Debate Club

A New Approach Is Needed to Counter China's Power

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The People's Republic of China is not America's adversary, but it certainly is not our friend. Both countries are engaged in a peacetime strategic competition in East Asia, more poetically called "a contest for supremacy."

Far too many in America's business, academic and political communities insist on an engagement-centered approach to Beijing, and often reflexively reject any measure that could antagonize it. However, the truth is that China has not genuinely moderated its rhetoric and actions after decades of persistent American effort to persuade its leadership to liberalize.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Chinese hacking.]

China is rapidly modernizing its military, having sustained two decades of annual increases to its defense budget. It is currently testing several models of its next generation fighter aircraft, will build and deploy at least two aircraft carriers in the next decade and may have a force of as many as 85 submarines, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In recent months, Beijing has also engaged in a series of high-profile territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, and across its border with India. Furthermore, it continues to steal information from the U.S. military and business sectors, whether by hacking computer networks or industrial espionage.

It is clear that a new approach is needed. One of the commendable efforts of the Obama administration has been its "rebalance" of U.S. military and diplomatic resources to the Asia-Pacific. However, years of deep reductions in the defense budget – including the ongoing sequestration cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 – have called into question America's ability to adequately resource its objectives.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress Interfere with China's Currency Policies?]

In response, a group of East Asian security experts have released a report that details how the administration can realize the so-called Asia Rebalance's rhetoric and goals. Among their recommendations, they argue that the United States should promote regional economic integration and liberalization and strengthen its alliances and security partnerships, while at the same time hedging and reinforcing its military posture in the region. This balanced approach is aimed at simultaneously bolstering the capabilities of its allied and partner states and restoring their confidence in the capability and longevity of U.S. power in the face of China's uncertain and growing potential threat.

Far too often, China's and America's worldviews are largely opposed. Indeed, there is little reason to hope that the People's Republic will cooperate anytime soon with America on any broad bilateral agenda. But by taking more proactive measures now to better influence and shape the Asia-Pacific region's evolution, the United States can encourage China to tamper its bellicose posture and ensure that its rise will be truly "peaceful," as its leaders proclaim.

About Evan Moore Senior Policy Analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative

foreign policy

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