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Messages from the U.S. 2015 National Security Strategy Report

Apr 05 , 2015
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

The Obama administration released the second National Security Strategy report in early February, in which China was mentioned up to 10 times. Except in the preface, they were mainly distributed in Part II “Security” and Part V “International Order,” which can be partially reflected by the U.S. strategic concerns on China: will the future of Sino-U.S. relations face confrontation? What policy will China take toward the disputed territories with the neighboring countries? Does China rise in the existing international system, or making a fresh start?

Compared with the 2010 National Security Strategy, the basic tone of U.S. China policy in this report has not changed, however more strategic concerns were expressed. For example, the Obama administration continues to emphasize its consistent policy toward China: “The United States welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China.” Meanwhile, the United States expressed the willingness to strengthen cooperation with China on common challenges: “We seek cooperation on shared regional and global challenges such as climate change, public health, economic growth, and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Besides, the report clearly refuted the argument that China and the U.S. will move toward strategic conflict, “while there will be competition, we reject the inevitability of confrontation.”

At the same time, the new strategy also expressed major concerns about China, which includes: (1) China’s policy on the disputed territorial issues; (b) China’s military modernization; (c) China’s democracy and human rights; (d) cybersecurity. In view of these concerns, the United States will continue and intensify the surveillance and prevention of China’s behavior. It stated the U.S. “will manage competition from a position of strength.” It is not only in words, but also practical actions. The United States has used the most advanced P8A Poseidon surveillance plane to patrol and monitor over flashpoint areas of the South China Sea from February 1 to 21, 2015.

Obviously, the United States has complex perspectives on China’s rise. On the one hand, the U.S. hopes to resolve global and regional challenges with the aid of China. On the other, the U.S. worries that China will challenge its hegemonic interests. Fundamentally speaking, the U.S. strategic expectation is that China rises as a responsible country, which can be proved in the 2010 National Security Strategy report. It emphasized: “We will continue to pursue a positive, constructive, and comprehensive relationship with China. We welcome a China that takes on a responsible leadership role in working with the United States and the international community to advance priorities like economic recovery, confronting climate change, and nonproliferation.” In the U.S. view, a “responsible” China includes at least the following connotations: (1) China must rise in the current international system, rather than establish its own; (2) China must comply with current international rules, rather than selectively use the international norms; (3) China should make changes in its ideology, values in line with the U.S. intentions. On January 23, 2015, President Obama told the U.S. media Vox: “Where Americans have a legitimate reason to be concerned is that in part this rise has taken place on the backs of an international system in which China wasn’t carrying its own weight or following the rules of the road and we were, and in some cases we got the short end of the stick.”

Clearly, the United States attaches great importance to “soft balancing”, that is, using international institutions and common rules to restrict China’s actions. Meanwhile, as Chinese strength improves, the consciousness and capabilities of institutions-designing, rule-making, agenda-setting significantly enhance. China-U.S. relations might enter into a new stage of regular competition – a struggle to define the rules. Actually, in the 2015 State of the Union, President Obama has expressed the concern: “China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and our businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules.”

From the strategic perspective, the U.S. strategy towards China can be summed up as “one coin, two sides.” The so-called “two sides” has two meanings: One is to strengthen pragmatic cooperation and manage the differences, which is the critical approaches for the United States to promote the Sino-US relations. On July 8, 2014, President Obama said in the statement to the sixth round of China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED): “We are committed to the shared goal of developing over time a ‘new model’ of relations with China defined by increased practical cooperation and constructive management of differences.” The other is to keep engagement while increase precaution efforts (also called “hedge”), which are two major characteristics of American policy toward China. The so-called “one coin” refers that the U.S. must maintain the initiative in U.S.-China relations, and then strengthen the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region, and finally ensure America’s unchallenged global leadership, which is the only consistently fundamental purpose of the U.S. strategy toward China.

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