An article in the current issue of the influential Foreign Affairs magazine argues that to avoid military competition between the US and a rising China, Washington should consider making concessions to Beijing, including the possibility of backing away from its commitment to Taiwan.
In the article, titled “Will China’s Rise Lead to War? Why Realism Does Not Mean Pessimism,” Charles Glaser, a professor of political science and international affairs and director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, argues that the rise of China will be “the most important international relations story of the twenty-first century.”
Glaser’s article makes the case for a “nuanced version of realism” that would avoid unnecessary competition — and perhaps armed conflict — between the US and China.
While the prospects of avoiding “intense military competition and war” between the US and China may be od, China’s rise will nevertheless require some changes in US policy, he argues. Such adjustments, he claims, should include backing away from security commitments to Taiwan.
“A crisis over Taiwan could fairly easily escalate to nuclear war,” Glaser writes, adding that regardless of the origin of conflict, the US would “find itself under pressure to protect Taiwan against any sort of attack.”
While such risks have been around for decades, improvements in China’s military capabilities could make Beijing more likely to escalate in a Taiwan crisis. Rather than risk sparking an arms race with China, Glaser calls for modifications in US policy, changes that he admits would be “disagreeable” — particularly regarding Taiwan.
By abandoning its commitments to Taiwan, the US would “remove the most obvious and contentious flash point between the United States and China and smooth the way for better relations ... in the decades to come,” he writes.
Pre-empting critics that such a move, rather than appease Beijing, would whet its appetite and undermine US credibility as a defender of its allies, Glaser said “the critics are wrong ... because territorial concessions are not always bound to fail.”
“Not all adversaries are Hitler, and when they are not, accommodation can be an effective policy tool,” he writes, adding that although Beijing has disagreements with several neighbors, there is little reason to believe that it has, or will develop, “grand territorial ambitions in the region or beyond.”
Concluding his section on Taiwan, Glaser argues that “concessions on Taiwan would thus risk encouraging China to pursue more demanding policies on those issues for which the status quo is currently disputed, including the status of the offshore islands and maritime borders in the East China and South China seas.”
Should the US adopt such a policy, Glaser writes, it should do so gradually and in a manner that builds upon what he perceives as improved relations between Taipei and Beijing. While ending its security commitments to Taiwan, the US should make sure it retains its legitimacy with regional allies by implementing “countervailing measures,” including reinforcing forward-deployment of troops and reaffirming alliance commitments.
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