The US-led system of alliances and defence partnerships in East Asia has undergone profound change since the end of the Cold War. The so-called “hub-and-spokes” system of bilateral alliances has been gradually supplemented by a “networked security architecture”—a network of interwoven bilateral, minilateral and multilateral defence arrangements between the US and its regional allies and partners, in which China is also included through a variety of cooperation channels. This paper shows that, from Washington’s perspective, the networked security architecture is not merely a means to externally balance a revisionist China, as Structural Realist analyses contend. Rather, the US has sought to broaden the composition of the US-led hegemonic order in East Asia by diversifying the range of defence ties with and amongst its allies and partners, but also by seeking to include the PRC in it. Thereby, Washington aims to channel and shape the trajectory of China’s rise within the US-led hegemonic order, from a position of pre-eminence, through a mixture of negative and positive incentives (resistance and accommodation) with the ultimate goal of upholding the existing hegemonic order. To empirically substantiate this argument, the paper relies on a large body of elite interviews with senior US policymakers.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
See the definition of ‘networked security architecture’ in the Introduction to this Special Issue. On the interweaving of formal alliances, bilateral partnerships, minilateral groupings and multilateral security arrangements in East Asia, see also Cha (2011), Cronin (2013), Fontaine et al. (2017), Green (2014a, b), and Simón et al. (2019). For a review of the various strands of the literature on the changing alliance dynamics in East Asia, and their shortcomings, see the Introduction to this Special Issue.
For a discussion of how the different strands within Structural Realism—despite their differences—concur on this point, see the Introduction to this Special Issue. For an overview of the key propositions of Realist scholars on the response by regional powers to China’s rise, see Mastanduno (2014).
See the definition of primary and secondary institutions in the Introduction to this Special Issue.
Between January 2016 and December 2018, seventy-five interviews were conducted with former political appointees and career officials in charge of political-military and East Asian affairs in the White House (National Security Council/NSC Staff), the Department of State (DoS) and the Department of Defence (DoD). In the NSC, the positions of the interviewees include senior directors and advisors to the President; in the DoD and DoS, the positions range from assistant secretary to the deputy secretary level. In addition to political appointees, interviews were conducted with lower-level officials, such as policy advisors to the political appointees and country directors. The information provided by the interviewees has consistently been triangulated with other interviews in order to ensure the contextualization and reliability of the empirical evidence. All interviewees quoted in this article have given their prior approval to being quoted. Those who have not given their approval to being quoted have been anonymized.
The two countries also signed a new five-year package of host nation support for U.S. forces in Japan (US Department of State 2018).
For data on U.S. capacity building efforts, see Security Assistance Monitor (2018).
China is included in some of the initiatives constituting the networked security architecture (e.g. bilateral partnerships with individual regional powers, minilateral arrangements and multilateral fora), but not in others, i.e. the system of five U.S. bilateral mutual defence treaties.
On how this argument relates to, and differs from, the decades-long debate on whether the U.S. should engage or contain China, see the Introduction to this Special Issue.
On this point, see also Christensen (2015).
Albert, E. 2016. The U.S.-Philippines Defence Alliance. Council on Foreign Relations, Backgrounder, October 21.
ADMM+ (ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus). 2017. Chairman’s Statement on the 4th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus. Manila, October 24.
Australian Department of Defence. 2018. United States Force Posture Initiatives in Australia. http://www.defence.gov.au/Initiatives/USFPI/ (accessed February 4, 2019).
Australian Embassy in Vietnam. 2018. Defence Cooperation Program. http://vietnam.embassy.gov.au/hnoi/DefCoop.html (accessed February 4, 2019).
Bader, J. 2012. Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Blair, D.C., and J.T. Hanley. 2001. From Wheels to Webs: Reconstructing Asia-Pacific Security Arrangements. The Washington Quarterly 24(1): 5–17.
Bong, Y.D. 2016. The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Local, Regional, and Global Dimensions. Asian Politics & Policy 8(1): 39–49.
Buzan, B., and Y. Zhang. 2014. Introduction: Interrogating Regional International Society in East Asia. In Contesting International Society in East Asia, ed. B. Buzan and Y. Zhang. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brewster, D. 2010. The India–Japan Security Relationship: An Enduring Security Partnership? Asian Security 6(2): 95–120.
Campbell, K. 2016. The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia. New York: Basic Books.
Campbell, K., and B. Andrews. 2013. Explaining the U.S. Pivot to Asia. Americas 1: 1945–1975.
Campbell, K., and E. Ratner. 2018. The China Reckoning. How Beijing Defied American Expectations. Foreign Affairs 97: 60.
Carter, A. 2016. Asia-Pacific’s Principled Security Network. Secretary of Defence’s Speech at the 2016 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, June 4.
Cha, V. 2009/10. Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia. International Security 34(3): 158–196.
Cha, V. 2011. Complex Patchworks: U.S. Alliances as Part of Asia’s Regional Architecture. Asia Policy 11: 27–50.
Cha, V. 2016. Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Chanlett-Avery, E. 2018. Japan, the Indo-Pacific, and the ‘Quad’. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, February 14.
Chanlett-Avery, E., B. Dolven and W. Mackey. 2015. Thailand: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, July 29.
Christensen, T. 2015. The China Challenge. Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Congressional Research Service. 2016. Singapore: Background and U.S. Relations, CRS Report for Congress R44127, July 20.
Cronin, P., et al. 2013. The Emerging Asia Power Web: The Rise of Bilateral IntraAsian Security Ties. Washington, DC: Centre for a New American Security.
Curtis, L., et al. 2011. Shared Goals, Converging Interests: A Plan for U.S.–Australia–India Cooperation in the Indo–Pacific. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation.
Davidson, P. 2018. Advance Policy Questions for Admiral Philip Davidson, USN Expected Nominee for Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. April 17. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Davidson_APQs_04-17-18.pdf.
Erickson, A.S., and A.M. Strange. 2014. China’s RIMPAC Debut: What’s in It for America? The National Interest, July 3.
Feng, Z., and J. Huang. 2014. China’s Strategic Partnership Diplomacy: Engaging with a Changing World. European Strategic Partnership Observatory (ESPO). Working Paper 8, June 27, 2014.
Foot, R., and A. Walter. 2013. Global Norms and Major State Behaviour: The Cases of China and the United States. European Journal of International Relations 19(2): 329–352.
Friedberg, A.L. 2018a. The Signs Were There. Foreign Affairs, July/August.
Friedberg, A.L. 2018b. Competing with China. Survival 60(3): 7–64.
Fontaine, R., et al. 2017. Networking Asian Security: An Integrated Approach to Order in the Pacific. Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security.
Gady, F.-S. 2017. RIMPAC 2018: China Invited to Participate in Major U.S. Naval Exercise. The Diplomat, May 31.
Goh, E. 2019. Contesting Hegemonic Order: China in East Asia. Security Studies 28(3): 614–644.
Green, M.J. 2014. Strategic Asian Triangles. In The Oxford Handbook of the International Relations of Asia, ed. R. Foot, S. Pekkanen, and J. Ravenhill. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Green, M.J. 2017. By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783. New York: Columbia University Press.
Green, M.J., et al. 2014. Federated Defense in Asia. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Green, M., et al. 2016. Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence, and Partnerships. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Harris, H.B. 2017. Statement of the U.S. Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, on U.S. Pacific Command Posture, Before the Houses Armed Services Commitee on U.S. Pacific Command Posture, April 26.
Hemmings, J. 2017. The US-Japan-Australia Trilateral Against the Backdrop of U.S. Grand Strategy. In U.S. Foreign Policy in a Challenging World: Building Order on Shifting Foundations, ed. M. Clementi, M. Dian, and B. Pisciotta. London: Springer.
Ikenberry, G.J. 2001. After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Ikenberry, G.J. 2011. Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Ikenberry, G.J. 2017. The Plot against American Foreign Policy: Can the Liberal Order Survive. Foreign Affairs 96: 2.
Japanese Ministry of Defence. 2015. The Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defence Cooperation, April 27. http://www.mod.go.jp/e/d_act/anpo/shishin_20150427e.html (accessed February 4, 2019).
Kazianis, H.J. (ed.). 2015. Tackling Asia’s Greatest Challenges: A U.S.–Japan–Vietnam Trilateral Report. Washington, DC: Center for the National Interest.
Khong, Y.F. 2014. East Asia and the Strategic ‘Deep Rules’ of International/Regional Society. In Contesting International Society in East Asia, ed. B. Buzan and Y. Zhang. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kuik, C.-C. 2016. Malaysia Between the United States and China: What do Weaker States Hedge Against? Asian Politics and Policy 8(1): 155–177.
Liff, A.P. 2015. Japan’s Defense Policy: Abe the Evolutionary. The Washington Quarterly 38(5): 79–99.
Liff, A.P. 2016. Whither the Balancers? The Case for a Methodological Reset. Security Studies 25(3): 420–459.
Lohman, W., L. Stern, and W. Jordan. 2012. U.S.–Vietnam Defense Relations: Investing in Strategic Alignment. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation.
Lu, D., and K. Yourish. 2018. Turnover at a Constant Clip: The Trump Administration’s Major Departures. The New York Times, March 22.
Lum, T., and B. Dolven. 2014. The Republic of the Philippines and U.S. Interests—2014. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Manyin, M.E. 2014. U.S.–Vietnam Relations in 2014: Current Issues and Implications for U.S. Policy. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Mastanduno, M. 2014. Realism and Asia. In The Oxford Handbook of the International Relations of Asia, ed. R. Foot, S. Pekkanen, and J. Ravenhill. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Matsubara, M., et al. 2012. Trilateral Strategic Cooperative Mechanism Between Japan, the United States, and Vietnam: A Proposal. Issues & Insights 12(1): 1–8.
Mattis, J. 2017. Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Shangri-La Dialogue. June 3.
Mattis, J. 2018. Written Statement for the Record. House Armed Services Committee. April 26.
Mazarr, M.J., T.R. Heath, and A.S. Cevallos. 2018. China and the International Order. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.
McDevitt, M.A., and J.A. Kelly. 1999. In Search of Stability: Designing for a Better Peace in East Asia. In U.S.–Korea–Japan Relations: Building Toward a “Virtual Alliance”, ed. R.A. Cossa. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Meijer, H. 2015. The Reconfiguration of American Primacy in World Politics. Prospects and Challenges for The US Rebalance to Asia. In Origins and Evolution of the US Rebalance toward Asia: Diplomatic, Military, and Economic Dimensions, ed. H. Meijer. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Misalucha, C.G., and J.S. Amador III. 2016. U.S.–Philippines Security Ties: Building New Foundations? Asian Politics & Policy 8(1): 51–61.
Muhibat, S.F. 2016. Indonesia–U.S. Security Collaboration: Still Under the Radar? Asian Politics and Policy 8(1): 137–154.
Nishihara, M., et al. 2015. Building a Framework for Japan–US–Vietnam Trilateral Cooperation. RIPS Policy Perspectives, No. 22, February.
Panda, A. 2017. US, Japan, India, and Australia Hold Working-Level Quadrilateral Meeting on Regional Cooperation. The ‘Quad’ is back. The Diplomat, November 13.
Pant, H.V., and Y. Joshi. 2016. The U.S. Pivot and Indian Foreign Policy: Asia’s Evolving Balance of Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Parameswaran, P. 2015a. Philippines, Vietnam to Ink Strategic Partnership by End of 2015. The Diplomat, September 4.
Parameswaran, P. 2015b. Japan, Philippines Boost Defense Ties. The Diplomat, February 4.
Parameswaran, P. 2017a. Why the New Vietnam–Australia Defense Dialogue Matters. The Diplomat, November 8.
Parameswaran, P. 2017b. What’s Behind the Resumed Vietnam–Philippines South China Sea Activity? The Diplomat, June 27.
Pence, M. 2018. Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China. October 4.
Pompeo, M. 2018a. Remarks on America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision, at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, July 30.
Pompeo, M. 2018b. Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order. Remarks at the German Marshall Fund, Brussels, Belgium, December 4.
Pongsudhirak, T. 2016. An Unaligned Alliance: Thailand–U.S. Relations in the Early 21st Century. Asian Politics & Policy 8(1): 63–74.
Rajagopalan, R.P. 2016. U.S.–India Ties: Calibrating Collaboration Post-Non-Alignment. Asian Politics and Policy 8(1): 107–118.
Rapp-Hooper, M. 2015. Interview with Admiral Gary Roughead—The Evolving Role of Military Exercise in Asia. Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 4. https://amti.csis.org/the-evolving-role-of-military-exercises-in-asia/.
Republic of the Philippines. 2015. Joint Statement on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership between the Republic of the Philippines and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, November 17. http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2015/11/17/president-aquino-presscon-vietnam-president (February 4).
Rinehart, I.E., S.A. Hildreth, and S.V. Lawrence. 2015. Ballistic Missile Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region: Cooperation and Opposition. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
Rosen, M., and J. Douglas. 2017. The U.S.–India Defence Relationship: Putting the Foundational Agreements in Perspective. Washington, DC: Center for Naval Analyses.
Russel, D.R. 2014a. The Future of US-China Relations. Testimony by the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, DC, June 25.
Russel D.R. 2014b. ASEAN and America: Partners for the Future. Remarks by the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, CA, July 28.
Russel, D.R. 2015. Remarks at the Fifth Annual South China Sea Conference. Remarks by the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, at The Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, July 21, 2015.
Russel, D.R. 2016. Q&A at ‘Looking East—Trend Lines in the Asia Pacific’: Interview with Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany, March 22.
Sakaki, A., and G. Wacker. 2017. China–Japan–South Korea A Tense Ménage à Trois. SWP Research Paper, April.
Satake, T., and J. Hemmings. 2018. Japan–Australia security cooperation in the bilateral and multilateral contexts. International Affairs 94(4): 815–834.
Satake, T. 2016. The New Guidelines for Japan–U.S. Defense Cooperation and an Expanding Japanese Security Role. Asian Politics and Policy 8(1): 27–38.
Saunders, P., and J. Bowie. 2016. US–China Military Relations: Competition and Cooperation. Journal of Strategic Studies 39(5–6): 662–684.
Schriver, R. 2018. Testimony on American Leadership in the Asia-Pacific by the Assistant Secretary of Defence, Asian & Pacific Security Affairs, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, May 15.
Security Assistance Monitor. 2018. Security Aid: East Asia and the Pacific. https://www.securityassistance.org/data/country/military/country/2000/2018/all/East%20Asia%20and%20the%20Pacific/ (accessed August 10, 2018).
Shear, D. 2015. Testimony by the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, May 13.
Shepp, J. 2018. How U.S. Foreign Policy Is Being Shaped by Trump’s Tweets. New York Magazine, January 19.
Silove, N. 2016. The Pivot before the Pivot U.S. Strategy to Preserve the Power Balance in Asia. International Security 40(4): 45–88.
Simón, L., A. Lanoszka, and H. Meijer. 2019. Nodal Defence: The Changing Structure of U.S. Alliance Systems in Europe and East Asia. Journal of Strategic Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2019.1636372.
Tan, S.S. 2015. Multilateral Asian Security Architecture: Non-ASEAN Stakeholders. London: Routledge.
Tan, S.S. 2016. The ADMM-Plus: Regionalism That Works? Asia Policy 22: 70–75.
Tana, T.M., and Y. Takagi. 2018. Japan’s Foreign Relations with the Philippines: A Case of Evolving Japan in Asia. In Japan’s Foreign Relations in Asia, ed. J.D. Brown and J. Kingston. New York: Routledge.
Tatsumi, Y. (ed.). 2015. U.S.–Japan–Australia Security Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges. Washington, DC: Stimson Center.
Taylor, B. 2016. Unbreakable Alliance? ANZUS in the Asian Century. Asian Politics & Policy 8(1): 75–85.
Thayer, C.A. 2016. Vietnam’s Proactive International Integration: Case Studies in Defence Cooperation. VNU Journal of Science 32(1): 25–48.
The White House. 2009. Joint Vision for the Alliance of the United States of America and the Republic of Korea. Office of the Press Secretary, June 16.
The White House. 2013. Joint Declaration in Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States of America, Office of the Press Secretary, May 7.
The White House. 2015a. Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan in Joint Press Conference. Office of the Press Secretary, April 28.
The White House. 2015b. United States–Vietnam Joint Vision Statement. Office of the Press Secretary, July 7.
The White House. 2015c. Advancing the Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific. Factsheet, November 16.
The White House. 2016. U.S. Building Maritime Capacity in Southeast Asia. Fact Sheet, November 17.
The White House. 2017a. Statement from the Press Secretary on the United States-China Visit’, Office of the Press Secretary, April 7.
The White House. 2017b. National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 18.
TCS, Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat. 2017. Annual Report 2016-2017. http://www.tcs-asia.org/bbs/board.php?bo_table=news&wr_id=426&page=4 (accessed February 4, 2019).
US Department of Defence. 2015. Carter, Singapore Defense Minister Sign Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. DoD News, December 7.
U.S. Department of Defence. 2018. The National Defence Strategy of the United States of America. Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Hedge. https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf (accessed February 4, 2019).
U.S. Department of Defence. 2019a. Indo-Pacific Strategy Report. Preparedness, Partnerships and Promoting a Networked Region, June 1.
U.S. Department of State. 2013. Expanded U.S. Assistance for Maritime Capacity Building. Fact Sheet, Office of the Spokesperson, Washington, DC, December 16.
U.S. Department of State. 2015. Secretary Kerry Co-hosts a Lunch for Chinese President Xi Jinping Along With Vice President Joe Biden. Remarks by John Kerry. Ben Franklin Room, Washington, DC, September 25.
U.S Department of State. 2016. U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue Outcomes of the Strategic Track. Media Note Office of the Spokesperson, Washington, DC, June 7.
U.S. Department of State. 2018. U.S. Relations With Japan. Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Fact Sheet, January 25.
U.S. Department of State. 2019. U.S. Security Cooperation with India. Fact Sheet, June 4.
U.S. Department of Treasury. 2016. U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue U.S. Fact Sheet – Economic Track. Press Center, June 7.
Wong, A. 2018. Briefing on The Indo-Pacific Strategy. Special Briefing by Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Press Correspondents Room, Washington, DC, April 2.
Zoellick, R.B. 2005. Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility?. Deputy Secretary of State, Remarks to National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, New York City, September 21.
For useful and constructive feedback on previous drafts of this article, the author would like to thank Evelyn Goh, John Hemmings, Tongfi Kim and Luis Simón.
Conflict of interest
The corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Meijer, H. Shaping China’s rise: the reordering of US alliances and defence partnerships in East Asia. Int Polit 57, 166–184 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-019-00201-y
- English School
- Defence cooperation
- United States
- East Asia