As the U.S.-China rivalry intensifies and tensions grow, references have increasingly been drawn between it and the other great geostrategic contest of the post-war era—the Cold War. While it might still be premature to speak of the current U.S.-Chinese rivalry and the half-century spanning Cold War in the same breath, it is not hard to see why the present situation is so evocative of its epoch-defining predecessor.
Since Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening-Up policies, China has modernised to a startling extent. However, this growth has been uneven and has caused severe inequality across the country. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is often seen as promoting China’s influence across the world, but this is not its only purpose. This article looks at how the Belt and Road Initiative is being used as one measure to transform some of the poorest regions of China, and how despite this, China is failing to address some of the issues in its most volatile areas.
China seeks nothing less than to displace the United States as the preeminent power in the Pacific, if not the world. It intends to make a new order that expands the reach of its state-driven economic model. To achieve this vision, China's leaders have characterized the first two decades of the 21st century as a "period of strategic opportunity," during which Xi Jinping's “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation can be realized.
The notion of a new era has become pervasive and nearly inescapable in both American and Chinese discourse, and the phrasing may, at first, appear entirely appropriate. After decades in which U.S. policy has been more oriented towards engagement, U.S. strategy today clearly and explicitly recognizes China as a competitor, seemingly undertaking a historic reorientation in ways that can be seen as reflecting a major discontinuity with the past. However, the typical turning to this phrasing of a new era to characterize recent trends in U.S.-China relations, while perhaps rhetorically appropriate, can obscure what is not new, emphasizing novelty at the expense of recognizing the history and relative consistency in certain aspects of U.S.-China relations.
The premise of Michael Pillsbury’s controversial book is alarming yet straightforward. Western strategic thinkers have been the victims of a massive deception campaign perpetrated by a group of Chinese hardliners who have convinced the West that China’s intentions are benign, but who are, in fact, driven by one overriding goal, to overthrow the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower. If this conjures up images of a thriller from the pen of Dan Brown, it may be the intent of the author.
Idealism has clearly failed to grant the United States a stronger standing in the world as it failed to accurately assess the scope and consequences of interventionism, and the strategic intent of rising powers. Great power competition and the international system’s inevitable transition to a multi-polar order calls on us to embrace the challenge with clarity. This challenge should motivate an honest reassessment of U.S. foreign policy tools and processes. Adjusting to facts and reevaluating means and methods is a sign of strength and resilience of this nation.
As an exporter of professional military education, the U.S. has institutionalized western classics and ideas across the profession of arms around the globe. However, not all of the foundational classics of other civilizations have made their way to the required reading list. A common understanding of a challenge requires an understanding of our own fundamental points of reference for doctrine and strategy and an understanding of others.
An appropriate grand strategy, one that has a regional focus on deterrence, trade, and values will go a long way towards the peaceful management of the balance of power in the Pacific. Green’s work is timely, and decision makers, practitioners, or students of grand strategy and statecraft would do well to add it to their reading list.
The continuum of applied U.S. strategies towards North Korea has failed and will never achieve the desired strategic objectives, as they are currently envisioned. This is because U.S. policymakers remain focused on denuclearization and non-proliferation vice regional stability as the strategic goal. In the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) President Obama outlined his vision for leveraging “strategic patience” as a means to force the Kim regime to the negotiating table. In his view, this strategy focused on a “commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” However, because the U.S. continues to fundamentally miscalculate the underlying cultural influences guiding North Korean decision-makers and because China and Russia have failed to consistently enforce economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council (UNSC), strategic patience as envisioned by President Obama failed to produce the desired results. Continuing to march towards the same end-state, albeit more aggressively than before, President Trump released his 2017 NSS that asserts the U.S. “will work with allies and partners to achieve complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and preserve the non-proliferation regime in Northeast Asia.” Unfortunately, pursuing a denuclearized North Korea and convincing North Korea to agree to non-proliferation are fruitless endeavors. To understand precisely why these strategies have failed and will continue to fail, it is important to understand the cultural ideologies that influence North Korean national objectives and domestic policy actions.
It remains to be seen whether or not the current administration’s approach to China will bring further progress in terms of limiting cyber attacks. Ultimately, extending the terms of the 2015 agreement to explicitly ban attacks, to encourage co-operation in hardening financial institutions against them, and perhaps even mandate bi-lateral responses should they occur, would be in the mutual interest of both the U.S. and China.
In many ways the Peloponnesian War was a maritime struggle—the Athenians built their empire through their navy, the culminating point of the war was the failed Syracuse expedition where Athens lost 200 ships, and the war finally ended when Athens surrendered a decade later after the remainder of its fleet was destroyed by Sparta at Aegospotami. In The History of the Peloponnesian War, Athenian exile Thucydides details how his native city-state’s empire and power expanded throughout the Hellenic World, often at the relative expense of status quo power Sparta.
China has risen. It is now a great power well on its way to becoming a superpower. China’s ambitions and quest for greater resources and expanding diplomatic, economic, and military capabilities will result in Beijing’s growing voice in all facets of international politics. While there are debates about how powerful China will become, and how soon, there is no ambiguity that it is expanding its power and influence. Despite its many other obligations, the major task for the Trump administration will be to respond effectively to China’s challenge to U.S. power.
The good news about China’s anti-access/area denial actions in the South China Sea and beyond may be that in apparently selecting a hybrid strategy, China has chosen to operate in the Phase 0/Gray Zone/Shaping area, thus avoiding activity that generates an overt military response. That said, the strategy involves brinksmanship, so proper use of information operations is critical to communicate intentions and avoid miscommunications leading to miscalculations and overt military conflict. Information operations can also cloud Chinese calculations to make preemptive strikes less appealing and more fraught with risk.
Our analysis is built on a foundation of sand. We offer bold proclamations and precise policy proposals designed to cajole, convince, or coerce a hostile nuclear power whose decision making process is utterly opaque to us. We theorize much, and assume more, but we still do not know why the Chinese do what they do. Most critically, we do not know how to find the knowledge we lack. This is an intellectual challenge we have not begun to meet. Understanding Zhongnanhai is a wonderful methodological puzzle—but a puzzle with nuclear stakes. Until we solve this puzzle, I doubt any number of policy prescriptions will be enough to ensure peace in the West Pacific.
In ancient philosophy, humane authority was balanced against the concept of hegemony, in which men simply sought to accrue power for the sake of it. The key argument is that through stability, well thought out support, and a solid moral base, a government can wisely guide its people. Mr. Yan makes an exceedingly well-researched argument that the philosophies of these Chinese scholars should be incorporated into the present pantheon of Western-based theories which continue to dominate international relations theory.
It would be better if American leaders adopted toward both China and India the same perspective the 19th-century British held toward the upstart Americans. Be patient when China and India act impetuously, as most newly rising powers do. Be clear about where the lines are and enforce them consistently. And finally, practice cooperating wherever we can.
Looking over the horizon, China’s emergence as a potentially formidable countervailing force to U.S. power and American values cannot be underestimated. Beijing’s ability to limit Washington’s options or undercut its leverage in advancing U.S. national interests would indicate China’s arrival as a consequential agenda-setter able to co-opt power with other countries or international entities at the expense of U.S. influence and global leadership.