Academic journal article Strategic Forum

China: Making the Case for Realistic Engagement

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

China: Making the Case for Realistic Engagement

Article excerpt

Key Points

China seeks to become the major power in Asia by 2050. Under its so-called New Security Concept, it will attempt to displace the United States as the preeminent military presence in the region while avoiding arms races with its Asian neighbors. Beijing will also try to retake "lost territories" at the expense of other Asian countries. China also seeks to achieve economic supremacy in Asia, drawing other nations into a regional market dominated by the Chinese yuan. American military power has been insufficient to overcome cultural divisions and divergent interests in Asia, so attempts to multilateralize regional security on the model of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization failed. These efforts bolstered the impression that Washington was looking for a way out of regional commitments.

The U.S. policy of engagement has not yet produced its intended results. America needs to adopt a new realism in relations with China. Washington should leverage Beijing's need for capital, technology, and markets to influence nonproliferation and other issues. Such a new realism will promote stability in Asia and continued American presence.

The United States must recognize and reaffirm that only strong bilateral relationships and interaction with its allies will convince Asia that a U.S. presence is long-term and an alternative to Chinese dominance. Bilateral alliances should be strengthened and the network expanded to include India, Mongolia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Chinese aspirations to become a great power in the 21st century have numerous regional implications. Beijing claims to seek a peaceful international climate so as to concentrate on domestic development. Yet under the rubric of a New Security Concept (NSC), China also is pursuing a long-term strategy to alter radically regional power relationships that have contributed to prosperity and relative stability in East Asia over the past 50 years.

The New Security Concept echoes well-established Chinese principles of peaceful coexistence first articulated by Premier Zhou Enlai at the Bandung Conference in 1955: mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, nonaggression, noninterference in the internal affairs of other states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Other Chinese statements stress the themes of mutually beneficial economic cooperation; elimination of inequalities and discriminatory trade relations; and the promotion of security through dialogue and cooperation, rather than by forming alliances against specific threats. Behind these generalizations, however, China has a two-fold goal: first, to allay the fears of its Asian neighbors, who are suspicious not only of China's claims in the South China Sea and other territories but also its efforts to build a military force unequaled (with the exception of the United States) in Asia; and, second, to challenge the rationale behind the U.S. alliances and military presence in Asia, which China characterizes as holdovers from the Cold War.

China's Strategy

According to official Chinese pronouncements, peace and development increasingly characterize the world; the major trends are toward multipolarity and economic globalization; and the general international security situation is improving. In its 2000 Defense White Paper, the Chinese government asserts that it "is devoting itself to its modernization drive, [and the country] needs and cherishes dearly an environment of long-term international peace, especially a favorable peripheral environment." China characterizes its efforts to build the most powerful military force in the region as "pursuing a national defense policy that is defensive in nature, and its national defense construction (resources and funds) is in a subordinate position to and in service of economic construction."

The white paper also portrays another side to the existing order:

The world is far from peaceful. …

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