As the previous article in this series presented, America has evolved its view of China from a country controlled by a communist regime selectively adopting capitalist dynamics and tools towards seeing China as a civilisation bent on regaining its dominant political and cultural influence in north and east Asia, the first step in an ascent towards further sway and greater power. This new view gives rise to two considerations in America’s positioning in Asia.

First, in this view America sees north and east Asia as theatres of operations. The underlying assumption here is that were China to attempt securing territories in its immediate neighbourhood (in the east and south China seas), east and north Asia would become theatres of military operations for the Chinese army against the countries currently in possession of these territories.

This dynamic entails several scenarios. In none of them, however, America is compelled to engage militarily with China. But in each of them America needs to calculate the level of arms, intelligence, and logistical support it would provide to these countries. In this, America’s assessment as well as Chinese calculations are increasingly enriched by their close studying of the war on Ukraine, because although there are major differences between Ukraine and east and north Asia, the dynamics of direct and indirect confrontations between mega, nuclear powers are quite similar.

This leads to the second consideration. America will have to decide in the immediate future on the nature of the capabilities it wants its allies in east and north Asia to have, not just militarily, but also technologically and economically. This will affect the nature of investments America would put in the countries in that part of the world. It will also influence the nature of technological and economic dependencies between these countries and the US, versus forms of self-sufficiency that America will likely want these countries to develop vis a vis China.

A part of that dynamic has already been unfolding in the type and scale of infrastructure investments rolled out in east Asia, whether by institutions belonging to the US-led Bretton Woods global financial system, or by rivals in China’s nascent financial orbit, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The underlying point is that once China begins its expansion in its immediate neighbourhood in north and east Asia, America must decide on the shape of military deterrence and political resistance to Chinese expansionism that it envisages its allies are to take. Following that, America must convince those allies of this form of deterrence and resistance, and must then undertake a way of operations with them that would result in these deterrence and resistance capabilities.

America has several allies in Asia. But India, Japan, and Australia carry particular importance in America’s current strategic assessment concerning the continent.

America’s prioritisation of India stems from its demographic weight, military capabilities, and its highly important cultural role in east Asia. In America’s calculus, India is the only county in the whole of Asia that has the civilisational gravitas and richness to offer to the rest of the region a compelling vision about the future that could compete with China’s. Narendra Modi’s assertive leadership and highly ambitious vision for India’s positioning on the global scene resonate with America’s hope for India to play that role.

America does not expect India to engage in any direct political, let alone military, confrontation with China. But as India’s power increases, and its projection of that power is cast throughout most of east and southeastern Asia, India would likely dilute Chinese political and cultural expansionism.

Japan has a different role in America’s thinking. America understands that Japan is culturally unique and emotionally detached that its interest in, or ability to compete with Chinese expansionism in north and east Asia is very limited. Still, Japan brings two valuable assets to the American-led Western camp. First, Japan has proven itself the most reliable American ally in Asia in terms of providing an extremely strategically important base for tens of thousands of American troops and equipments. And although there has been Japanese demands in the past decade for a reduction of American military presence in its territories, these demands stem from social concerns, rather than novel calculations about Japan’s strategic position in Asian politics. Second, Japan is one of the world’s most advanced technological and industrial powerhouses. And even if its economy has been shrinking relative to some European countries, primarily Germany, Japan commands the knowledge and technological prowess to continue being a key research and development centre in the industries that will shape human life in the foreseeable future.

Australia has in a unique place in the American psyche. Like America, Australia traces its foundational culture and political history to an Anglo-Saxon heritage. And although the Australian society has grown highly diverse in the past half century, Australia remains unquestionably a Western nation. Importantly, Australia commands a valuable geographic position. Australia sits at the southern Pacific, overlooking the area China must traverse if it were to expand beyond the South and East China Seas. Militarily, Australia is a member of AUKUS, the group that combines it with the UK and the US. And at least equally important, Australia is a member of the Five Eyes, the exclusive intelligence club led by the US, and that also constitutes the UK, Canada, and New Zealand.

But whereas America’s relationships with India, Japan, and Australia are grounded in mutual interests and apprehensions about China’s rise as a superpower, America faces three concerns in its dealings with them.

First, these allies are at the forefront of any Chinese expansionism. None of them face any serious prospect of a military Chinese action. But all of them are potentially subject to political or economic pressures from Beijing, particularly that China is a key trading partner for all of them. This is why the three countries, in different ways and degrees, balance their siding with America in its global positioning vis a vis China, with working relationships with China.

Second, India, Japan, and Australia have sophisticated strategic decision-making and foresight capabilities. They see trends in American politics and society that raise concerns about consistency in American global positioning. This drives them to build, in their own strategic decision-making, scenarios and options that lessen their commitment relative to the levels America wants them to exhibit in its nascent confrontation with China.

Third, irrespective of the myriad of demographic, economic, and political challenges currently facing China, it is almost certain that China will become, in the coming two decades, a true political, military, and economic superpower. All Asian nations, including these three American allies, have internalised that reality and placed it at the heart of their political calculations.

These concerns complicate America’s calculus, not only in its interactions with India, Japan, and Australia, but in Asia in general.

But the complications facing American foreign policy transcend Asia. As the next article in this series will show, old questions that America faced when it began its expansionism in the Middle East eight decades ago are returning, this time accompanied by challenges America has never experienced in all its dealings in the region.