We are still hearing more and more about the danger of the so-called rise of China and that they are the next big threat to American supremacy. The idea is that China is inevitably our next “enemy.” We know there are lots of right-wing types in both China and the US that have an interest in fueling such a concept.
Big mistake! I have written a few times of the dangers of this line of thinking, and more recently on how it has been used by our Military-Industrial proponents to justify larger and larger military budgets and especially expensive hi-tech gadgets which bring in huge profits for that “1%” of our population at the expense of the rest of our nation with its many growing social and economic needs.
Yes, there will be confrontation between America and China in many areas and tough competition. But the least desired outcome for either side is to create a “cold war” mentality and, even worse, a pattern of behavior which could only end with disaster for all. So the answer is to both reinvigorate our engagement with Chinese leaders and people and also undertake a long-term and comprehensive strategy of cooperation and coordination which both sides can gain from.
There are a number of areas that need to be addressed in this process. First we need to set in motion a process of military dialogue and agreements – which we did with the old Soviet Union including arms control, non-proliferation and confidence building with success – to avoid a cataclysm brought on by needless and mistaken action by either side. The Chinese need to move towards mediation and compromise with its East and South Asian neighbors and likely a sharing of resources in areas in the South China Sea that are now disputed.
We need frankly to lower a bit our own rhetoric and find ways to lower jointly our military presence rather than mindlessly ratchet up our fighting force deployments nearer to China’s shores. China too can moderate its own military buildup. China also needs to be more explicit about a fully “peaceful” resolution of the Taiwan issue and both sides should engage in phased ratcheting down of their military presence.
All this does not mean we should “withdraw” from East Asia that could be read mistakenly with hurtful consequences, unless there was a larger compact of cooperation in the region with assured security for China’s neighbors. China needs to see that stability and mutual security in the region and globally is in its own long-term interest.
While we should assure the other countries in the region that the U.S. will not stand down in defense of their vital legitimate interests, we need to remind them that that does not mean they can play, at our expense, their own game of maximum benefit against China at no cost.
Here is where real “preventive diplomacy,” led by our diplomats should be given priority. George Kennan, my former professor, regretted deeply that his famous “containment” article was misread as an excuse of crude military action rather than diplomatic engagement and use of what we call today “smart power.” He believed that long term active engagement and diplomatic “containment” would outlast the Soviet Union. And so it did.
The other requirement is to get China to see its interests in being a “responsible power” to solve global problems like climate change and proliferation of nuclear weapons and peace in the Korean peninsula. There are signs that some in the leadership are thinking along these lines. But if the conservative “nationalists” gain power, as might be the case here in the U.S., all hell will break loose and none will gain and all will lose.
We are tied to China and China is tied to us by trade and finance (and the desire to avoid a disastrous war), thus rational heads would desist from confrontation and play the game of shared benefits.
By Harry C. Blaney III.