Standing Up to China Is Not 'Extremism'—It's Smart Foreign Policy

Four F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighters. Flickr/U.S. Navy

Some are making the argument to do nothing to antagonize China, even if it means forfeiting American interests and ideals. That would be a historic mistake.

The Japan Times must be having a hard time finding copy to fill its op-ed pages. Exhibit A: a screed from an “adjunct senior scholar” at the Chinese Communist Party–affiliated National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China, concerning U.S. strategy toward China in the age of Trump. In Mark Valencia’s telling, Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency has liberated “U.S. China-bashers” to have a “field day” at China’s expense. “Extremism” rules the day in Washington and academic precincts.

Zounds!

Wicked times are afoot, you’d think. But bear in mind that a lot of things look like extremism to someone who’s fronting for an extremist regime. To build his case Valencia refers obliquely to “two academics from the Naval War College.” The nameless academics, he says, suggest that “America should revive its past ‘daring-do’ [we think you mean derring-do, Mark] and ‘recognize that close quarters encounters, cat and mouse games between submarines and opposing fleets, and even deliberate collisions’ could become routine elements of the U.S.-China rivalry.”

We confess to being the scurrilous duo. The passages Valencia quotes come from an article we wrote for Orbis, a journal published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute. (Look for the article here since he doesn’t bother furnishing a link.)

We compiled the article long before the election, and aimed it at whichever candidate might prevail. Our bottom line: China is already competing with America in the China seas and Western Pacific. Close-quarters encounters between Chinese and American ships and planes are already routine elements of the U.S.-China rivalry—just as they were between Soviet and American ships and planes during the Cold War. And Chinese seamen and airmen initiate these encounters.

Washington can either wrest the initiative away from Beijing, or it can remain passive and continue losing ground in the strategic competition. Better to seize the initiative. To do so the new U.S. administration must relearn the art of deterrence, and to deter Chinese aggression the administration must accept that hazards come with the territory. That’s Strategy 101—basic stuff for anyone fluent in statecraft.

Valencia is a lumper. He lumps our analysis with other commentators’ views, many quite different from our own, before attempting the equivalent of an op-ed drive-by shooting. All of our views are equivalent for him; all are expressions of “extremism.” The others—Gordon Chang and James Kraska, to name two—can doubtless speak up for themselves should they choose. We’ll stick to speaking up for ourselves.

And anyone who takes the trouble to read our item—download early, download often—will realize Valencia excerpts a couple of quotations out of context and retrofits them to a predetermined storyline. First write conclusion, then fit facts to it!

Let’s go through this point by point. First, Valencia implies that Trump’s victory initiated our analysis. “This deluge,” he opines, “was stimulated by statements by Trump and his nominees for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson and secretary of defense, James Mattis.” He goes on to assert that such “statements by incoming government leaders and influence peddlers provided an opportunity for America’s China hawks to promote their views.”

Wrong.

Valencia has it precisely backward. And a simple internet search would have revealed the blunder before he committed it. Explains Orbis editor-in-chief Mackubin Owens helpfully: “This special issue of Orbis features articles by FPRI associates offering ‘advice to the next president.’ Written before the election [our italics], these essays offer recommendations for national security affairs in general, as well as for regional issues.”

And so it was. We drafted the article in August—months ahead of the election, and when Hillary Clinton remained the odds-on favorite to win the White House. We assumed a Clinton administration would be the primary audience, but wrote it to advise whoever might prevail in November. In short, this was a nonpartisan venture, compiled in the spirit of our running counsel to the Obama administration.

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