but the attempt to establish substantial presence in what has for a long time been regarded as China's “diplomatic domain.” Both Myanmar and Cambodia are looked upon as China's close friends in the region.
But times are changing, and the "strategic pivot" announced late last year presupposes that the U.S. is going to exert efforts in order to not only limit China's expansion in the fields it is aiming to conquer, but also to press China out of the areas which it has long regarded as its “backyard.”
On Thursday, The Washington Post published a lengthy article by its staff writer on national security and the Pentagon Craig Whitlock dealing with the issues of the U.S. cooperation with Cambodia in the field of counterterrorism.
The story says that, "The Pentagon is expanding counterterrorism assistance to unlikely corners of the globe as part of a strategy to deploy elite Special Operations forces as advisers to countries far from al-Qaeda’s strongholds in the Middle East and North Africa."
As reported in the article, not all of these Asian countries are really facing the terrorist threat. "In Cambodia, for example," writes the article, "the Defense Department is training a counterterrorism battalion even though the nation has not faced a serious militant threat in nearly a decade."
Why Washington insists on its military presence in a country far from terror threat but under the pretext of counterterrorism is actually beyond reason, if viewed from a normal perspective. But it does not seem that nonsensical, if the U.S. is endeavoring to compete with China for regional influence, and if it intends to hit China’s “soft belly”---as China has seen a military vacuum in its neighborhood, in order to subdue China’s growing economic leverage over the region.
More so, the U.S. triumvirate’s shuttle diplomacy through China’s “domain” is not only designed to illuminate its used-to-be “black spot” but to push through Obama’s long-coveted plan to create a trans-Pacific free trade zone, so as to counteract and dim the prospect of China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, which has all these years seen a brisk development in the region since it started operation in 2012.