The U.S. is prevalent in determining China’s grand strategy (Current and former officials of U.S. National Security Council, Rush Doshi and Matt Pottinger, have published a book and an essay claiming that China has a grand strategy to displace the U.S. to control the region then the world), but in fact, this has been the consistent policy of the U.S. (logic: If I did it, then others would do the same!) Observations show that China’s diplomacy has been mainly “reactionary diplomacy” for many decades, reflecting her struggle under pressure of foreign power. From the dying period of Qing Dynasty to the laboring birth of Republic of China about 100 years span, China had endured foreign insults to invasions, a case of evidence for weak countries having no diplomatic power. In the international arena, China not only could not exhibit the posture of a big country, but it could hardly defend itself. Relations with SE Asian countries were mostly based on historical connections and the sentiments of overseas Chinese in SE Asia. Traditionally China was never in the habit of invading small neighboring countries with military force, but often there were foreigners coveting Chinese territory. History showed many examples of invasion from the north by foreigners who were ultimately assimilated into the Chinese society. There had been also frequent invasions at the border of southwest China, but China had always responded to foreign territory ambition with a policy of appeasement. After World War II, China's internal civil war created two political entities across the Taiwan Strait, thus China’s relations with SE Asian countries were muddled and directly interfered by other nations. At the end of the Vietnam War, the United Nations recognized the People's Republic of China as the sole China. Only then China's foreign diplomacy can move towards the normal track of an independent big country. However, positioning China's foreign policy as premeditated expansion of hegemony (so claimed by the U.S. scholars above), deliberately trying to gain control from the (Asian) region to the entire globe, it is too much like the folklore: Thieves call catching thieves to divert the attention away from the real thieves.
Throughout the founding history of the U.S. till WW I, its territorial expansion through war had been clearly recorded. The U.S. played a pivotal role in WW II and emerged not only as a victor but also as a nation avoided battles on her home ground. Post WW II, the U.S. took on leadership role in rebuilding the world from the devastating war. From the 1950s to the 90s of the 20th century, the U.S. military power and economy were indeed the world's strongest. Therefore, the U.S. has long established a grand strategy in the name of leading the world, but in reality for maintaining its global superpower status. The so-called “America First” concept (Consider American interests as the highest priority to maintain her superpower status in the world - American hegemony) has long been entrenched in American politics. In the latter part of 20th century and entering into the 21st century, China's economy had been consistently improved, and its military development had been sanctioned by the U.S., but China had determined to develop its defense capability to catch-up and rival any foreign powers. Starting from the Obama era, China was committed to modernizing its military and accelerating the development of advanced weapons, which made the U.S. more and more concerned, thus implementing her “Pivot to Asia-Pacific” policy targeting China. By the time Trump was in power, it was even more obvious that he was fueling confrontation with China by launching a trade war and expanding to a full-scale sanction to suppress China's fast technological development. After Biden took office, he continued this policy of containing China, and publicly stated that “China is the most serious competitor of the U.S. and the U.S. is committed to building an alliance against China”.
Biden's team generally consisted of former members of the Obama administration and inherited the strategy of containment and suppression of China as its China policy. However, Biden’s approach is slightly different from Trump's ‘lone-star’ and ‘trigger (Twitter) happy’ style. Biden considers himself rich in diplomatic experience and intends to unite with American allies to establish an anti-China alliance. Since taking office, officials of the Department of States and the Department of Defense have visited Asia-Pacific allies, Japan, South Korea, and Australia as well as appeased India to solicit their willingbess to establish the Four Plus One Anti-China Alliance (QUAD+). It is too early to tell whether this plan will materialize. Australia and Japan have expressed their support openly, but South Korea and India are unwilling to blindly fight China at the expense of their own interests. The U.S. wants to extend its Asia-Pacific strategy to the Indian Ocean. In addition to uniting Australia and India, it also wants to lure SE Asian countries to support its anti-China alliance strategy. This is the basic reason why U.S. Vice President Harris was visiting SE Asia after Secretary of Defense Austin did so. In 2013, the U.S. encouraged the Philippines to raise a South China Sea (SCS) island dispute case in an arbitration court to challenge China's sovereignty over those islands and territorial waters in the SCS, but China ignored the case, strengthened her island construction and defense, and committed to communicating with SE Asian countries to customize the code of conduct for SCS navigation and joint economic development. Although the U.S. has dispatched warships and aircraft carriers into the SCS and held military exercises as demonstration of power, the U.S is well aware of the truth that it is difficult to sing alone. This is also another purpose of VP Harris' visiting Vietnam and Singapore to promote diplomatic relations. The U.S.’s assistance to Vietnam and donation of COVID vaccines are so obvious with ulterior motives, well known even by street vendors.
Harris only visited Vietnam and Singapore during her SE Asia tour, not to Indonesia or Thailand nor Brunei or Cambodia. The United States keeps saying that it values SE Asian countries, but in reality she focuses far more on Japan, South Korea, India and Australia. However, this Quad+ alliance is not a done-deal and its success is also uncertain. Hence, Vietnam became a target. Singapore does have a lot of influence in ASEAN, but Brunei is the current chair of ASEAN, Cambodia is the next chair, and Indonesia is the secretariat of ASEAN. Biden's American diplomacy has hardly taken into consideration of the Eastern culture and small countries’ mentality. Sure enough, Harris's trip and speeches in SE Asia not only did not make any significant wave but instead aroused some dissatisfaction. Indonesian media accused the U.S. of arrogance (snub), and Singapore think tank (Hoang Thi Ha, ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Institute) stated that instead of blindly fighting against China, imposing pressure on ASEAN countries. and asking them to stand in line with the U.S. and having the same views and ideas like the U.S., the U.S. should take a pragmatic and principled approach to face the rising China. From the media reaction, we can conclude that Harris's trip to SE Asia only made a small ripple at best, certainly not a wave.
Freedom and safety of navigation is the major flag of rhetoric that the United States used to make waves antagonizing China in the East China Sea (ECS), SCS and the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. The U.S. also used this banner to conduct joint military exercises. In the eyes of ASEAN countries, this is both funny and worrying. The U.S. refuses to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) agreement and sends a large number of warships to the SCS and ECS to conduct military exercises, shouting that others do not respect the freedom of navigation and safety but never asking who is really causing tensions in these waters. China is painstakingly engaging with ASEAN to establish SCS navigation guidelines and common regulations for resource development. China’s policy is absolutely a pragmatic and mutually beneficial foreign policy. ASEAN countries understand that very well. The Biden team really should reflect on its current Asia-Pacific policy to make her presence appreciated.