I love the smell of grand strategy topics during the holidays! I’m not sure why, but I’ve scheduled some big-think foreign policy topics for late December in recent years. (Arab Spring 2014, our post-War on Terror foreign policy 2013, religion’s effect on U.S. foreign policy 2011). But surprisingly, we haven’t discussed China as a separate topic in since 2011.
That’s kind of a bad oversight. I mean, for at least 20 years everybody has been saying the 21st century will be an Asian Century. They argue that we are in the early years of a big shift in the center of gravity of the world’s economic, political, diplomatic, and maybe even military power. As Asian countries grow even richer and more powerful, the U.S. and the West’s ability to shape global events, agreements, and governing institutions to our main benefit may fade away even more quickly. Most analysts I read say these fears are exaggerated and they doubt that even mighty China will ever actually eclipse the United States.
Yet, China’s rise is a reality and it will have to be accommodated, balanced, or contained, depending on one’s point of view. The big grand strategy-level worry re China arises out of what every World History 101 student should know: The world has a bad track record of peacefully accommodating rising, aggressive new powers. (Think Germany and Japan in the 20th century, or Holland in the 1600s.) Emerging powers tend to want to disrupt or abolish the existing international political order, while status quo powers fight to keep what they have. Will China’s rise be easier or turn out better? How can we help that come to pass?
I will open our meeting on Monday with some analytical framing of the main strategic questions concerning China, as I understand them. Then we can discuss the following questions and other issues.
Discussion Questions –
- TODAY: How does China rate today as a world power and why? What issues do we have with China? What have we done so far to manage China’s arrival as a global power?
- What are U.S. strategic interests in Asia? What matters to us the most? Does China actually threaten vital American and/or global interests?
- TOMORROW: Will China’s power just keep growing indefinitely? What could prevent that?
- CHINA’S POV: What does China want in its international relations? Do they want the responsibility of global power or just its benefits?
- STRATEGIES: Should we accommodate China’s power, balance it, contain it, or what? How will “the system” have to be changed to accommodate China?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- China’s rise and history’s lessons:
- YES, China will be our adversary:
- It wants to be our enemy because its interests clash with ours. Recommended but long.
- So, we should stop assisting China’s rise and start counterbalancing it. Pithier.
- NO, China is not destined to be our adversary:
- BOTH, kind of: Our incoherent China policy. Recommended.
- Masochists Only: Long/scholarly articles:
- U.S. power will endure; don’t overreact to China.
- USA should pull back in Asia and let China be a regional power.
- No, we should push back and balance China’s new power.
Next Week: Conservatives’ “religious conscience” movement and the culture wars.