On territorial matters, Xi will be unwilling or unable to make concessions that could harm his domestic position, and may even seek to escalate territorial disputes against Japan or South China Sea claimants as a way of redirecting domestic attention away from the economic situation and burnishing his nationalist record.
Globally, in order to demonstrate at home that China is taken seriously abroad, Xi will maintain a proactive and assertive Chinese foreign policy that involves institution-building and occasional provocation, while remaining firm in the face of external pressure on the South and East China Seas, human rights, conditions in Tibet and Xinjiang, and diplomatic visits by the Dalai Lama.
Finally, Xi’s resistance to Western culture and values may intensify. Because China’s economy is now slowing, Xi’s fear of political instability may push him to adopt even sterner measures, and new violations of human rights and the emerging challenges that Western NGOs and businesses face will likely cause renewed friction in China’s relationships with the West.
China’s Challenge to U.S. Vital National Interests
Although Washington seeks a cooperative relationship with Beijing on nonproliferation, energy security and the international economy and environment, the primary U.S. preoccupation regarding American vital national interests should be a rising China’s systematic effort to fundamentally alter the balance of power in Asia, diminish the vitality of the U.S.-Asian alliance system, and ultimately displace the United States as the Asian leader. As noted earlier, Beijing seeks to achieve these goals:
-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;
-ensure U.S. democratic values do not diminish the CCP’s hold on domestic power; and
-avoid a major confrontation with the United States in the next decade.
III. U.S. Grand Strategy and Policies Toward China
The principal task that confronts U.S. grand strategy today is adapting to the fundamental challenge posed by China’s continuing rise and its grand strategy. China’s integration into the world system, the prevailing U.S. approach toward China, has undoubtedly contributed to China’s rise as a future rival to American power. None of the alternatives usually discussed in the debates in Washington and elsewhere about how to respond to China’s growing strength satisfy the objective of preserving American primacy for yet another “long cycle” in international politics.
Accordingly, the United States should substantially modify its grand strategy toward China—one that at its core would replace the goal of concentrating on 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, which is owed ultimately to the robustness of American relative power.
To accomplish this renewed U.S. grand strategy toward China, Washington should implement the following policies:
1. Vitalize the U.S. Economy
Nothing would better promote the United States’ strategic future and grand strategy toward China than strong economic growth in the United States. This must be the first priority of the president and the new Congress.
2. Expand Asian Trade Networks
The United States should construct a new set of trading relationships in Asia that exclude China, fashion effective policies to deal with China’s pervasive use of geoeconomic 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. TPP is an important step in this direction, and support for the agreement from Congress would not only demonstrate U.S. staying power but also signal to China and our allies the depth of the long-term American commitment to the region’s prosperity.
3. Strengthen the U.S. Military
The United States should invest in U.S. defense capabilities and capacity to enable the United States to defeat China’s emerging antiaccess capabilities and permit successful U.S. power projection even against concerted opposition from Beijing.
4. Implement Effective Cyber Policies
For the past decade, the United States has tolerated incessant cyberattacks by China on the U.S. government, critical infrastructure and businesses. Virtually nothing has been done to stop this cyber assault, and the “name and shame” approach toward China has clearly failed. Thus, the U.S. should impose costs on China that are in excess of the benefits it receives from its violations in cyberspace.
5. Reinforce Indo-Pacific Partnerships
The United States should reinforce a new set of trusted strategic relationships and partnerships throughout the Indo-Pacific region that include traditional U.S. alliances but go beyond them, pursuing as an explicit policy the objectives of both strengthening Asian states’ ability to cope with China independently and building new forms of intra-Asian strategic cooperation that do not always involve, but will be systematically supported by, the United States.
6. Energize High-Level Diplomacy with Beijing
The United States should energize high-level diplomacy with China to attempt to mitigate the inherently profound tensions as the two nations pursue mutually incompatible grand strategies and to reassure U.S. allies and friends in Asia and beyond that its objective is to avoid a confrontation with China.
No U.S. grand strategy toward China can succeed without the continuous involvement and leadership of the President. Despite turmoil in the Middle East and tensions with Russia, the President should concentrate on managing the greatest strategic challenge to the United States in the coming decades—the rise of Chinese power. His or her hands should be continually seen to be on the wheel of U.S. grand strategy toward China, and he or she should hold face-to-face meetings on the subject much more frequently with Asia’s leaders and European Union heads of government. Occasional forty-five minute bilateral talks with his or her Asian counterparts at the margins of international meetings are insufficient to the task.
The same is true of Congress, which is an indispensable element in dealing with Chinese power over the long term. Partisan divides and the press of daily events will not excuse Congress if it largely ignores the effects of China’s rise on U.S. interests. The congressional role in sustaining a successful U.S. grand strategy toward China is manifested primarily in three areas: supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement, reforming and providing the defense budgets necessary to maintain U.S. power projection and a credible Asian alliance system, and continuously holding U.S. administrations accountable for the implementation of their response to the rise of Chinese power.
The profound test that the rise of Chinese power represents for the United States is likely to last for decades. It is unrealistic to imagine that China’s grand strategy toward the United States will evolve in a way—at least in the next ten years—that accepts American power and influence as linchpins of Asian peace and security, rather than seeks to systematically diminish them. Thus, the central question concerning the future of Asia is whether the United States will have the political will; the geoeconomic, military, and diplomatic capabilities; and, crucially, the right grand strategy to deal with China to protect vital U.S. national interests.