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Foreign Policy

Council on Foreign Relations’ Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China Threatens a New Cold War

Apr 22 , 2015

If China-U.S. relations in the 21st century descend into a new, tragically damaging and possibility calamitous Cold War, the treatise entitled Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China, published last month by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) could have provided the inspiration and roadmap.

That such an intellectually dishonest and tendentious tract could be produced by one of the American foreign policy establishment’s most influential and “bipartisan” organizations raises the ominous possibility, or even probability, that, rather than a provocative “discussion paper,” Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China is the U.S. national security establishment’s effort to provide a conceptual framework and justification for what has now become U.S. policy and strategy toward China.

The contradictions in America’s decades-long “congagement” policy toward China have been worried about by scholars like Justin Logan, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and Boston College professor Robert S. Ross.  “Congagement” is neologism  describing a combination of political military containment activities designed to slow, restrict, and frustrate China’s expanding geostrategic reach, co-existing with initiatives at “engaging” China designed to integrate and domesticate her within the U.S.-designed and dominated post-WWII global governance system.

The Obama administration’s “rebalance (or ‘pivot’) to Asia” policy launched in 2010 during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State tipped “congagement” decidedly toward military power-based “containment.”

Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China essentially judges “engagement” to have been, from the standpoint of U.S. national interests, naïve, futile, and often counterproductive.  Rather than coaxing or luring China into the U.S.-dominated global system, “engagement” has allowed China to selectively and cynically exploit the system, while all along harboring ambitions to undermine and overturn it. U.S. strategy and policy should now double-down on “balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy.”

In making their case, the authors present often appallingly superficial, exaggerated, and calumnious descriptions of China’s domestic and international policies, actions and aims, painting China as nefarious, globally aggressive and expansionist, a would-be hegemon.  That their arguments reveal glaringly obvious double standards and “pot calling the kettle black” allegations seems to escape them.

“None of the alternatives usually discussed in the debates in Washington…about how to respond to China’s growing strength satisfy the objective of preserving American primacy for yet another ‘long cycle’ in international politics….all have severe limitations from the viewpoint of U.S. national interests and could in fact undermine the larger goal of strengthening Washington’s preeminence in the global system.

“Accordingly, the United States should substantially modify its grand strategy toward China…replace the goal of …integrating Beijing into the international system with that of consciously balancing its rise—as a means of protecting simultaneously the security of the United States and its allies, the U.S. position at the apex of the global hierarchy, and the strength of the liberal international order….”

In recent years the word “competitor” has come to dominate U.S. geostrategic discourse and thinking regarding China.” However, how “competition,” if it actually exists, challenges or threatens U.S. interests is hardly ever addressed. In the past month we saw in the case of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—wherein no one, including U.S. allies, could fathom the justification for U.S. opposition– how dysfunctional such thinking can be.

Defining vital U.S. interests is something that the Obama administration has consistently refused to do, notably in discussions of China’s proposal to forge a “new model of great power relations.”  Here the authors of Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward render service, allowing us to view U.S. vital interests through the mirror of China’s alleged challenge to them.

According to the authors, Beijing seeks to, inter alia, “replace the United States as the primary power in Asia; weaken the U.S. alliance system in Asia; undermine the confidence of Asian nations in U.S. credibility, reliability, and staying power; use China’s economic power to pull Asian nations closer to PRC geopolitical policy preferences; increase PRC military capability to strengthen deterrence against U.S. military intervention in the region; cast doubt on the U.S. economic model.”

The authors stress that “the capacity of the United States to deal successfully with this systematic geoeconomic, military, and diplomatic challenge by China to U.S. primacy in Asia will determine the shape of the international order for decades to come.”

Knowledgeable observers of U.S.-China relations, and of the power of the Pentagon and other national security bureaucracies and corporate interests and their political enablers in both Democrat and Republican parties will not be surprised by the authors’ “recommendation for U.S. grand strategy toward China.”

What U.S. “grand strategy” do they recommend?  In essence it is to decisively bolster in the U.S.’s favor the military power equation by, inter alia, further boosting the U.S. military budgets, forces and super-advanced weapons systems deployments in Asia (as well as in space and cyberspace) and expanding the size, scope, roles and doctrines of Japan’s Self Defense Forces (essentially implementing the Armitage-Nye Report agenda); while, in economic-technical exchanges, actively deny or diminish benefits and opportunities for China by “construct[ing] a new set of trading relationships in Asia that exclude China, fashion effective policies [to counter] China’s pervasive use of economic tools in Asia and beyond, and, in partnership with U.S. allies and like-minded partners, create a new technology-control mechanism vis-à-vis China.”

In short, the United States should now prepare, launch, and expect to sustain over decades a new level arms race and Cold War against China.

Can objective, intelligent people conceive of an alternative to the CFR’s vision?  There is one, cited, however, as a “threat” by the CFR treatise’s authors.  It is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s message to the early 2014 Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia that “Asia’s problems ultimately must be resolved by Asians and Asia’s security ultimately must be protected by Asians.”  Xi reiterated his profoundly hopeful and important “community of common destiny” vision at last month’s Boao Forum for Asia annual conference.

At no time has Xi’s message been more relevant, wise, and truly needed than today.

Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward has appeared only six months before Xi Jinping will make a state visit to Washington, D.C.  This is reason enough for distress for people wishing for better relations between China and the U.S.  That it may well reflect a new paradigm of thinking within the U.S. foreign policy establish is reason for alarm and vigorous rebuttal.

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