Following his recent visit to Asia, vice president Joe Biden argues in a New York Times op-ed that China’s rise as a global power need not come at America’s expense.
Some here and in the region see China’s growth as a threat, entertaining visions of a cold-war-style rivalry or great-power confrontation. Some Chinese worry that our aim in the Asia-Pacific is to contain China’s rise.
I reject these views. We are clear-eyed about concerns like China’s growing military abilities and intentions; that is why we are engaging with the Chinese military to understand and shape their thinking. It is why the president has directed the United States, with our allies, to keep a strong presence in the region. As I told China’s leaders and people, America is a Pacific power and will remain one.
But, I remain convinced that a successful China can make our country more prosperous, not less.
As trade and investment bind us together, we have a stake in each other’s success. On issues from global security to global economic growth, we share common challenges and responsibilities — and we have incentives to work together. That is why our administration has worked to put our relationship on a stable footing. I am convinced, from nearly a dozen hours spent with Vice President Xi Jinping, that China’s leadership agrees.
Two articles at Foreign Policy also advocate calm. Charles Kenny cites economist Arvind Subramanian’s new book on the future of Sino-American relations, ‘Eclipse’. While the book’s title may not seem instantly reassuring (in common with ‘Red Dawn’, the title of Kenny’s article), Subramanian argues that China’s economic dominance may be both more profound and less problematic than widely anticipated.
Subramanian’s analysis … suggests that we’re overestimating the problems that an economically ascendant China will impose on the rest of us. The country’s rise, he points out, has been intimately connected with globalization, including the expansion of trade under the World Trade Organization (WTO) umbrella as well as growing cross-border flows of finance and technology. In 1820, during the last period in which China was the world’s economic heavyweight — and a fiercely isolationist one — exports accounted for 1 percent of global GDP and considerably less than 1 percent of China’s economy. In 2008, the same statistics were 29 percent for the world and 35 percent for China. China is already a far more globally integrated economy than either Britain or the United States was in their respective heydays. In 1870, exports accounted for only 12 percent of Britain’s output. In 1975, they accounted for a mere 7 percent of the U.S. economy. The same percentages for imports were 7 percent for the United States in 1975 and 25 percent for China in 2008. And the fact that much of today’s trade is part of multicountry production processes for goods makes China even more bound to an open global economic system than the raw numbers would suggest ….
In short, China will be a different kind of global power because the nature of global power has changed dramatically over the past two centuries. Geographical domination is no longer necessary; today a considerable part of power does not even involve physical goods, let alone land, but rather is tied up in finance, technologies, and services. Just as the United States demonstrated in its eclipse of Britain that a sovereign empire wasn’t needed to dominate the world economy, China may not need even the military strength that the United States exercised for the last 50 years to remain preeminent. And China’s reliance on global trade and financial links, underpinned neither by force of arms nor sovereign control, means the newly dominant power has considerable self-interest in maintaining multilateralism.
The article praises China’s progress in patent filings and scientific education; for less optimistic views on these topics, see ‘China as an Innovation Center? Not So Fast‘ and ‘China Aims To Renew Status As Scientific Superpower‘, via CDT.
James Traub, meanwhile, warns against alarmist reactions to China’s rise in the security sphere, responding to a recent report by the Project 2049 Institute, “Asian Alliances in the 21st Century”. The aggressive measures it proposes, he argues, could prove fatally counterproductive:
The “Asian Alliances” report warns that “Asia’s future demands nothing less” than a new “shared strategic concept.” The web of Cold War alliances should give way to a military partnership among the United States, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, and others that would require a major increase in military spending and in military and intelligence cooperation. “[A]ny would-be aggressor” would be made to understand “that targeting one ally means invoking the ire of the rest.” It’s hard to believe that these states would agree to join such an explicitly anti-Chinese coalition. There’s also the danger that China would react by concluding that time was no longer on its side, thus turning the coalition into a devastatingly self-fulfilling prophecy.
The costs for the United States would be greater still. The “Asian Alliances” report accuses the United States of courting “strategic insolvency” and proposes investments in vast amounts of new weaponry. In a congressional briefing, Blumenthal specified the hardware: “a next-generation bomber; large numbers of attack submarines (SSNs); a sizeable fifth-generation tactical aircraft fleet” and on and on and on ….
Americans are, understandably, much too obsessed with the economy right now to spare a thought for national security. But the debate is waiting in the wings. The threat of terrorist attack is very real, but diminishing. Al Qaeda is not the national nightmare it once was. Are Americans going to replace it with a new nightmare — or rather, a recycled one from the depths of the Cold War? I certainly hope not. China’s regional ambitions do need to be checked. But if America bankrupts itself in the process, we’ll win the battle and lose the war.
‘Should the US Cede Space to China?‘ on CDT noted another recent discussion of the prospects for “competitive coexistence” between China and the US, particularly at sea and in orbit.