Rising to a Summit – Australia’s Kevin Rudd and US-China Leaders

 

Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia has been on the “speechifying path” recently – I guess that’s what comes with others running the show.  He has been in North America and in the granddaddy of  foreign policy journals – Foreign Affairs – he has provided an interesting addition to the examination of US-China relations – “Beyond the Pivot: A New Road Map for US-Chinese Relations“.  But my suggestion is that rather than a road map his piece is more detour as he describes contemporary global summitry and how summitry today can be used to achieve both progress and stability in this most important of great power relations.

Now I must say I am a fan of Rudd – far more knowledgeable about, and interested in, international relations and international policy than most contemporary leaders. He has written a serious piece on US-China relations.  Shining a light on the new leaders and what this new leadership should examine probably would have been enough for me but in addition he has become a strong proponent for advancing the US-China relationship by a regular series of summits between the leaders – Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.  While I am never one to ‘pooh pooh’ summit advocacy, I think our former Australian leader has missed the contemporary structure of summitry and the effective means to influence contemporary regional and international stability.

So let’s drop back for a moment and examine global summitry.  Now at the global summitry project here at the Munk School of Global Affairs the working definition of global summitry is:

The   variety   of   actors – international   organizations, transgovernmental networks, states and select non-state entities – involved in the organization and execution of global politics and policy.   Global summitry is concerned with the architecture, the institutions and most critically the political and policy behavior and outcomes in global governance.

This is not your old style summitry.  It is not primarily about the “great man” theory of summit leadership – you know key leaders gazing intently across from each other determined to avoid conflict, or advance a new strategic direction – be they Chamberlain and Hitler or Kennedy and Khrushchev or a little closer to Rudd’s theme – Mao and Nixon .

I have pressed the case in this Rising BRICSAM blog and will again in the new ejournal Global Summitry we are about to launch at the Munk School of Global Affairs that to look at these leaders summits alone,  referring here particularly to the apex of such summitry today – the informal and now annual G20 Leaders Summit –  misses the better part of the structure of international governance.  Today a significant structure underpins and motivates summitry.  I call this view the ‘Iceberg Theory of Global Governance‘.   In the case of the G20 there are: the periodic meetings of the finance and central bank governors; the sherpa meetings – the personal representative of the leaders – where the agendas are put together, the meetings of the Working Groups – and there are more than a few, the meetings and reports from the traditional IFIs including, the IMF, World Bank, others, the transgovernmental regulatory organizations like the FSB, BCBS – you get the picture – a large largely unstructured structured institutional network that feeds the periodic meetings and moves the agenda forward to completion in many circumstances.

I think Rudd is rather too enamored with the old frame of global summitry.  Rudd urges that the United States choose the following course:

A third possibility would be to change gears in the relationship altogether by introducing a new framework for cooperation with China that recognizes the reality of the two countries’ strategic competition, defines key areas of shared interests to work and act on, and thereby begins to narrow the yawning trust gap between the two countries.  Executed properly, such a strategy would do no harm, run few risks, and deliver real results.  … A crucial element of such a policy would have to be the commitment to regular summitry.

As he points out there are many informal initiatives between the two great powers, “[b]ut none of these can have a major impact on the relationship, since in dealing with China, there is no substitute for direct leader-to-leader engagement.”  As a consequence Rudd urges:

The United States therefore has a profound interest in engaging  Xi personally, with a summit in each capital each year, together with other working group meetings of reasonable duration, held in conjunction with meetings of the G20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the East Asia Summit.

But the governments also need authoritative point people working on behalf of the national leaders, managing the agenda between summits and handling issues as the need arises.  In other words, the United States needs someone to play the role that Henry Kissinger did in the early 1970s, and so does China.

Now Rudd suggests that for an agenda the leaders need to then take one or more issues that are currently bogged down and “work together to bring them to successful conclusions” and he suggets tackling the stalled Doha Round issues, climate-change negotiations, nuclear nonproliferation or specific outstanding items on the G20 agenda.  Rudd concludes:

Progress on any of these fronts would demonstrate that with sufficient political will all around, the existing global order can be made to work to everyone’s advantage, including China’s.

Now Rudd doesn’t end there but has suggestions for the regional dimension including obviously the island disputes and a protocol to address incidents at sea; and on the bilateral matters Rudd urges that military-to-military contact be upgraded and the talks should be insulated from the ups and downs of the US-China relationship.

Now there is value in urging bilateral summits.  But let’s not turn these current global summit efforts into a G2 – there is much suspicion already around the high table of an implicit bilateral power consortium. An explicit effort of this sort could only undermine collective summitry efforts.  So let’s avoid China and the US dealing as a central agenda with the global agenda of the G20 or the EAS Summit.  And let’s build this new summit network off of let’s say the bilateral S&ED (Strategic and Economic Dialogue).  Here groups tackle bilaterally through a vast network of national officials and ministries the bilateral issues that raise tensions and conflict in US-China relations.

I have heard that President Obama, following the G20 Toronto Summit, complained that he was meeting all the same leaders from one summit to another.  I hope his officials pointed out that that was exactly the point.  So for both Obama and Xi, the G20 or APEC or EAS remains part of global governance structure that is needed for collective discussions and decision-making – leave the bilateral to the bilaterals.

And as for the military-to-military discussions I suspect it still a vain hope to expect these meetings to be insulated from the competitiveness and rivalry that remains an element of the great power relationship. However, I would think the building of a more structured and regularized network dedicated to the S&ED – its tasking and summit meetings – could in the long run insulate the military discussions from the displays of political displeasure.

There is clearly a case for global summitry for the US-China relationship it is just not the model Rudd suggests.

Image Credit:  www.heraldsun.com.au

The ‘China Dream’ or ‘A New Type of Great Power Relationship’

Experts are trying to puzzle through exactly what Chairman Xi Jinping has in store for US-China relations now that the power transfer has been completed in China and Xi has been named President. There appear to contending views from the US side on the future of the US-China relationship.  There is one school – attractive for the “China Threat” and grand strategy types – that focus on Xi’s reference to “The China Dream”.  For some others, myself included, less ‘exercised’ by the China Dream possibilities and intrigued – but aware of the empty content so far in Xi’s proposal – a reference to “a new type of major or great power relationship”.  It is worth exploring both to try and tease out Xi’s think, if we can.

The China Dream 中国 之梦 -zhong guo zhi meng

Many of the China Threat types have raised concern over Xi Jinping’s reference to the ‘China Dream’.  Though it is officially described as the ‘rejuvenation of the nation’, the focus for most is President Xi’s series of talks to the military on the ‘China Dream’.

This title, as has been described by a number of sources, also reflects a book that was written some 3 years ago by Colonel Liu Mingfu of the PLA and a professor at National Defense University.  As described by Jeremy Page, a Beijing reporter for the WSJ in a recent article entitled “For Xi, a ‘China Dream’ of Military Power”,  the book by Liu Mingfu predicted a “marathon contest for global domination”.  Though suppressed soon after the publication – it was viewed apparently, as likely to cause damage to US-China relations – a new edition was approved just shortly after President Xi gave the China Dream speech.  And in the run up to the final leadership transition Xi Jinping has made it a point to speak to various groups of the military.  Chairman Xi, for instance,  told a group of sailors late last year aboard a guided-missile destroyer that had patrolled in the hotly disputed South China Sea that “To achieve the great revival of the China nation, we must ensure there is a unison between a prosperous country and strong military.”

All this has led many in US diplomatic, strategic beltway and analyst circles to believe, according to Jeremy Page that:

… Mr. Xi is casting himself as a strong military leaders at home and embracing a more hawkish worldview long outlined by the generals who think the US is in decline and China will become the dominant military power in Asia by midcentury”.

So those attracted to this view and Xi’s efforts to woo the military see:

… Mr. Xi is setting the stage for a prolonged period of tension between China and neighbors, as well as for a potentially dangerous tussle for influence with a US that is intent on reasserting its role as the dominant Pacific power.

In setting out apparently on this more military and aggressive policy, Xi appears to be setting aside the doctrine expressed by Deng Xiaoping: 韬光养晦 (taoguang yanghui) – concealing one’s capabilities; biding one’s time; to have an achievement.  Many have identified the more assertive behavior of the former leadership since about 2010 – in the South China Sea and more recently in the East China Sea, as a product of greater national aspiration and great power determination.  According to Xinhua news, President Xi expressed the following to the Politburo

… but we will absolutely not abandon our legitimate rights and interests and absolutely  cannot sacrifice core national interests.

The closeness to the military and the reflections on a more aggressive approach has led President Xi to issue orders to focus on “real combat” and “fighting and winning wars.” It certainly appears an evident contrast to the previous leadership of Hu Jintao who seemed to keep a very low military profile. But President Xi may well have adopted various territorial and nationalist perspectives that were seen to be confined before to largely military hawks to secure strong military loyalty.  Why, is still unclear.  It may be to secure the loyalty of the military as Xi prepares, perhaps. for serious economic reform.  We really don’t know, though there is much speculation.  Time will tell.

But then on reflection while the policy shift may be now, military capabilities are quite another.   What China can bring to this “party” are not anywhere near what the US currently possesses and deploys in the Asia-Pacific.  And the China Dream at least as expressed by Liu Mingfu is decades away.  And the desire to build the military resources of the Chinese military – aircraft carriers and stealth fighter jets – are costly weapons systems that may yet prove to be yesterdays war tools.  As today’s platforms become increasingly vulnerable, serious military spending on today’s costly weapons systems may prove to be a serious and not very effective weapons path.  And I always look at the official weapons expenditures and double the amount. Why?  Well at least in the recent past China – state and party – have spent about as much on internal security as they have spent on the military.   This is not a Party operating from strength, but perhaps, fatal weakness.

In the final analysis the China Dream is founded on US decline.  Today the military gap between China and the US remains demonstrably large (for 2013 China is proposing – at least officially – a budget of $119 billion while the US budget calls for $553 billion) .  The key player in this relationship is surely the United States – as much as it is China.  While there are voices that seek the US to lower its profile in the international system or that the US can shift to some notion of offshore balancing to get others to do what is necessary, reduce defense costs and maintain US influence, the reality appears to be that the US is moving in the opposite direction in the Asia-Pacific.  And while the Defense Department will be required to participate in the ‘right-sizing’ of the US budget, including weapons procurement, US decline does not appear to be evident – or on the horizon.  There is however, one policy change that could alter the strategic equation and nudge US-China relations toward a “New Type of Great Power Relationship”.

新型大国 关系 – (Xin xing daguo guanxi) – new type of great power relationship

So alert to the potential turn in relations, yet not entranced by the China Dream perspectives, what then of a new type of great power relationship.  As I mentioned earlier there is nothing at the moment that fills this particular diplomatic and strategic vessel.  But in reflecting back on the conversations that a number of colleagues and I had in January in Beijing at the Harvard-Beida conference I came away with one overwhelming conclusion – China experts – possibly not officials  but maybe – believe that the Obama pivot is a policy targeting China and indeed a strategy all about China and US determination to contain China and remain the hegemon in the region and beyond.  Moreover the China experts suggest that the US pivot will give comfort to Vietnam, the Philippines and most especially Japan to advance more aggressive stances with China in the continuing “Island Disputes.”   Especially with the latter, US diplomacy can be effective in alerting allies quietly, especially Japan that the US has little appetite for crisis and no appetite for conflict, intended or not.  The same needs to be conveyed quietly to China.  Publicly the US needs to avoid some of the more pointed language that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly prone to express, though she claimed to be advancing a neutral stance.  This even-handedness is obviously most difficult with the Japanese, where security guarantees tilt US statements.  Overall the US needs to frame the Pivot in a wider frame of diplomatic and economic engagement – and away from a military focus.

So a tuning of US policy toward greater diplomatic and economic policy in the Asia-Pacific is the bedrock for a new type of great power relationship.  In addition while greater competitiveness is evident in the US-China relationship, there are possibilities of collaboration.  In a recent assessment of the US-China relationship at the China US Focus David Shambaugh, from George Washington University,  and long time observer of China and the US-China relationship acknowledges  the deep interdependence of the two in what he sees as a ” … predominantly competitive relationship with a major power with which it is simultaneously deeply interdependent.”  He characterizes the need for a new relationship as:

For all these reasons, President Xi Jinping and the new Chinese leadership is wise to put forward the desire for a “new type of major power relationship.”  It is definitely needed – because the “old type” of competitive and suspicious relations is now predominant in the bilateral relationship.  … While establishing such a “new type of major power relations” is a desirable aspiration, this observer believes that “managing competition” is the more feasible reality. To establish a relationship of “competitive coexistence”  is more realistic.

It would appear that David has bowed – at least a little – to a more contemporary framing of the US-China relationship – it is primarily competitive.  It leans in the direction of the characterizations expressed by the IR China scholar Yuan Xuetong, the Director of the Institute if International Studies at Tsinghua University, accepting the current enmity and rejecting superficial friendship, extending the meaning of the traditional Chinese perspective –  (非敌 非友)  (fei di fei you) – “neither friend nor foe”.

亦敌 亦友- (yi di, yi you) –  both friend and foe

The traditional expression it seems to me to leans too far in the direction of a competitive relationship.  The slight turn of the traditional phrase, above, which I have commented on in earlier blog posts appears to me to better situate the two – highly interdependent powers in a periodically competitive relationship.  So unlike earlier competitive power transitions, this relationship is defined as much by high economic interdependence and various potential global or near global collaborative leadership settings, e.g. APEC, EAS and the G20. This doesn’t suggest that the road map to a new type of great power relationship is self evident or inevitable but  it does set off this competitive relationship from the host of earlier power transitions – whether US-Soviet or Germany and Great Britain before World War I.

It leaves me to suggest that there are a number policy steps that the US – and for sure China can take – that  can help build a new type of great power relationship:

  1. As noted above the US needs to widen its “Pivot” and underscore that it is as much diplomatic and economic as it is political and security.  And I would think that the advice from Harvard’s Stephen Walt at the Harvard-Beida Conference, and then on  his return to the blogosphere, warrants policy exploration. He urged policy efforts of both positive and negative cooperation.  On the positive side the evident possibility is the DPRK and there has been some sanction cooperation between the two.  There needs to be more and that requires – I suspect President Xi – to press the PLA to bring greater reality to the DPRK military;
  2. President Xi also needs to take note of Harvard’s Joe Nye’s realistic strategic framing – only China can contain China – and that its “assertive behavior” has accomplished exactly that in the region;
  3. President Xi can take a giant leap – and I suspect this is more in the realm of wishful thinking – and put to the test the US position that the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) is not designed as an anti-China economic initiative, by signalling its interest in joining the talks  now that Japan appears to have signaled the same; and
  4. Then in the realm of perception and policy followup both the Chinese and US leadership and the cognoscenti circling the leadership need to avoid framing the relationship in “Cold War” terms.  It is all too comfortable for policy makers and the military to see the relationship in growing competitive even growing rivalrous terms.  Perceiving it may in fact hasten it.  Now that is really a bad idea!

Image Credit: topnews.in

 

 

 

 

 

 

Structural Complexity in the Global System

[Editors Note – Arthur was another expert that joined the Harvard-Beida Conference earlier in the month.]

The disjuncture between economic and military structure is not a new phenomenon.  The Cold War, certainly from the early 1960s on, consisted of military bipolarity and economic multipolarity (at a minimum, the end of the Bretton Woods order in the early 1970s signaled the end of US economic hegemony).

The post Cold War has seen military unipolarity and economic multipolarity.  In each case, economic multipolarity has meant that there have been powers capable of exerting substantial economic power but not militarily capable of global power projection.  In a sense, the current case of China is similar.  China is a global economic power, with an economic impact that extends to every continent, but militarily only a regional one.

The critical difference today is the alignment pattern.  In the past, the other centers of global economic influence were security allies of the US and dependent on the US for their military security.  Now, China is not part of a US security sphere, and the concern is that it will have in its economic orbit states that have security links to the US.  This raises a concern that did not exist in earlier periods, that of an economic power (China) that would use its economic leverage to achieve geo-strategic objectives antithetical to the US and its allies.  The result could then be economic appeasement on the part of US allies.

One place to look for this consequence is the current financial troubles of the government of Vietnam.  Will acceding to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea be the price of a Chinese bailout of Vietnam?

Looking at the ‘World’ With Two Lens

Final reflections on the Harvard-Beida conference on US-China relations (see previous blog posts for further information).  If I was a meteorologist, I would suggest that the weather forecast for US-China relations has gone from, partly sunny to partly cloudy.

A number of international relations experts examining the Asian architecture recently have described a growing polarity in the structure of pan Asian relations.  So, for instance Evan Feigenbaum now at the Paulson Institute (a former US official) and Robert Manning (also a former official) but now at the Atlantic Council described in “A Tale of Two Asias” in October in foreignpolicy.com that Asia today consisted first of a “Security Asia” described by the two as “a dysfunctional region of mistrustful powers, prone to nationalism and irredentism, escalating their territorial disputes over tiny rocks and shoals, and arming for conflict.”  And there was a second Asia, what the two authors called “Economic Asia”, a dynamic, integrated Asia with 53 percent of its trade now being conducted within the region itself, …”

The first pole, according to Feigenbaum and Manning  is dominated by the United States while the second has become increasingly dependent on China. For the two experts the dilemma posed by this structure is that Economic Asia is increasingly seen to be at risk by the rise of nationalism and the growing security competition in the region. As Feigenbaum and Manning have written recently in the East Asia Forum in a piece entitled, “The Problem with the Two Asias,” a response to a critical piece written by American University’s Amitav Acharya’s “Why Two Asias May be Better Than None” also posted at the East Asia Forum:

Our principal point is that Asia’s incredible economic dynamism and growing integration are at risk because of debilitating security competition and sharpening political disputes within the region, not just between the United States and China, but among Asia’s major economies as well. … Put simply, competing nationalisms and the scars of national memory remain potent forces in Asia.  And they risk undermining the economic gains that have done so much too promote integration, boost growth and foster opportunity.

At our own conference at Beida, our colleague John Ikenberry from Princeton sketched a similar two pole pan-Asian architecture.  Acknowledging a division in the structural construction between security and economics in Asia,  Ikenberry proposed that the longstanding partial US hegemonic order, as he called it, is giving way to:

In effect, as noted earlier, there increasingly are two quasi-hierarchies in East Asia.  There is an economic hierarchy led by China and a security hierarchy led by the United States. This circumstance creates constraints and dilemmas for the United States.

Now most suggest that the reassertion of classic balance of power dynamics in Asia would be detrimental to all and lead to growing friction and rivalry between the US and China and put pressure on the powers in Asia to choose one or the other.  Ikenberry puts well the unease that appears to pervade Washington circles today:

At the same time, the United States does see China today in the way it has seen potential regional hegemonic rivals in the past.  It is worried that China could amass sufficient wealth and military power to fundamentally alter East Asia. The ultimate danger is the growth of a Chinese rival that would endeavor to drive the United States out of the region and project illiberal ideas and policies outward into the world.

I think the “two poles” construction today still distorts the current Asian architecture.   Feigenbaum and Manning point to the fact that 53 percent of Asia’s trade is now conducted in an intra-regional basis identifying this datum, and others, as indicating that “Asian economies have become increasingly reliant on pan-Asian regional trade.”  But a quick comparison with other regions shows the strength of intra-Asia’s broad intra-regional trade but suggests that it is hardly excessive.  EU intra-regional trade as a percent of global export merchandise trade is 26 percent as opposed to Asia where the intra-regional trade is 16 percent.  Furthermore, any examination of global value chains would suggest that in fact long valuable chains stretch to Europe and North America.  And EU-Asia trade as a percentage of world trade comes in at 3.6 percent.  This rather too static look at intra-Asia trade  and the growing China trade presence in Asia, I believe does lead falsely to a conclusion that there is a security pole, headed by the US, matched by an economic pole dominated by China.

That being said there certainly does appear to be rising nationalist sentiment in Asia among the key players.  And there is no question that interdependence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for stability in the global environment – though I would suggest that “complex interdependence” – globalization, generates a quality different than say the interdependence in the period before World War I.

So what conclusions can one derive from our conversations at Beida and in the surrounding informed blogosphere debate? Here is a part of what I take away from the conversations and readings:

  1. China is ‘driving the bus’ in the region in many issues – especially on the island/islets dispute – and it is driving it in the wrong direction.  China repeatedly appeals to acting only in response – a reactive stance – in the South and the East China Seas island disputes.  But for many, “one man’s reactive is too frequently aggressive behavior to the other”.  The apparent manipulation of the Cambodia host at the most recent ASEAN gathering and the continuing unwillingness to contemplate seriously a binding Code of Conduct or to put the sovereignty disputes away for cooperation on resource development, are all unhelpful and raise the temperature over these disputes.  As Joe Nye so aptly described, “only China can contain China” so as China has become more assertive China, in fact, has begun to contain China in the region (see a more developed view by Nye following the conference posted at the NYT).  So China responding
    with more measured cooperation here would be a fabulous starting point for the new China leadership if it was determined to lower the temperature;
  2. China experts need to consider abandoning a view that every action by the US has only China in mind and that all US actions are designed to contain China.  The US, in fact, has been a primary supporter of Chinese leadership building its economic strength and achieving greater prosperity for all Chinese;
  3. Much attention was paid to the overreaching of the “Pivot” both in US actions but most especially in its rhetoric.  A number of US experts were critical of what they saw as the unnecessarily aggressive statements of US officials.  One expert urged that US and China focus on solutions that preserve face for both suggesting a start with much broader exchange and cultural programs.  Another arguing the reduction in assurances by the US to China urged that the US undertake efforts to build trust.  He has urged in the past that the US could give way on the close-in surveillance of the Mainland, made unnecessary by other surveillance means.
  4. The US, according to many at the Conference needs to work very hard to  avoid “balance of power” actions.  Instead, a look at Stephen Walt’s proposals seem designed in particular avoid balance of power actions.  Walt urges (see his blog post at foreignpolicy.com) positive and negative security cooperation including the involvement of the US and China.  On the positive side he points to possible cooperation on Iran, Korea or anti-terrorism.  It does strike me that Korea is a most apt choice, especially given the DPRK’s recent threats against the US.  On the negative forms of cooperation surely greater efforts to conclude a multilateral Code of Conduct led by the US and China and useful for both sets of island disputes could be extremely valuable.

There is likely more.  Let let me conclude here nevertheless.  The cloudy forecast is a result of the insidious impact of rising nationalism in China, Japan, Korea and elsewhere.  It is time for the new China leadership and the renewed US leadership to build trust and lower the nationalist temperature throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Image Credit: www.bbc.co.uk

The Diversity of Opinions in US-China Relations

Two days of opinion, argument and interpretation.  That’s what I’ve just enjoyed in the smog capital of China and possibly the world – though thankful the winds have picked up and we could at least enjoy the sun by the end of the conference.

This Beijing meeting was the latest in a series of encounters between former officials from the US and China and experts from the same.  These encounters have been organized by the Kennedy School, Ash and Belfer Centers at Harvard and SIS and the Institute for China-US People-to-People Exchange at Peking University.  By one participant’s calculation this was the 8th meeting of the two groups.

So what are the possible takeaways from this meeting – subtitled, “How Can Rising China and Adjusting US Manage Their Relations and Deal with Global Challenges?”  In comparison to the November 2011 meeting in Cambridge MA, the last meeting in the series, this meeting in Beijing reflected by the speakers’ remarks and follow up, a certain sense of enhanced competitiveness – a possibly larger distance – between Chinese and US speakers and their countries over immediate issues.  Most acknowledged competition between the two powers, some suspicion over intentions and a disappointment over the lack of trust between the two.  Speakers sought to identify, in their own ways, both the source of current problems and/or obstacles in the relationship and the means to reassure China and the US thereby build greater trust and restore stability.  What is required, as suggested by one expert, is an “active cooperation.”

The other noticeable feature in the discussions over the last several days was not only the apparent growing diversity of opinion between the groups of experts but a greater diversity of opinion within the groups.  While clashing US expert views over events, intentions and policy were hardly a revelation; the variety of voices and interpretations from our Chinese colleagues was rather more surprising – an unexpected note in the discussions.

So where were the differences most evident?  Well, unlike November 2011 two sets of events were front and center in our examination of the evolving US-China relationship and posed the most marked contrasting interpretations.  The first was the series of island dispute clashes over sovereignty in both the South China and East China Seas.  The second was the description, analysis, purpose and consequences over the US Administration’s “pivot” or “rebalancing” in the Asia-Pacific.  Both event discussions laid bare the contending views of the country actions.

First, the island disputes.  For these former officials and experts, it was evident that they understood the deep differences in the two island chain disputes.  But much attention was placed on the rising friction between and among disputants.

The island disputes moved China, as one expert acknowledged, from reassurance to resolve.  As a result it appears that China’s more assertive behavior has led to many of the disputant states to encourage increased US involvement.  As one expert suggested only China could contain China and as China has become more assertive it has accomplished just that.

There was also much animated discussion over the Administration’s “pivot”.   Some of the most pointed analysis came from US experts.  Much criticism was laid out of the Administration and its intention – the seemingly aggressive use of language by high US officials in the region, the failure to acknowledge the continuity in military policy and the reduction in US assurances to China.  Experts chided the US for interference in the open disputes in particular between the Philippines and China and Vietnam and China in the South China Sea and between Japan and China in the East China Sea.  For Chinese discussants there was a growing suspicion that US actions were designed to contain and constrain China and that US intermeddling, as they saw it, had raised hopes of US support for its Asian allies and had the effect of encouraging greater belligerence among these countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam and most especially Japan.  As one expert suggested while it may not have been US intent, the pivot has put in place policies that increased US presence in region.  Chinese experts were insistent that Chinese actions were only reactive.  Though China was always particularly resolute over sovereignty questions – having endured the many years of humiliation over the foreign interventions in China – its current behavior was neither aggressive nor offensive.

The China experts also raised somewhat puzzling perspectives on US policy in the Asia Pacific region.  Many China experts were critical of the Pivot for it’s almost exclusive attention to military and strategic actions in the Asia Pacific.  They repeatedly questioned the intentions of US policy makers – pointing over and over to designs to constrain China and deny China’s rise.  But then when US experts raised the diplomatic and economic initiatives – the US agreement to join the East Asia Summit, adhere to ASEAN’s TAC – the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, the effort to build consensus for new economic agreement in the Pacific – Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – these too raised suspicions among some China experts of a unilateral China targeting.  The TPP in particular raised suspicions of an effort to contain China through the proposed trade and regulatory arrangements with an evident effort to isolate China and to target its State-owned Enterprises. Even when it was pointed out that the TPP was in fact a creature originally of the preceding Bush Administration and not immediately connected to the Obama pivot it did not appear to allay concerns.  The incongruity remained on the table:  was the US pivot all about the strategic, or was there in fact a broad revitalization of US actions including strategic but addressing diplomatic and economic initiatives and not solely designed with China in mind.

So a sense of greater friction between the US and China pervaded the discussions.  A number of experts urged that US-China relations not slide toward traditional balance of power relations.  Such a slide could raise the real prospect of competition and growing rivalry in the Asia Pacific. Instead a number of experts suggested that the US and China work on serious issues together, even if these issues were outside the region, to help (re)build trust between these two vital powers. Looking for those issues of engagement is a central focus of a number of the experts following the meeting.

Image Credit:  csmonitor.com

Looking at the Big Question

Well I am looking forward with anticipation to a conference here in Beijing that begins this evening.  Now I didn’t exactly count on clean air in Beijing – but I didn’t expect the most unbelievable  dirty air I’ve ever seen.  It is hard to believe that China’s leaders – who live in this sprawling capital – wouldn’t pull out all the stops to work on pollution reduction here and in all the very polluted cities across the nation after this weekend of dirty dangerous air in the nation’s capital.

Anyway back to the conference.  This is a Harvard University (The Kennedy School and the Belfer and Ash Centers) and the Institute of China-US  People to People Exchange, Peking University. This is the latest in a series of encounters between experts from the US and from China – with one thrown in from Canada – me – concerned with the US-China relationship.  The subtitle of the conference tells it all: “How Can Rising China and Adjusting US Manage Their Relations and Deal with Global Challenges?”

In preparation some of my Harvard and Princeton colleagues prepared a series of memorandum on the relationship.  A particularly interesting piece was prepared by Charles Maier “Ambiguous Lessons from History”.   Charlie’s principal point is that while there is something he, and others call a “Thucydean Model” –  where a rising power raises fears in the hegemonic power.  The growth of the new power, in this model, makes war inevitable.  Charlie acknowledges the hegemonic war thesis but suggests that it is in fact the entangling alliances that leads to the prospect of war between these powers.  As Charlie argues:

They were locked into a logic of bipolar rivalry such that implicitly any change in the balance of power or the “corollary of forces” must have appeared a threat to both sides.

It is this structural feature – alliance loss or gain, rather than misperceptions that led to conflict – or as he says “they arose from the geometry of the overall situation.”

What this in turn suggests is a need for analysts to examine the properties of the international/regional context to determine the shift to a form of balance of power and away from the previous hegemony. This is an examination undertaken by, among others, our colleague John Ikenberry from Princeton who urges us in “Source of Order and Great Power Restraint in East Asia”  to look at: “What are the sources of great power restraint in a region that is increasingly less defined by America’s hegemonic presence?”    Now John raises the possibility of a turn to a balance of power, though he suggests that this is not what has yet occurred. It is instead a “partial balance of power order.”

But a look at the regional and global dynamics of East and Southeast Asia seem to me to suggest something very different.  Probably the best short examination is that proposed very recently in the EastAsiaForum by Don Emmerson an Asian specialist from Stanford University who heads the Southeast Asia Forum in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. Applying a lens that includes ASEAN and economic relationships puts a rather different spin on the evolution of relationships in the region.  In my remarks I will focus on the many FTAs including in particular the EU initiatives in Asia.  But more on that soon.

Credit Image:  Peking University

The Fear of the “Boogey Man” And Other Thoughts – China as a Great Power

I suppose it is partly due to US electoral season but the “China Threat School” has been rather busy in the last while.  Stephen Walt blogger  at foreignpolicy.com and professor of international relations at Harvard has noticed it as well.  In a recent blog post “Inflating the China Threat” he chronicles stories  from several mainstream media where the talk is all about China raising its nuclear deterrent capability.  As Walt argues:

The discussion is all pretty Strangelovian, of course, but nuclear strategists get paid to think about all sorts of elaborate and far-fetched scenarios.  In sum, those fiendish Chinese are doing precisely what any sensible power would do: they are trying to preserve their own second-strike deterrent by modernizing their force, to include the development of multiple-warheads missiles that would be able to overcome any defenses the United States might choose to build.

I won’t dwell in the ‘ghoulish world’ of counterforce, countervalue, first strike and second strike capabilities, but international relations’ experts remain dogged in their efforts to describe the Grand Strategies for the United States and China and to establish a path for both to avoid the rivalry, competition and even conflict that historically has occurred in great power relations with so-called power transitions.

It is that vein that I recommend back-to-back pieces by two American experts writing in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs.  First there is the piece by Aaron Freiberg a professor of the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University who previously served in the George W. Bush Administration as the Deputy Assistant of National Security Affairs in the Office of the Vice-President – yes, the Darth Vader of the Bush Administration.  The article is “Bucking Beijing: An Alternative U.S. China Policy”. The other perspective is tackled by well known China expert Andrew J. Nathan of Columbia University and his co-author Andrew Scobell at the Rand Corporation – their article “How China Sees America: The Sum of Beijings Fears”.

It is now common to describe the China-US relationship as the most important relationship of the 21st century.  In this instance this common declaration is in fact – right.  But then how each should engage the other remains opaque. It is particularly difficult when when it comes to China.  The fact is China experts or others are unable to see into the “blackbox” of Chinese decision-making.  Most critically, we  have little idea of how the Chinese military influences China’s Grand Strategy.

But then we don’t really  have a good handle on what China’s Grand Strategy is, anyway.  Think how we’ve been speculating in the last few years on what China’s core interests are? Whether China since 2010 has exhibited a “new assertiveness”? Or what military modernization strategy China is following – and to what end?

Into that opaque environment the China Threat School wades in with relative ease.  For realistically in the face of such uncertainty a “hedging strategy” is not unreasonably a favorable option.

Now Aaron Freiberg’s analysis provides a sophisticated two-headed US hedging strategy. This strategy is two-headed because it requires the US to both balance China’s growing power and to seek economic engagement as well. As he declares:

Developing and funding a credible strategy for countering China’s [military] buildup and adopting a tougher approach to economic engagement will both be important. So, too, will be continuing to stand firm on issues of principle. … What China’s current leaders ultimately want—regional hegemony—is not something their counterparts in Washington are willing to give.  …  Short of Beijing’s genuine democratic transition, however, Washington will not willingly abandon its policy of balancing and withdraw from the region.

Freiberg then underscores the vital nature of  firm US actions in this region:

The stakes could hardly be higher. Since the mid-1990s, China has been piecing together what Pentagon planners describe as asymmetric “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) capabilities. … Absent a strong U.S. response, Chinese planners might eventually come to believe that their growing A2/AD capabilities are sufficiently impressive to scare the United States off from intervening or provoking a confrontation in the region. Worse still, they might convince themselves that if the United States were to intervene, they could cripple its conventional forces in the western Pacific, leaving it with few options other than the threat of nuclear escalation. Maintaining stability requires reducing the likelihood that China’s leaders could ever see initiating such an attack as being in their interest.  A direct U.S.-Chinese military confrontation is, of course, extremely unlikely. But the aim of the balancing half of U.S. strategy must be to ensure that it remains so, even as China’s power grows.

It is a get tough/stay tough kind of policy – with effective military pushback from the United States and a credible commitment to allies in the region and avoid any incipient appeasement by these allies toward China:

In the absence of strong signals of continuing commitment and resolve from the United States, its friends may grow fearful of abandonment, perhaps eventually losing heart and succumbing to the temptations of appeasement.  …  When it comes to Asia, the United States does not have the option of what The New Yorker first described as the Obama administration’s penchant for “leading from behind.

So a renewed firmness – apparently that has slide in the recent Obama years. But suggests Freiberg there is the need to promote engagement with China as well.  But this economic engagement needs to be “righted”.  Freiberg declares:

Rather than treating engagement as desirable for its own sake, the United States needs to take a more clear-eyed and results-oriented approach. The place to start is trade. The bilateral economic relation- ship still provides benefits to both sides, but it has recently grown increasingly lopsided. Beijing uses its currency policy and subsidies of various kinds to boost its exports.

Here it is then – strong on defense, strong on balancing against the rise of China, and a tough but fair economic policy.

So let’s look across the divide to the piece by Nathan and Scobell.  Shortly.

Image Credit: WWE – the Boogeyman

 

 

 

 

 

It Takes Two to Tango

As I mentioned in the previous post, “‘Pivots’ and Great Powers – Both Sides Now” I thought I should dwell a bit on former Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech/article called “The West Isn’t Ready for the Rise of China” (for the article grab it at the NewStatesman.com).  The fact is Rudd – prime minister or not, or foreign minister or not – is one of the smartest foreign policy dudes, especially when it comes to China, in all of the Asia-Pacific.

So what did Rudd say and what did he write?  Now the title comes from a quote in the article “It Takes Two to Tango.” It was Rudd himself who drew attention to the quote.  It was Rudd’s assertion in his recent Munk School of Global Affairs speech – that closely tracked the New Statesman article – that the quote comes from Mae West.  My exploration suggests – “it ain’t so”. Of all the quotes attributed to the famous Mae West no list seems to include that quote.  But the quote itself is a reminder of the impact the powers have on each other.  More on that below.

So what is Rudd’s basic point?  Well it comes from the sub-title.  China’s rise to dominance in the international system is, as Rudd suggests, “imminent”.  In fact what he actually says is, “… the west is completely unprepared for China’s imminent global dominance”.   More pointedly Rudd then poses the key question: we seem unable to determine whether China is prepared to accept the international order the west created over the last 50 years or not.  Will China, as Rudd says, “accept the culture, norms and structure of the postwar order?  Or will China seek to change it?”:

Importantly, some might say disturbingly, the matter remains unresolved among the Chinese political elite themselves.  … At present, there is no centrally agreed grand design.  In other words, on this great question of our age, the jury is still out.

While there are some elites in China that favor the continuation of the liberal economic order – obviously those in particular that have benefited from reform and opening – there are political forces in China – conservative political forces and the military – that do not.  It is not that they haven’t benefitted from the dramatic sustained economic growth but they certainly are resistant to greater domestic political reform.  Moreover, the military – like militaries everywhere adopts hedging and worst case scenario strategies – which raise countermeasures and mistrust in the region and heightens rivalry and competition. The most evident arena of tension recently is the South China Sea but there is tension between China and Japan in the East China Sea.  Nevertheless, it remains possible for the west (this is the term Rudd uses but the inclusion of Korea and Japan etc., make this an odd reference) and others, according to Rudd, to have an impact on China’s views and to help China’s leaders to accept a continuation of the current international political order:

Moreover, the rest of the world’s ability to shape the contours of China’s future global role constructively represents a limited window of opportunity, while China’s international debate is still fluid, while Chinese influence continues to be contested, and well before final strategic settings become entrenched.

So Rudd carries a relatively positive message – though clearly not a starry-eyed one.  And as he argues, effective engagement with China that retains the liberal order will only come with concerted and collective effort:

But it will require collective intellectual effort, diplomatic co-ordination, sustained political will and, most critically, continued, open and candid engagement with the Chinese political elite.

Rudd has outlined a number of steps for the strategic engagement of China and its elites.  But before we get there let me comment on a number of aspects of this analysis that seem to me to raise questions over Rudd’s policy roadmap.  First, Rudd’s approach suffers from what I call, “Time Travel”.  Though it may be a helpful rhetorical device, I think the notion of China’s imminent global dominance is just wholly exaggerated.  Here I am focused on the “imminent”.   While China’s dominance in the international political order may come – it is no time soon.  There well may be a long period of rivalry and competition but given strategic-military deployments the China “dominance” will for the immediate future remain regional.  Which doesn’t mean that engagement of China is not required but it leaves global leadership and influences more fluid and less likely to be dominated by China.

The same “Time Travel” dilemma seems to me to be evident when he examines the emergence of China as the largest economy.  Now Rudd admits that it is likely to occur sometime over the next two decades – though he believes that it likely to come sooner rather than later. Fine, but we are still talking some significant time in the future – let’s be optimistic – ten to 12 years. That impacts then on the framing and immediacy of change to the political order and the character of the engagement called for in the global setting.  More critically is the reality that real economic power derives from GDP per capita and not just the absolute size of an economy.  And China is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100th in GDP per capita.  And beyond the low per capita GDP, we should be hesitant to predict China’s economic trajectory from past growth.  So while China’s growth has been phenomenal and sustained over thirty years there is still a significant distance to go.  And again that impacts on China’s position in the global political order.

On the policy roadmap Rudd believes that the fashioning of China’s engagement necessarily occurs in the Asia-Pacific and where Rudd suggests, “ … the new regional institution underpinned by shared international values will be needed to craft principles and practices of common security and common property for the future.”  Now Rudd, to his credit, has consistently over the years urged the need for a broad Asia-Pacific security community.  While Prime Minister Rudd promoted the Asia Pacific Community, now he believes that the East Asia Summit (EAS)  – from his perspective the successor to the APc – is the appropriate critical setting arraying together all the major powers of the region, including now India, Russia, the US and China, around a single table with, as he describes it, “an open mandate on political, economic and security issues.”

The security dimensions of the EAS and other multilateral settings, however, are contested by China.  In the recent ASEAN Ministerials and the ARF meetings China strongly resisted the discussion of the South China Sea territorial disputes, which China has insisted should only be handled bilaterally.  The EAS – the summit leaders forum – is just as likely to find China arguing that these disputes should not be included on the leaders’ agenda.  Rudd’s comments in Q&A at the Munk School argued that these territorial matters were taken up in any case.  Well, they were but at the cost of no communiqué and the discussions at the ministerials say little about the likelihood of placing it on the leaders agenda.  It is not the smooth path implied by Rudd.

Multilateral discussions are critical.  Engaging China is necessary.  But several conclusions can be drawn from contemporary events and behaviors.  First, the asymmetry of power with many ASEAN members make the inclusion of most of these states open to division, especially in the context of consensus.   Collective effort is important but the critical relationship is the bilateral US-China one.  The Australias, Indonesias, Japans and Koreas are significant and can assist in supporting the liberalizing elements within the Chinese system, but it is the engagement of the US that remains critical.  If the US-China relationship cannot maintain engagement and a collaborative spirit, I am doubtful the rest can ensure success

Image Credit: Wikipedia – Kevin Rudd

 

 

 

“Pivots” and Great Powers – Both Sides Now

 

 

 

 

I could not resist – and a big thanks to Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins for the reference to their famous tune.  I f you recognize the reference – well you know …

In 2009 I think  – the draft of this book chapter was done in 2008 – Zhang Yunling of CASS – “Mr. APEC” in China –  and myself wrote a chapter on the regional dimension in the US-China relationship in an edited volume by Gu Guoliang and Richard Rosecrance called Power and Restraint: A Shared Vision for the US-China Relationship.   Zhang Yunling and I tried to capture the US-China relationship this way at the time:

China’s strategy is based on three principles: first, China recognizes the United States as a superpower; indeed the current sole superpower; second , China will cooperate with the United States in as many areas as possible; and third it would seem China will continue to increase its strength, including military strength, and raise its status both regionally and globally.  From China’s perspective, as long as the United States recognizes and takes into account China’s interests, China is unlikely to challenge the overall US leadership. In the final analysis, the most significant question for China is, how can it balance its support for democracy, domestically and externally, with the defense of sovereignty whether Taiwan, Central Asia or the Asia-Pacific generally?

Well, that was then and this is now!  It would not appear to me that these constitute the bedrock “rules” that define this most important bilateral relationship.  But let’s take a look at the rules and where the relationship is today.

The context has changed a great deal since the full onset of the global financial crisis of 2008.  It appears that the “Chinese foreign policy elite” – I am not sure exactly who these people are – but there is a view from western experts – I know these folks far better – that there is a from Beijing the view that the US is in decline and that it is losing its hegemonic status.  Furthermore, and more ominously, as a result in  part of the US Administration’s “Asian pivot”, these same China experts have a heightened suspicion that the US is unwilling to adjust to its relative decline and China’s rise.  As Brooking’s Kenneth Lieberthal recently described it at ForeignPolicy.com:

In Chinese eyes, the United States has always been concerned primarily with protecting its own global dominance – which perforce means doing everything it can to retard or disrupt China’s rise.  That America lost its stride in the global financial crisis and the weak recovery since then while China in 2010 became the world’s second-largest economy has only increased Beijing’s concerns about Washington’s determination postpone the day when China inevitably surpasses the United States to become the world’s most powerful country.

So it would seem that China has drawn back from the view that the US is the only superpower. Instead many China experts now suggest that China is a global power as presumably is the United States.  Quite honestly I haven’t s clue what a “global power” is – and I suspect it is simply a way for Chinese experts to assert that China is a superpower – without having to actually proclaim it.  There is little question that both states are great powers – lord knows no one would question each being in the G20 etc., but then including India also makes sense. Clearly India is not yet a “global power”.  It seems to me to be disingenuous to manufacture this new category – especially if you compare the two by military or economic metrics – it ain’t so.  I think too many experts distort time lines.  It more than a decade, possibly two, before China’s economy will match the US so let’s not conflate that future with the present.  And as for the military and strategic partnerships – not even close.

Though it is true that the US and China have sought to cooperate in a number of critical areas – especially in the global economy, notably China’s leaders urging collective effort to resolve the eurozone crisis and to avoid grater turbulence – in other areas there is no collaborative spirit.  Most puzzling is China’s determination to support Russia to the bitter end on Syria.  It is unnecessary and with little that would suggest that there is a Chinese interest in playing “poodle to Putin”.

More contentious are the growing demands and “police” encounters in the South China Sea between China a number of Asian countries.  China has asserted a broad territorial claim that encompasses much of the South China Sea.  In addition there are territorial clashes between China and the Japan in the East China Sea. Many in Washington have declared a new China assertiveness threatening regional stability.  The US has meanwhile – without declaring sides on the territorial claims, has insisted on freedom of navigation and a multilateral approach to resolving the territorial demands.  China has in turn rejected this approach – and at least for now has insisted that these territorial claims should be settled by the contending parties only – bilaterally in other words.

The new assertiveness has enabled many in Washington to focus on the growing military modernization in China’s armed services and calls to meet such military challenges.  The point here is that the so-called new assertiveness has drawn close attention to China’s military threats and the consequences of the growing military modernization.

Where then do the two great powers need to go? Here are some actions that the two can adopt that are likely to lower the temperature on the competition, lead to a new set of rules and can be accomplished largely without the other:

  • Both take a deep breath and limit the degree of hedging each proposes for the other.  Hedging focuses on worst case and frequently results in outcomes  each is concerned to hedge against;
  • The US de-emphasize rhetorically the Asian pivot; work more quietly with ASEAN allies to generate a Code of Conduct acceptable to both sides;
  • China turn down the volume on the South and East China Seas and at least in the case of the South China Seas propose concretely joint development agreements with the parties – Vietnam, Philippines, and others.  These agreements enable the parties to side step the territorial claims for the present; and
  • China needs to rethink its Syria position in the UN and consider abstention as opposed to veto.

I was fortunate enough early in the week to hear former Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister speak on the Rise of China.  If you take a look at the NewStatesman.com the article entitled “The West Isn’t Ready for the Rise of China”, the piece fairly reflects his remarks at the Munk School of Global Affairs.  I thought I’d just provide a quick sense of the approach that Rudd brings to this critical relationship:

So, what then is to be done?  Is it possible for the west (and, for that matter, the rest) to embrace a central organizing principle as we engage China over the future of the international order?  I believe it is.  But it will require collective intellectual effort, diplomatic co-ordination, sustained political will and most critically, continued, open and candid engagement with the Chinese political elite.  So, what might the core elements of such an engagement look lie?

I will turn to Rudd’s perspective.  This should allow me to describe the new rules of collaboration required for the US-China relationship.

For this particular “thought exercise”, I will try and describe what are the rules of behavior that can ensure that the competitiveness and rivalry can be contained – that rivalry and competition do not escalate to heightened and sustained rivalry – and then even to conflict.

 

Image Credit: abc.net.au

“Pivots” and Great Powers – From the Other Side

 

 

 

In my earlier post – of close to the same name – I mentioned that it was Minghao Zhao’s earlier NYT op-ed, dated July 12th, “The Predicaments of Chinese Power,” that got me thinking again about the US-China relationship.

Now as I pointed out in this earlier blog post,  Zhao is currently a research fellow at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies, the think tank for the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPC.  I learned subsequently from my colleagues in China that he graduated from Peking University (Beida) with an MA and is also the Executive Editor of the China International Strategy Review a publication from the School of International Studies (SIS) at Beida.

Okay what did Minghao Zhao have to say?  Well like any good international relations specialist, Zhao focuses a lot on power and the various forms it takes in the global governance system.  Summarizing Zhao,  he suggests the following:

  • It remains a controversial issue as to what China’s grand strategy is, or should be;
  • When we measure China’s power we find that it is powerful on some measures – population, global trade, gross domestic product but is woefully inadequate on per capita GDP and near the bottom on the human development index;
  • Looking at the employment of power and influence, China has a long way to go, say in comparison to the US, whether it is hard power or especially “soft power”;
  • China is, as described by Zhao, “

… still unfamiliar with these new power games. The complex web of national security threats facing China underscores  the need for greater efforts to integrate the strategic tools of diplomacy, defense and development.  What is more, China has not yet found a way to utilize “civil power” in achieving sustainable diplomatic successes.

  • China still has a way to go to find a strategy that will reassure other countries – read that as its near neighbors – especially in the South China Sea and also the greater powers – Japan, Korea and especially the United States.  China has also not learned – here I am not sure China is the only great power that suffers from this, read that as the United States – to practice multilateralism where the powers share responsibility in deciding and acting.  Indeed Zhao summarizes well this gap between between its power and its intentions:

While the Chinese truly believe in their declared peaceful intentions, they have yet to convince others especially the United States  and Asian neighbors.  China needs to boost its participation in multilateral forums and readjust its approach to stress the sincerity of its commitment to peaceful development.

  • Finally – and here I suspect Zhao draws his conclusion from having observed the United States over the past few decades – China needs to restrain itself.  If I can summarize here the world needs to take a “deep breath” and avoid adopting a pose of exaggerated fear given China’s rise and the growing power China has, and is acquiring.  At the same time China’s leaders need to restrain themselves when it comes to the territorial disputes that now plague China on its maritime borders and to constrain the nationalist impulses that pulse through the China blogosphere and presumably more broadly in Chinese society.

As our colleague describes it:

An exaggerated fear of China’s capacities and intentions can itself become a couse of conflict and lead to tragic results.  China’s entry into the world must be accompanied by a new dynamic of mutual accommodation with that world.

For  a number of years many China observers asserted that Chinese policy followed Deng Xiaoping’s historical dictum: 韬光养晦 – taoguang yanghui – concealing one’s capabilities; biding one’s time to have an achievement.  Though the phrase is not free of controversy over its meaning, most agree that at least in terms of strategic policy that China shouldn’t be overtly aggressive and take a forward and assertive policy stance.

Now there has been a Washington view since about 2010 that China’s restrained policy stance – or what I would suggest as a junior partner role – has come to end.  Because China is a global power – this is a phrase that Minghao Zhao adopts and is expressed by many experts though I think it is a highly problematic description of China currently – and there is a strong current of opinion in China that the United States is in decline, and in fact that China has been too defensive – that China could, and should, now be more assertive. Indeed because of this perceived new Chinese assertiveness, at least in the region, that US policymakers have articulated this Pacific or Asia pivot, as described in the earlier post.

So it seems we are now witnessing an emerging gyre of “action and push back” by the United States and China.  Is this the best way in fact to characterize the US-China interaction.  Well I don’t think we have reached this point but it is difficult to both assess China strategic policy – indeed almost everyone agrees that is near impossible to describe China’s grand strategy – and therefore to determine if the US-China is in some growing tit-for-tat strategic framework.  Certainly leaders from both countries assure each other – and the global public –  that the relationship is not of that sort and that their strategic policy continues to count on maintaining a positive engagement and collaborative policy.

So let’s examine more closely the relationship in the next few days.

Image Credit:  news.xinhuanet.com – The Central Committee of CPC