China must not underestimate the US and its allies, while reinforcing cooperation is the best option, a former US diplomat said at an international forum in Taipei yesterday.
Douglas Paal, former director of the Taipei Office of the American Institute in Taiwan, said China, unlike Japan, has its own military capability, a political system and values that set it apart and make its future less predictable.
“In my view, China has a worrisome premature sense that its moment of destiny has arrived,” he said. “It underestimates the US and fails to see that the underestimation may also be premature. And China has an unrealistic sense of what price distortions the world trading system will bear in order for China to meet its long-term development goals and maintain employment.”
China may also think now is the moment to seek to secure its interests, Paal said, but it lacks the strength to succeed through direct confrontation.
“And if it thinks the world will sit by and permit market share to be taken by a heavily subsidized China without resistance, it is likely to be surprised, sooner rather than later,” he said.
There is a need for a rare level of deft diplomacy, combined with effective and targeted deterrence to keep relations civil through the remainder of this year and next year, Paal said.
With elections in the US and Taiwan and selections in China over the following year, he said the potential for trade and regional frictions will increase dramatically.
“Constraining competition and reinforcing cooperation are the best option,” he said. “Containment of China or attempting to exclude the US will lead to failure.”
Paal made the remarks in his keynote speech at the two-day conference entitled “Rise of China and Alliance in East Asia: Implications for Diplomatic Truce.”
Victor Cha, director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University, said bilateralism emerged as the dominant security structure in postwar Asia because of the -“powerplay” rationale behind US alliance formation in the region.
While multilateralism is the preferred strategy if a smaller power hopes to influence a larger power, bilateralism is a more effective tool if a greater power wants to control a smaller one, he said.
“The logic of this powerplay strategy is particularly well evinced in the case of the US alliance with the Republic of China,” he said. “Control in the case of Taiwan was exercised through a highly conditional defense commitment to the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime, for while his fiery anti-communism was appealing to the [former US president Harry] Truman and [former US president Dwight] Eisenhower administrations, this Nationalist leader was a loose cannon and potentially very dangerous.”
Patricia Weitsman, a political science professor at Ohio University, meanwhile, called attention to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security organization with China.
She said the mechanism may not be able to counter the US and NATO, but it brings Russia and China together and provides a forum for them to discuss shared strategic interests in balancing or counterbalancing the US and NATO.