Friday, July 31, 2009

The China War in Washington

A new piece in Foreign Policy describes the split in Washington between "functionalists" and "strategists" over what US policy toward China should be...
The functionalists tend to be economists and those concerned with the U.S.-China economic relationship. The United States and China are so economically intertwined, the functionalists argue, that they ought to be strategic partners as well. Win-win cooperation -- not zero-sum competition -- is a very achievable goal. Barriers between the two countries are transactional, and any tensions are usually due to mere misunderstanding. Yes, there are profound disagreements, but fix the practical problems, and many obstacles toward a fruitful partnership will eventually melt away. In fact, they will have to melt away -- out of necessity on both sides. As Clinton and Geithner put it, quoting a Chinese proverb, "When you are in a common boat, you need to cross the river peacefully."

"Strategists," however, don't see quite such a rosy picture. For them, the U.S.-China relationship is one of strategic competition -- an irreversible rivalry already well under way. Sure, Washington and Beijing ought to improve their interactions and mutual understanding to minimize friction. But any such cooperation is tactical, nothing more. Underlying all bilateral interactions, the strategists believe, is a fundamental clash of interests and values that can be managed but never solved unless the values and interests of either Washington or Beijing change -- and that's highly unlikely.
The author argues that the G-2 mentality is dangerous, pointing out:
The implications go well beyond China's borders, strategists warn. As Beijing's power grows, it will be less inclined, not more, to uphold the current regional order in Asia. In a recent study of 100 recent articles by more than two dozen of China's top strategic thinkers, I found that four of every five articles spoke of circumventing, reducing, or superseding U.S. power and ideas in Asia. China views the liberal order as one designed to preserve American hegemony in the region. Even if Beijing has so far benefited enormously from rising up within the existing order, it might not be so friendly to it once it's risen far enough.

Washington's strategists cannot prevent China's rise, nor do they want to. But they do argue that the country's strategic ambitions must be constrained, especially in Asia. That will mean enmeshing China in the regional hierarchy that is underwritten by U.S. alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and increasingly, India. Acutely aware of this existing dynamic, China prefers to deal either with Washington or Asia -- never both.
One thing Lee does not mention is that many of the "functionalists" are involved with businesses engaged in the China trade. Interestingly, though he calls for a regional framework to enmesh China, he does not mention Taiwan. The US tilt toward India is welcome, but only about three decades overdue...

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2 comments:

Thomas said...

And thus we have the difference between the stated Asian foreign policy platforms of Obama and McCain. McCain recognized that the Chinese are only interested in playing ball by their rules AND his platform stated support for Taiwan as a country.

I would only add that the China war is far wider than this article suggests. The preference for China by media organizations, the difficulty of finding correct data about Taiwan, the battle between strategists and functionists, and the rosy China GDP statistics (7.9 percent is what you get when you pursue growth at all costs during a recession regardless of the future consequences) are all related.

What we are seeing right now is a worldwide propaganda battle, and, sadly, it looks like Beijing has the upper hand.

Southeast Asian countries have every right to be worried. This American administration is not shaping up to be the most steadfast in its foreign policy aims.

Was Clinton's "America is back" line for show? Why don't we ask Biden who, despite much bluster about a "reset button" by the same Secretary of State took the time last week to go on record as saying that Russia was weak and had no choice but to listen to America in the long run.

Is America back? The functionists leave me pessimistic.

Dixteel said...

Well...looking on the bright side, at least there is a "war" in Washington. It means the functionists cannot do whatever they want.