And lastly, Valencia suggests that the United States should relinquish vital interests—including those of its Asian allies—to mollify Chinese sensibilities. He cites, for example, a Chinese scholar voicing concern that “The theme of clash of civilizations [is] becoming increasingly popular in Chinese circles.” Valencia also frets about “a possible Thucydian trap [we think you mean Thucydides trap, Mark],” a “supposedly ‘inevitable’ conflict between a status-quo power and a rising power.”
His implication, presumably, is that Washington, the guardian of the status quo, should acquiesce in Beijing’s bullying to escape the Thucydides trap. That would square with China’s party line. And indeed, aggressors do love to win peacefully.
Valencia further objects that the timing of a U.S. policy turnabout is inconvenient for the Chinese. He observes that the 19th Party Congress will convene this fall to determine China’s leadership transition. President Xi might take a hard line in advance of the congress to placate nationalist audiences. A U.S. policy shift might box him in.
That may be true, but Chinese Communist Party politics cannot form the basis of U.S. foreign policy. Nor, it bears mentioning, do the Chinese consult or respect American political timelines as they pursue foreign-policy aims. Just the opposite: they regard the last months of a departing administration and early months of an incoming administration as opportune times to make mischief.
Valencia’s message to America is plain: do nothing to antagonize China, even if it means forfeiting American interests and ideals. He falls squarely into the don’t provoke China school we take to task at Orbis. It is precisely this camp’s thinking that begat paralysis in U.S. maritime strategy in Asia. Inaction is no longer tolerable as the strategic circumstances change around us.
As for the Japan Times and its readership: Japanese leaders and rank-and-file citizens should pray the Trump administration rejects Mark Valencia’s words. If the administration heeded them, it would loosen or abandon the alliance that underwrites Japan’s security and prosperity. That would constitute Beijing’s price for U.S.-China amity. And if America paid that price, surrendering the Senkaku Islands to China would represent the least of Japan’s worries. Dark days would lie ahead.
Let’s make China worry instead.
James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara are professors of strategy at the Naval War College and coauthors of Red Star over the Pacific, named the most extreme book on China’s rise. The views voiced here are theirs alone.
Image: Four F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighters. Flickr/U.S. Navy