Aaron Friedberg – formerly of the Bush administration, now Asia-Pacific adviser for Romney – wants Americans to get their heads back into the Asian Great Game. From his WaPo interview:
I have been concerned for over a decade that the United States government, and the country as a whole, have not been sufficiently focused on the challenge to our interests and security posed by China’s increasing wealth and power. […]
Although they are careful not to say so, I believe that China’s present leaders seek eventually to displace the United States as the preponderant power in East Asia. […]
Via Meadia is a bit more optimistic about the prospects for a stable order in East Asia. The rise of India and other Asian countries makes it easier for an offshore balancing power like the US to promote stability without getting into a huge tussle with China. When China asserts itself in the region, it drives its neighbors together and towards the US, and if China commits to a full scale drive for military supremacy, the US doesn’t have to match it ship for ship. Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam and others are going to share US concerns.But there are no guarantees. Events could unfold differently, so Friedberg’s line of thought deserves consideration on both sides of the Pacific. Here are some more highlights:
Aside from being slow to recognize the potential implications for our security of China’s growing military power, I think American policymakers have tended to overestimate the extent to which Beijing’s interests and policies converge with our own on a variety of important issues…. China dangles the prospect of cooperation as a way of exerting influence over U.S. policy toward it, strengthening the hand of those in our system who argue that we need to be careful not to do anything that might offend or provoke Beijing. […]
In addition to public diplomacy, the U.S. government should continue to support the development of software that may make it easier for citizens of countries with repressive regimes to access the Internet without fear of surveillance. American companies that actively assist the Chinese government in violating the human rights of its citizens should be subject to public shaming and shareholder pressure if not legal sanctions. The efforts of nongovernmental organizations, universities and other private institutions to promote the emergence of a stronger civil society in China should also be encouraged.
The defense cuts already announced are substantial and those that could be coming could be twice as large. These reductions come at a moment when China’s twenty-year military buildup is beginning to bear some very dangerous fruit. China has been putting together the pieces of what Pentagon planners call an “anti-access” strategy, using large numbers of conventionally armed ballistic and cruise missiles, plus submarines and aircraft to target the relative handful of ports and airfields on which the U.S. military depends to sustain its presence in the Western Pacific, as well as the aircraft carriers that are a major instrument of American power projection.
The rise of a great power like China is always a fraught era in international politics. China, the Americans and China’s neighbors are all likely to miscalculate and make an already complicated situation even more difficult. China’s economic path is anything but smooth; that may slow the maturation of Chinese military power but make Chinese foreign policy more confrontational.I’ve been giving talks this week at universities across China and have another week plus to go. In addition I’m having encounters with experts and officials to get a better sense of how the Chinese see things today. When I get back to the US, I’ll share my impressions with readers here.For now, let me just say that I think Aaron Friedberg’s take is an important one which should not be ignored. Friedberg gives a very clear and convincing description of one of the scenarios for US-China relations in the next twenty years. It is not the only way things could break though, and American policy must aim at avoiding the kind of tough competition Friedberg sees coming. The way to do that is not through groveling and appeasement. Keep our heads clear, our powder dry, the lines of communication with China and its neighbors open; put our faith in the Lord and look for win-win approaches — but be ready to make other choices if choose we must.Meanwhile, we must set our own house in order. The health and dynamism of American society is the foundation of our economic success. Our economic success is the key to our power. Get that right and sooner or later the rest will work out. Fail at home, and nothing will go our way overseas.