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Hands Off ADIZ Islands
Is It Time To Get Tough On China?

Over at the Daily Beast the erudite and incisive Les Gelb wonders if the US is being too soft on China. Beijing’s ADIZ announcement, he writes, was just its latest antagonistic action. Notably, on a recent visit to the country, Vice President Biden carefully avoided stepping on anyone’s toes. Some people take this to be an American acquiescence to China’s belligerence and, less visibly, another sign of declining American influence abroad. Check it out:

The new ADIZ is only the latest in a long line of lamentations about Chinese treatment of American interests. There’s the cyberwarfare against U.S. defense industries. There’s Chinese flagrant violation of intellectual property rights. There’s the near total resistance to opening up Chinese internal markets to fair competition and to letting outsiders own a majority share of businesses. There’s strong resistance to accepting the WTO trade rules on the grounds that though China is an economic juggernaut, it’s really a “developing country” and thus not subject to the same rules as America, Japan, Germany, et al. There’s the constant intimidation of American journalists and news organizations. Biden did note the latter publicly as a matter of American values. Did Beijing even notice?

So is it time to be more assertive in balancing China in East and Southeast Asia? What leverage does the US have over Beijing? In the Pacific, the US will have superior military forces for some time to come. But China is building a formidable navy and an astonishing rate. Submarines to counter US surface fleets, coast guard cutters to enforce territorial claims, long range missile defenses, new jets and battleships, drones—the list goes on.


Before we can become more assertive in Asia—which as Gelb and others (including us at the American Interest) write is necessary to ensure stability and prosperity for all countries in the region—we need to get our home act in order. “The American economy is limping along. Congress hasn’t passed a budget in six years. It regularly brings the nation to debt default. It won’t increase funds for physical and intellectual infrastructure, where America is clearly falling behind. If China or anyone else, for that matter, is going to pay attention to America’s wishes and demands, Congress will have to stop acting like a Banana Republic.”

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  • lukelea

    So he as been listening to me, right?

  • Bruce

    They were probably quaking in their boots when Biden called them out on not being nice to our reporters. When does this administration ever stand up to bullies? They don’t.

  • Thirdsyphon

    What WRM is failing to see here, regrettably, is that the U.S. has already dealt with the ADIZ, conclusively, without breaking a sweat. Flying those B-52s through the ADIZ without complying set the table for Japan and South Korea to do the same thing, which they promptly did; which in turn might have emboldened even Kim Jong-un to stop taking Beijing’s directives seriously.

    It’s hard to imagine how this episode could have possibly turned out any worse for China, or any better for us. . . which may be why Obama’s critics are insisting that the crisis is still going on, when all the evidence proves otherwise.

  • Fat_Man

    The biggest leverage the US has against China is that we owe them a couple of trillion dollars, and that we are their largest customer for exports. In a hot conflict, the US can declare Chinese holdings of US securities to be void, and would embargo trade with China. Further the China sea would become a war risk zone for international shipping. These actions would cripple the export oriented Chinese economy, and result in massive unemployment, and, most likely, strikes and social unrest. The effects on the US economy would be fairly small, although there would be a tremendous shortage of cheap plastic crap in the stores.

    We can be pretty sure that the Chinese government knows these things and will govern their behavior accordingly. However, we should not let them get away with stunts like the ADIZ. It is too easy to create an incident that leads to further trouble. Too bad that our leadership is gutless and unsophisticated.

  • qet

    I wonder to what extent China can do to the US what the US did to the USSR. I believe it is the case, though I would love to see Via Meadia review the matter, that the proximate cause of the demise of the USSR was its inability to keep pace with the buildup of the US military and defense establishment during the Reagan administration. The economy–the political economy–of the USSR simply could not support the spending and organization required when military power switched from being a matter of “How many divisions does the Pope have?” to a more complex institution centering on rapid technological change to make obsolete yesterday’s cutting edge weapons and platforms as quickly as possible. Now, perhaps, that era of rapid technology turnover has ceased, and the US political economy has lost the dynamism and (more importantly) the will necessary to sustain clear military superiority over China.

    • Andrew Allison

      I, for one, would love to read Prof. Mead’s take on your proposition. There’s an argument to be made that the USA has lost sight of, “to the victor go the spoils”.

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