I have been arguing for some time now that as Asia emerges into its own in the 21st century, what the United States fears most is being excluded from the new institutional arrangements and strategic architecture that the region will inevitably seek to build.
This is precisely the theme on which U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held forth at the Shangri-La conference of Asia-Pacific defence ministers in Singapore on Saturday.
In my view the building blocks for this new Asian architecture are all in place -- the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for security issues, the East Asia Summit process of economic integration and the Asian energy grid for energy-related matters. And guess who's not a part of any of these emerging arrangements?
At the Shangri-La meeting, Rumsfeld, the Associated Press reported, encouraged Southeast Asian nations "to work closely with the United States in the face of pressure from China and Russia to at times exclude the U.S. from regional meetings".
The American Forces Press Service report is more candid:
"The secretary was critical of groups that are not as inclusive as this one. For example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the East Asia Summit, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have formed and met without U.S. participation. Rumsfeld said these groups have the right to include, or exclude, whomever they wish, but he questioned the effectiveness of this exclusivity".In particular, Rumsfeld attacked Russia and China for advocating the inclusion of Iran in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. India is also an observer in the SCO but is otherwise not particularly enthusiastic about its activities. In my next column, I will try and analyse how the emerging India-U.S. relationship is linked to this American fear of exclusion from Asia.