The topic of America's grand strategy towards China will probably be a recurring theme on Ars Imperatoria, as the US and China continue to develop and define their relationship to each other, and their respective relationships towards the world. This development will play out over the next several decades.
With the emergence of the AIIB, a new round of doubts have arisen over America's strategy towards China, and how to maintain Pax Americana in the face of a rising China, and indeed, an emerging Pax Sinica. Deng Zhenghui, writing at the National Interest, points out the misaligned perceptions that make tensions likely to continue rising:
Conservative observers in China tend to overestimate the China factor in US foreign and security policies. In their view, every aspect of US foreign policy – the alliance system, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the response to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – aims to contain China’s rise.
The United States will only contain China when China’s behavior is perceived to challenge regional orders in negative ways. The problem is the strong disagreement between the US and China over the definition of behavior that can be characterized as “challenging.”
The United States also has misperceptions: it believes that China will drive the US out of Asia when it is powerful enough. Many believe that China talks of a “peaceful rise” only because it doesn’t yet have the capability to remove the US.
This tension is aggravated by the fact that the US has felt compelled to change its strategy towards China as China's economic and military might have grown. Zhenghui explains that the US strategy initially had been to integrate China into the liberal international order, through inclusion in such bodies as the WTO, but has pivoted to supporting exclusionary bodies, such as the TPP, in an attempt to stymie China's ability to shape the global order.
So what does China want?
Julian Snelder, also at the National Interest, cites Jonathan Holslag in illustrating a future Pax Sinica:
Holslag splendidly describes China's ideal political, military and economic order in Asia, and it does not make easy reading for China's neighbors: they are either subsumed into China's project or marginalized from it. China's industries lead the world, its globe-spanning middle classes speed on bullet-trains through a verdant homeland of country estates. It controls all the Western Pacific, and from the Himalayas it looks down upon south and central Asia "having urbanized without industries… slithering from one political crisis to the next." Holslag is especially scathing about the weak reform performance of India, a nation that was China's equal not long ago. In his China-dream scenario "Russia's fate is obvious" too: as a resource colony. Japan retires into irrelevance.
Such a dire future, however, creates its own solution:
As Edward Luttwak has argued, others will – indeed must, by "logic of strategy" – react by balancing. Holslag foresees a bipolar Asia as a real possibility, with the Sinosphere surrounded by a rimland of littoral states in loose alliance.
If so, the organizing architect will be Washington. Perhaps the Americans are slowly awakening to this prospect, forced to completely modify their self-image as Asia's unique protector, and forced to recalibrate their relationships and ambitions in the region.
The natural question arises: how can the US recalibrate to assume this new role? Ashley J. Tellis at the Carnegie Endowment sketches an outline of the steps that are being taken (though several are easier said than done):
- Revitalize the US economy
- Strengthen the US military
- Expand Asian trade networks
- Create a technology-control regime
- Implement effective cyber policies
- Reinforce Indo-Pacific partnerships
- Energize high-level diplomacy with Beijing
However, China is not standing still, and continues to develop its economy, strengthen its military, build out trade networks of its own design, such as the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and "Maritime Silk Road" (collectively known as the "One Belt, One Road" strategy), and, of course, financial bodies such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the mooted BRICS Bank. Time will tell if these efforts will create a self-contained Sinosphere, or will simply complement existing structures and benefit the whole world.
Meanwhile, with a hollowed-out NATO, exhaustion from conflicts in the Middle East, a resurgent Iran, and increasing tensions over its defense alliance with Japan (Okinawa) and South Korea (North Korea, China), the US will be distracted from its "Pivot to Asia" strategy, delaying its ability to counter China's growing influence.