US STRATEGY TOWARDS CHINA (The Financial Daily (Pakistan))

PART III

PACIFY THE PERIPHERY

The external advantages arising from China’s high growth rates thus far have strengthened its capacity to achieve the third operational aim deriving from its quest for comprehensive national power: the pacification of its extended geographic periphery. With the success of economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, Beijing finally reacquired the means to pursue as an element of its grand strategy a systematic pacification of its extended peripheries and entrench Chinese dominance in the IndoPacific for decades to come. The circumstances surrounding this renewed effort at pacification, however, were dramatically different from those of previous imperial eras.

For one thing, China was now surrounded by major power competitors, such as Russia, Japan, and India. Furthermore, even the smaller states previously deferential to China at some point in the past, such as South Korea and Vietnam, were now successful, self-regarding entities that, despite their weaknesses, demonstrated no interest in being subservient to China. And, finally, the desire to sanitize the periphery to benefit Chinese supremacy in Asia now ran up against the ubiquitous presence of the United States, its forwardbased and forward-operating military forces, and its formidable alliance system in Asia.

Facing this new environment, Beijing has advanced a variety of policies aimed toward pacifying its periphery. First, it has used its deep economic ties with its Asian neighbors to reduce regional anxieties about the rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) while creating mechanisms for Beijing to increase its influence with these regional neighbors.25 Second, it has sought to make common cause with some states, such as Russia, which, despite their own suspicions of Beijing, have reasons-the Ukraine crisis and Western economic sanctions in the case of Moscow-to resist joining the larger balancing against China now under way in Asia.

Third, Beijing has embarked on a concerted modernization of the PLA with the intention to amass military power capable of both defeating local adversaries and deterring the United States from coming to their defense in a crisis.27 Fourth, it has now renewed older efforts to delegitimize the U.S. alliance system in Asia, acting on its recognition that Washington remains the critical obstacle in Beijing’s quest for a neutralized periphery. Accordingly, China has actively promoted a new security concept that rejects U.S. alliances as anachronisms; demands that Asian security be managed by Asians alone; and privileges China as the regional security provider of choice in a situation where, as Xi Jinping recently put it, development is the greatest form of security.

The desire to pacify the periphery thus signifies a modern adaption of the traditional aim to entrench China’s centrality in Asia. If Beijing can successfully achieve these aims alongside a backdrop of continued internal stability, sustained economic growth, and expanding military capabilities, China’s ambition to dominate Asia would over time recreate a bipolar system internationally. This achievement, in turn, would further reinforce the CCP’s central domestic objective: delivering material benefits to the Chinese population while further increasing the country’s security and standing, thereby assuring its continued grip on power.

Cement international Status

The CCP’s desire to preserve domestic control is enhanced by the final element of the strategic goal of maximizing comprehensive national power: enhancing China’s status as a central actor in the international system. Even before the Communist Revolution in 1949, China’s prospects for becoming a major power were assured, as it was given a permanent, veto-wielding seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC). After President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger engineered the American rapprochement with Mao’s China in 1971, China’s role among the global elite-those few countries charged with managing the international order-was seamlessly transferred to the Communist regime in Beijing.

Although such symbolic primacy seemed hollow when China underperformed economically, it was still critical in strategic terms insofar as it ensured that no fundamental decisions involving the UNSC could be made without China’s consent. Now that China has become a consequential economic power, its membership in the Security Council has only taken on additional significance-a fact highlighted by Beijing’s determination to avoid any expansion of this body that could dilute its own longstanding privileges. Even beyond the Security Council, however, China’s growing material capabilities have ensured that it becomes fundamentally relevant to all institutions of global order. Unsurprisingly, it has sought increasing power in these bodies-for example, in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank- to orient their operations toward serving its own purposes.

Whether in the functional institutions or in regional ones, China has indeed gone global, seekng and taking an active role to ensure that the rules made in these bodies not only do not undermine its interests,but also actively advance them.29 In so doing, China’s behaviors are similar to those of other previous rising powers in international politics. China’s widespread participation in international institutions today, nonetheless, has produced a mixed record. In some cases, China’s activism has been beneficial for global order, but in many other instances Beijing has displayed an unwillingness to bear the commensurate costs of contributing toward global governance.

Despite possessing the world’s second-largest economy and military budget, China has generally adopted a strategy of burden shifting, insisting that the United States and others bear the costs of providing global public goods even as China, citing its challenges as a developing country, uses them to maximize its own national power. When international institutions are not perceived as advancing Chinese interests, the Chinese government has attempted to create or strengthen alternatives, especially ones that exclude the United States.

For example, China has sought to integrate both its Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) partners and its regional neighbors into economic ventures that rival those of the liberal international system, including the New Development Bank (widely perceived as an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF); the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-initiated free trade agreement (FTA) that China has ardently championed; an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (a rival to the Asian Development Bank); and an Asia-Pacific FTA (that would knit China closer to its neighbors in Asia).

In other regions of the world, Beijing has initiated the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum, and a variety of similar bodies that privilege China’s position and undermine standards of governance set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, and other international institutions. The character of Beijing’s international involvement, therefore, suggests that its commitment to the current order is considerably instrumental. China is content to operate within that order to the degree that it receives material or status benefits, but it has no fundamental commitment to protecting that system beyond the gains incurred.

At one level, this should not be surprising because, as Kissinger astutely noted, China is still adjusting [itself] to membership in an international system designed in its absence on the basis of programs it did not participate in developing.30 But, when all is considered, this ambivalence ultimately undermines American national interests and, most important, the premise on which the current U.S. strategy of integration is based: that China’s entry into the liberal order will result over time in securing its support for that regime, to include the avoidance of threats levied against its principal guardian, the United States. Because these twin expectations have not materialized, China’s rise as a new great power promises to be a troubling prospect for the United States for many years to come.

China’s economic growth derives considerably from its participation in the multilateral trading system and the larger liberal international order more generally, but its resulting military expansion has placed Beijing’s economic strategy at odds with its political objective of threatening the guarantor of global interdependence, the United States. At the moment, China displays no urgency in addressing this conundrum, aware that its trading partners hesitate to pressure Beijing because of the potential for economic losses that might ensue. Given this calculation, Chinese leaders conclude that their country can continue to benefit from international trade without having to make any fundamental compromises in their existing disputes with other Asian states or their efforts to weaken U.S. power projection in Asia.

So long as the United States does not alter the intense global codependency that currently defines U.S.-China economic relations, China is content to maintain the current arrangement.32 China still seeks to cooperate with the United States whenever possible, but only when such collaboration is not unduly burdensome in the face of common interests, does not undercut its geopolitical ambitions to undermine U.S. primacy, and does not foreclose future options that might one day prove advantageous to China. Because China recognizes that its quest for comprehensive national power is still incomplete, it seeks to avoid any confrontation with the United States or the international system in the near term.

Rather, Beijing aims to deepen ties with all its global partners-and especially with Washington-in the hope that its accelerated rise and centrality to international trade and politics will compel others to become increasingly deferential to China’s preferences. Should such obeisance not emerge once China has successfully risen, Beijing would then be properly equipped to protect its equities by force and at a lower cost than it could today, given that it is still relatively weak and remains reliant on the benefits of trade and global interdependence. The fundamental conclusion for the United States, therefore, is that China does not see its interests served by becoming just another trading state, no matter how constructive an outcome that might be for resolving the larger tensions between its economic and geopolitical strategies.

Instead, China will continue along the path to becoming a conventional great power with the full panoply of political and military capabilities, all oriented toward realizing the goal of recovering from the United States the primacy it once enjoyed in Asia as a prelude to exerting global influence in the future.

U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China and U.S. Vital National Interests

The principal task that confronts U.S. grand strategy today, therefore, is adapting to the fundamental challenge posed by China’s continuing rise. Integration, the prevailing U.S. approach toward China and the one followed assiduously since the 1970s, has undoubtedly contributed to China’s rise as a future rival to American power. None of the alternatives usually discussed in the debates in Washington and elsewhere about how to respond to China’s growing strength satisfy the objective of preserving American primacy for yet another long cycle in international politics.

These alternatives, which include embracing and participating with China, accommodating Beijing through some kind of a Group of Two (G2) arrangement, or containing China A  la the Soviet Union, all have severe limitations from the viewpoint of U.S. national interests and could in fact undermine the larger goal of strengthening Washington’s preeminence in the global system.

Accordingly, the United States should substantially modify its grand strategy toward China-one that at its core would replace the goal of concentrating on integrating Beijing into the international system with that of consciously balancing its rise-as a means of protecting simultaneously the security of the United States and its allies, the U.S. position at the apex of the global hierarchy, and the strength of the liberal international order, which is owed ultimately to the robustness of American relative power. There is no better basis for analyzing and formulating U.S. grand strategy toward China than connecting that strategy directly to U.S. vital national interests-conditions that are strictly necessary to safeguard and enhance Americans’ survival and well-being in a free and secure nation.

U.S. vital national interests are as follows:

* prevent, deter, and reduce the threat of conventional and unconventional attacks on the continental United States and its extended territorial possessions; U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China and U.S. Vital National Interests

* maintain a balance of power in Europe and Asia that promotes peace and stability through a continuing U.S. leadership role and U.S.alliances;

* prevent the use and slow the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, secure nuclear weapons and materials, and prevent proliferation of intermediate and longrange delivery systems for nuclear weapons; and

* promote the health of the international economy, energy markets, and the environment.

China’s Challenge to US Vital national interests

Although Washington seeks a cooperative relationship with Beijing regarding nonproliferation, energy security, and the international economy and environment, the primary U.S. preoccupation regarding these national interests should be a rising China’s systematic effort to undermine the second vital national interest mentioned-that is, to fundamentally alter the balance of power in Asia, diminish the vitality of the U.S.-Asian alliance system, and ultimately displace the United States as the Asian leader.

Success in attaining these objectives would open the door to China’s ability to undermine the first and third interests over time. As noted earlier, Beijing seeks to achieve these goals:

* replace the United States as the primary power in Asia;

* replace the United States as the primary power in Asia;

* undermine the confidence of Asian nations in U.S. credibility, reliability, and staying power;

* use China’s economic power to pull Asian nations closer to PRC geopolitical policy preferences;

* increase PRC military capability to strengthen deterrence against U.S. military intervention in the region;

* cast doubt on the U.S. economic model;

* avoid a major confrontation with the United States in the next decade.

President Xi signaled China’s aims to undermine the Asian balance of power at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia in early 2014 when he argued that Asia’s problems ultimately must be resolved by Asians and Asia’s security ultimately must be protected by Asians.

The capacity of the United States to deal successfully with this systematic geoeconomic, military, and diplomatic challenge by China to U.S. primacy in Asia will determine the shape of the international order for decades to come. (to be continued………..)