China and America

ImageCOUNCILLOR COMMENT: There were two articles on this subject in the September/October issue of the prestigious American journal “Foreign Affairs”, published by the US Council on Foreign Relations.  I found their cumulative effect dismaying.

The first article, “How China Sees America”, by Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, showed considerable empathy in describing how American actions and utterances have led Chinese strategic thinkers to conclude that the United States “intends to remain the global hegemon and prevent China from growing strong enough to challenge it (p.36)”.  Yet their first prescription for maintaining U.S. “uncontroversial” interests in relation to China is for the U.S. to “maintain its military predominance in the western Pacific, including the East China and South China seas (p.47)”.  It is very hard to see how negative Chinese views of America’s attitude towards it can or should change when the United States’ first priority is to maintain military predominance off China’s coast.  Imagine what American views would be if the situation was reversed!

The second article, “Bucking Beijing”, by Aaron L. Friedberg, is even worse. It talks (p.54) of the need for the United States to “develop options for conducting extensive conventional counter-strikes” (the “air-sea battle”) as China “improves its ability to attack targets off its (own) eastern coast”.  But, Friedberg says, these conventional means might not be fully effective, so “plausible options for escalation” are needed.  He doesn’t favour nuclear escalation, since China has its own nuclear arsenal.  A better course, he says, would be for the United States to enhance its ability to cut China’s sea lines of communication, stopping its exports and preventing energy imports.

At a recent meeting of AIIA NSW we heard a well-connected visiting Professor from Hong Kong,Professor Victor Fung Shuen Sit, say that the Chinese leadership has two abiding concerns – energy security and the prospect of a military blockade by the United States.  Friedberg’s prescription economically confirms both fears.

It is a commonplace that Australians are concerned about the consequences, for Australia and more widely, of a clash in the Asia-Pacific between the United States, our alliance partner, and China, with which we have such an important economic relationship.  There has been and is a great deal of debate about it.  In this context it is depressing to see how these eminent American scholars see military means as the key to success in coping with the rise of China.  Whatever else China does it will not threaten the United States militarily for decades, if ever.  That may of course be a reason for choosing the military card.  But it’s a poor way to respond to the many challenges which a rising China will pose to the United States over the coming decades and, of course, it simply validates the Chinese concerns about American policies and attitudes so clearly described in the first of the two articles in question.

Geoff Miller is a Councillor at the AIIA (NSW).

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