Wall Street Journal on August 26, 2015, published a commentary by Aaron Friedberg on US China strategy. The Obama administration is evidently divided over how to respond to provocative Chinese actions in cyberspace and the South China Sea. Intelligence community leaders warn that unless the U.S. retaliates, it will continue to face damaging computer network attacks of the sort China appears to have carried out against the Office of Personnel Management. Yet the administration has refused even to identify China as the culprit in the theft of over 20 million sensitive personal files. Excerpts below:
Regarding the South China Sea, similarly, the Navy favors taking a tough stance, challenging China’s claims of sovereignty by sending ships and planes close to the artificial “islands” that Beijing has created by dredging sand from the ocean bottom.
These disputes involve disagreements over tactics, but they are also the latest indications of an intensifying debate over the future of America’s long-standing, two-part strategy for dealing with Beijing.
For a quarter century successive administrations have sought to engage China through trade and diplomacy. They hoped to give its rulers a stake in the existing liberal international order while reinforcing tendencies—especially the growth of a new middle class—that could lead to democratizing political reforms.
Engagement and balancing were supposed to work hand in hand, but recent events have begun to raise questions about both halves of this strategy. Thanks in no small measure to its economic ties with the U.S., China has grown far richer and stronger since the end of the Cold War. Instead of liberalizing, however, its politics have become more repressive and more militantly nationalistic.
To help consolidate power at home, the regime has more openly challenged key elements of the existing order in Asia. China’s increasingly forceful attempts to assert its claims over most of the waters and resources off its shores are only the most visible manifestation of this tendency.
Beijing has also intensified its opposition to U.S. alliances and begun to build new institutions and infrastructure networks designed to enhance its influence at America’s expense. Mr. Xi’s declaration that Asia’s affairs should be left to “the people of Asia” makes clear his vision for a region in which the U.S. presence has dramatically diminished and in which China will finally be able to emerge as the preponderant power.
Thus U.S. engagement has so far failed to transform China into a liberal democracy or even a “responsible stakeholder” in the existing international system.
The modernization and expansion of China’s nuclear and conventional “anti-access/area-denial” forces is beginning to raise doubts about the ability of the U.S. to defend its allies by projecting power into the Western Pacific. Beijing’s growing air, naval and maritime forces are giving it new options for enforcing territorial claims.
…in the U.S. government decisions are taken on a piecemeal, case-by-case basis with little attempt to take a longer view, reexamine existing assumptions or integrate policy across various domains. High-level attention is fleeting, short-term considerations dominate and marginal adjustments are the order of the day.
Post-Cold War policy toward China has never been the product of a comprehensive strategic planning process or a serious, presidential-level interagency review.
Whoever is elected president in 2016 should therefore begin with a frank assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach and conduct an open-minded examination of the potential costs, benefits and risks of available alternatives. This process could be modeled on the 1953 Solarium Project, in which the newly elected Eisenhower administration organized teams of government and private-sector experts to explore the economic, technological, military and diplomatic implications of different approaches toward the Soviet Union.
Mr. Friedberg, who served as a national-security adviser to the U.S. vice president from 2003 to 2005, is a professor at Princeton University.
Comment: The article by Mr. Friedberg is important. The Putin aggression in Europe against Ukraine since 2014 has created a new Cold War climate. History since 1917 has clearly shown that communist regimes do not liberalize. These regimes loose power if they loosen the grip.
The US pivot to Asia has to be strengthened. The West now has two great semi-totalitarian regimes to cope with. Only a new president in 2016, who can manage a forward strategy both for Russia and China, will be able to guarantee freedom and security. The Eisenhower Solarium Project of 1953 is a useful model for a new strategic approach.