Theories of international relations in the West, which trickle down into the popular media, have difficulty understanding that when China is strong the East Asian region is relatively peaceful and stable.
This is the opposite of the European experience, where the balance of power theory holds that the ascendance of one power then coalesces rivals, who attack. Other kinds of power transition theories have challengers taking on the lead power, for all kinds of reasons.
In Europe, the relative dominance of one power (Rome, Napoleonic France, Germany) has precipitated war. This is even true of the European Union, whose NATO forces actively participated in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and whose clandestine forces are still active in Syria.
Europe is relatively unified, hence: more war, this time beyond the boundaries of the continent.
East Asia has had the opposite experience. In the absence of a regional hegemon there is usually war. So when China is weak and divided, there is regional war. The Mongol invasions, European colonial powers, the Japanese invasions…
One major and long-lasting era of Chinese power was during the Song dynasties, 960 – 1279, when it was a maritime power based on trade, including across the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean. China’s population is so huge, and so dense, that the natural inclination of this country is to trade, which is more of a win-win scenario.
If the US withdrew militarily from East Asia, the countries over here would work something out among themselves, even on the Korean peninsula. After all, under the surface of international relations, there is the Chinese Diaspora, and very influential Chinese populations in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and especially the Philippines.
I’ve long made the case that the US should never have intervened in Korea (and of course not in Vietnam, either). The division of the Korean peninsula is what radicalized the northern half. Had North Korean forces taken over the entire peninsula, the country’s eventual political evolution (without being cornered) would have looked a lot more like that of China. A far more livable situation than the one we now find ourselves in.
In any case, the ideas here are offered just as a retort to those pundits who fantasize that western militaries, even western militarism, can provide peace and stability in Asia. They cannot.
Imagine, if the Chinese navy tried to maintain a military presence in the Gulf of Mexico, or the Florida Keys, or the Bahamas. We’d never heard the end of it.
In a perfect world, the US military bases in Asia would be folded into an international space program, one that would include the existing powers along with China, Russia, and even North Korea. It’s time to put away childish things, and lead by example.