How US can avoid war with China

By Alexander Young  / 

Sat, Mar 26, 2011 - Page 8

George Washington University professor Charles Glaser wrote in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs that, because a crisis over Taiwan can easily escalate to a war, the US should consider making concessions to China, backing away from its commitment to Taiwan. His views may be questioned on several bases:

The first involves a foreign policy theory question. According to Glaser’s nuanced realism, China’s rise needs not be dangerous, because the outcome of China’s rise will depend less on the pressures generated by the international system than how well US and Chinese leaders manage the situation.

Glaser minimizes the pressures of the international system, but the recent changes in Chinese foreign policy from former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) low-posture “hide brightness, cherish obscurity” dictum and Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) earlier “peaceful rise” line to a more assertive stance represent China’s response to a shift in the international system, namely, China’s rapid rise to a continental and sea power and the US’ relative decline. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ report to Congress last year agrees, citing Chinese leaders’ view that the initial decades of the 21st century are a “strategic window of opportunity,” for China’s rise to regional pre-eminence and global influence.

Second, Glaser’s grasp of China’s status and goals is questionable. Many specialists consider China an “anti-status quo,” not a “status quo,” state. -However, Glaser writes that “while the Soviet Union during the Cold War was a highly revisionist state bent on radically overturning the status quo ... there is no evidence suggesting that China has such ambitious goals.”

He shows little understanding of China’s self-confidence and rising nationalism, passionately bent on ridding the century-old history of shame of being turned into a semi-colony and intent on reviving the glory of imperial China’s hierarchical world order in which China ruled the tributary countries by military power, cultural attractions, and economic and diplomatic manipulations.

Glaser’s view that “the US should not rush to impute China’s conventional and nuclear buildups malign motives and should be sensitive to the possibility that they simply reflect China’s desire for security” is also naive.

Third, China may not oppose Glaser’s assertion that Taiwan is the US’ secondary interest, but will vehemently dispute him if he described Taiwan as China’s secondary interest. Despite Taiwan’s undetermined status, China has long claimed Taiwan as its core interest. As far back as 2002, a Naval Research Institute director stressed Taiwan’s strategic importance. Without Taiwan, he stated, enemies could blockade China inside the first island chain (Japan to Taiwan, Philippines, Borneo and back north to Thailand), attack China and prevent it from exiting to the Pacific Ocean.

Control of Taiwan would allow China to break the blockade, extend its defense line to the second island chain (from Japan’s northern territories, south to the Mariana Islands in Micronesia and New Guinea) and allow a -growing blue-water People’s Liberation Army Navy to project its power way out to the mid-Pacific.

Japanese and US experts agree Beijing’s control of Taiwan would turn seas stretching between the East China and South China seas into Beijing’s inland lake.

At China’s recent National People’s Congress meeting, military delegates called for a national maritime strategy to defend China’s territorial integrity and expand its maritime interests, with Taiwan as “the core interest” of China’s maritime security.

Fourth, concessions to China would cost the US dearly, signifying surrender not only of Taiwan but the US itself, sacrificing 23 million Taiwanese, who are for coexistence with China yet prefer establishing their own free and democratic country. It would result in Beijing’s contempt for Washington as well as the loss of the US’ idealistic foreign policy tradition. The US would lose its credibility and global standing and hasten Asian countries’ climb onto the Chinese bandwagon.

Fifth, there is a better way to avoid war with China. One is a realistic grasp of Beijing’s US policy and methods. Officially, China seeks good relations with the US, but it can hardly hide its growing -ambition.

War, however, will not be Beijing’s method. China will resort to using its expanding comprehensive national power. As Major General Luo Yuan (羅援) stated recently: “China’s retaliation against US arms sale to Taiwan should not be restricted to military matters, but should cover politics, military affairs, diplomacy and economics.”

Twenty-first century China is practicing Sun Tzu’s (孫子) Art of War of 2,500 years ago, namely: “To win 100 victories in 100 battles is not the acme of skill,” but “to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill,” ie, using deception, dividing the enemy, encircling and attacking when overwhelmingly superior but evading when weak, taking the enemy’s country whole and intact instead of destruction.

The second method is maintaining peace with China through the balance of power by hard and soft US power, as “China’s long-term comprehensive transformation of its military forces is improving its capacity for force projection and anti-access and area denial,” according to Gates’ report. The US should strengthen its military capability and alliances, and demonstrate its will and ability to maintain peace and security in the Asia-Pacific.

The US must revive its manufacturing industry, increase employment, cut its unsustainable national debt (over US$14 trillion as of last month), trim the enormous debt to mercantilist China (US$1.16 trillion at the end of last year, according to the US Department of Treasury, but about US$2 trillion by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s estimate), which endangers the US economy and increases Beijing’s ability to dictate US policy.

The US should expand its soft power by strengthening its idealistic foreign policy tradition of what US President Barack Obama has called universal human values, namely, liberty, democracy, human rights and US credibility.

Alexander Young is a professor emeritus of international relations at the State University of New York.