Should Mitt Romney become president, he likely would use the same kind of nonconfrontational approach to China that occupants of the Oval Office have used for over four decades, says one foreign policy analyst.
Since the 1970s, U.S. presidents have sought to persuade Beijing to make economic and social reforms. In foreign policy circles, this is called trying to "integrate China into the international order," as Brookings Institution analyst Michael O'Hanlon put it Tuesday.
U.S. presidents from both political parties for decades have sought to "convince China it is best served playing ball with us the way the rest of the world does," O'Hanlon said during a forum in Washington. O'Hanlon, also a Johns Hopkins University professor, said he sees no evidence that Romney would alter that course.
Yet, Romney has been tough on Beijing on the campaign trail, claiming he would, as president, formally call China a currency manipulator. Romney also has said Beijing uses the lure of cheap labor to rob Americans of jobs.
But, as Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, noted last week, the U.S.-Chinese relationship "is much more complicated and much more sophisticated" than even was the U.S.-Soviet relationship during the Cold War.
One main reason is China holds much more U.S. debt than any other nation or global institution. Some foreign policy officials and experts believe this alone will keep U.S.-Sino relations stable because if Beijing picked a fight with Washington, not only would it cripple the United States's ankles but it would do permanent damage to its own knees.
Still, O'Hanlon and other former national security officials and experts cautioned during a forum at the American Enterprise Institute that the U.S. should prepare for a more aggressive Beijing, which for years has been rapidly building its military force.
O'Hanlon said a major military buildup is exactly what should be expected of a rising global power. But he cautioned Washington against becoming complacent.
Dan Blumenthal, an AEI analyst, warns that as the U.S. Navy's fleet shrinks, China is building warships. "In terms of classes and amounts of ships being built [by China] today far outnumber what [the U.S.] is doing," Blumenthal said.
China's military buildup is aimed at keeping U.S. naval forces "far away," while being able to "strike very hard at Taiwan," its island neighbor that it still claims and the U.S. is treaty-bound to defend.
The Obama administration is in the midst of shifting U.S. foreign and military policy toward Asia after a decade of intense focus on the Middle East. The White House has decided to place Marines in Australia and two shore-hugging ships in Singapore, and has announced sales of small amounts of things like helicopters to some Asian allies as part of that shift.
But Blumenthal warns "those things come up short."
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.