A commentary by Yu Zhixiao on the state-run Xinhuanet.com gives some insight into China’s reaction to the newly assertive US posture in the Pacific.As regular readers of this blog know, last fall saw the US roll out one move after another in a grand Pacific strategy aimed at deterring China from seeking regional hegemony. The question has been what will China do in response?Yu’s commentary suggests that China will make bitter, sarcastic remarks but otherwise do little. This is Yu’s assessment of President Obama’s defense spending plans and Pacific strategy:
With the strategy sure to considerably reshape the U.S. defense structure, the United States is welcome to make more contribution to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, but its possible militarism will cause a lot of ill will and meet with strong opposition in the world’s most dynamic region.
Yu suggests that China can live with and to a certain extent welcome America’s regional role:
Legitimate interests of the United States, the world’s biggest power, in the Asia-Pacific region are generally respected by other countries.The U.S. role, if fulfilled with a positive attitude and free from a Cold War-style zero-sum mentality, will not only be conducive to regional stability and prosperity, but be good for China, which needs a peaceful environment to continue its economic development.
Those paragraphs could almost be quotes from Via Meadia; they match up pretty closely with assessments made here about America’s role in the Pacific and why, with good management and steady nerves, we can make it work. While some aspects of American primacy will irritate some people in China, on the whole the world the US wants to build works better for China than anything the Chinese can reasonably hope to put in its place.Yu goes on, however, to take the still-obligatory swipes against Yankee militarism. As he continues,
However, while boosting its military presence in the Asia-Pacific, the United States should abstain from flexing its muscles, as this won’t help solve regional disputes.If the United States indiscreetly applies militarism in the region, it will be like a bull in a china shop, and endanger peace instead of enhancing regional stability[…]The United States should learn from its past painful experiences and play a constructive role in the Asia-Pacific instead of recklessly practising militarism. After all, might does not always make right.
Apparently, for now China is going along with program. That isn’t so very surprising. China’s economy has a case of the jitters; it lacks the military strength to challenge the US head on, and the neighbors are unhappy about China’s recent assertiveness over issues like the South China Sea.China’s hardliners may not like a mealy mouthed policy like this, but to the extent their views are informed by realistic assessments of the balance of power, they have little choice. They also believe that time is on their side; China will continue to grow faster than the US for some time to come, they reason, and the more China catches up, the more favorable its chances in a showdown with Washington.What this means is that Washington has a real chance to build a peaceful order in Asia that would enhance both our security and prosperity. If enough of China’s economic and political leaders see their interests better secured by integration into that system — as opposed to the costs and risks that would come with struggling against it — then the chances for peaceful development in the Pacific substantially improve.The US actually has no militaristic ambitions in Asia, nor do we want to drive China into a corner, humiliate it, or force a revolution down its throat. We see a convergence of economic and strategic interests between the US, China and the other Asian countries and we are hoping to put a win-win solution in place that works for everyone.US military strength is a necessary part of that search for a win-win solution. Just as the US military presence in Europe promoted Europe’s peaceful integration after World War Two, the US presence in Asia can promote Asian cooperation and peace.If putting up with the occasional Chinese lecture about our militaristic sins is part of the price we must pay, Via Meadia is down with that. To paraphrase Churchill, snark snark is a lot better than war war.