Professor Colin Dueck commented on the geopolitical relation between the United States and China in an article published by Claremont Institute on June 12, 2013. Excerpts below:
China is in a position to challenge the U.S. for predominance along the East Asian littoral, and has considerable interest in doing so, especially given its grinding sense of historical grievance. For many Chinese, to achieve such predominance would be a return to the natural order of things, in which the Middle Kingdom leads within East Asia. The Russians, for their part, share with China a long-term desire to expel American influence from their immediate spheres of influence.
If the two massive, authoritarian powers China and Russia are able to cooperate pragmatically and case by case against American interests, the U.S. will face a severe geopolitical challenge in much of Eurasia. When Rimland powers are able to secure their land borders, as China seems to be doing, and then convincingly take to the seas, this has to worry offshore powers like the United States.
President Barack Obama came into office hoping for cooperation with China on a range of issues such as climate change and arms control; sustained Sino-American strategic competition was probably the last thing on his mind. He soon discovered that praising China’s growing power, as he did when visiting Beijing in 2009, only encouraged its self-assertion. As America’s Asian allies grew increasingly concerned by Chinese aggressiveness at sea, the Obama Administration eventually announced a strategic “pivot” toward Asia. But at the same time the administration cut U.S. naval strengths significantly—strengths that will be crucial to balance Chinese influence.
It is neither unusual nor irrational for great powers to engage in long-term geopolitical competition during peacetime. This is exactly what is happening between the U.S. and China now, whatever liberal dreamers may want to dream. In his edited volume, Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century (2012), Thomas Mahnken of the Naval War College shows that although this competition does not rule out the possibility of cooperation in certain areas, it does oblige us to leverage our strengths against our competitor’s weaknesses for decades to come.
China is not the Soviet Union, but there are still lessons to be learned from America’s Cold War competition with Moscow, which after all ended peacefully and, for the U.S., successfully.
One of the explanations for the lack of grand strategy toward China today is the tacit and widespread assumption that American power is in relative and irreversible decline, while China’s rise is more or less ordained. But as Georgetown University’s Robert Lieber points out in his new book, Power and Willpower in the American Future (2012), America’s “decline” is vastly overstated. The United States possesses capabilities and advantages denied to any other power. These include the world’s largest economy, its most powerful armed forces by far, its leading universities, a persistent edge in technological innovation, an unusual attractiveness for immigrants, vast natural resources on a continental scale, deep financial markets, underlying political stability, tremendous resilience, and a set of flexible international alliances. China poses a serious geopolitical challenge, but it lacks these advantages, and Chinese leaders know it.
Americans still have the ability to choose whether we want to play a leading role in the world. If we abdicate that role, we will one day awaken not to liberal dreams come true but to nightmarish realities that a sensible foreign policy could, and should, have averted.