Overhauling U.S. strategy in Asia May 18, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 34 • By DAN BLUMENTHAL and WILLIAM INBODEN
At the top of our next president’s task list will be rescuing American foreign policy from the wreckage of the Obama years. The prevailing headlines detail a grim litany of new threats, each one emanating from an Obama administration policy failure. From the expansionist barbarity of the Islamic State, to the collapse of Libya into warring factions, to Yemen’s degeneration into civil war and a terrorist safe haven, to unprecedented concessions that have strengthened Iran, to Russian adventurism forcibly redrawing Europe’s borders, to the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, the threat environment that the Obama administration is preparing to hand over to its successor is grave.
Not since the end of World War II has the American-led international system been under such severe strain from so many quarters. While the above threats all command attention, perhaps the greatest challenge to world order is the resurgence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It is the only nation that has the size, wealth, and ambition to credibly threaten U.S. global leadership and international stability. At stake is not only the national security of the United States but the future of the international system our nation helped create and has led for seven decades. In truth, they are almost inseparable. At the end of the Cold War, the late Samuel Huntington argued that only by remaining the dominant world player could the United States ensure the continuation of a liberal order. Thus, the challenge from China is not only geopolitical; Beijing is also ideologically hostile toward democratic capitalism and free societies.
Our next president’s China policy needs to address the heart of the problem: The external assertiveness of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) emanates from its internal repression. As Aaron Friedberg has pointed out, “the party’s desire to retain power shapes every aspect of national policy. When it comes to external affairs, it means that Beijing’s ultimate aim is to ‘make the world safe for authoritarianism,’ or at least for continued one-party rule in China.”
The CCP has thus far successfully maintained its monopoly on power and avoided any meaningful political reform. American policy in recent years has conceded this monopoly to the CCP and done little to support Chinese reformers, dissenters, and voices for liberty. There may have been short-term rationales for this, but as a policy it has run its course.
A new strategy that aims for a freer China would, in the span of history, not be so new at all. It has been part of the strategic conception of most U.S. presidents since the Cold War opening to China.
U.S. Policy and Democracy in China
Nixon and Kissinger’s justly heralded strategic opening to Beijing in 1972 realigned mainland China from a Communist revolutionary adversary to a “normal” authoritarian partner in the Cold War. This new relationship rekindled hopes that China might eventually transition from autocratic to democratic. A series of developments in the 1970s and 1980s—including Mao Zedong’s death, the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, the 1978-79 Democracy Wall movement, Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, and the collapse of Soviet communism at the end of the Cold War—provided some episodic momentum to these hopes. Many wondered if perhaps the words “Chinese democracy” might eventually become a reality and not just a Guns N’ Roses album.
Accordingly, every American administration since 1989 has premised its China policy on a strategic bet: that as China becomes more prosperous, it will also become freer and a more responsible member of the international system. From George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, each administration built its China policy on this assumption that economic reform would lead inevitably to political reform. This was a reasonable premise. Many of Washington’s authoritarian friends in Asia had successfully embraced democracy, including South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. As other Asian societies made this transition, it made sense to assume that China would follow the same path.
While encouraging closer economic ties between the United States and China, these presidents also attempted to engage China through outreach and dialogue. Treating China like an adversary would cause it to act like an adversary, the assumption went, whereas engaging with China would lead it to be more like us: peaceful, stable, and free.
11:06 AM, Dec 22, 2014 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
As the historically minded will recall, back in 2012 the Obama administration declared that the United States “will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific.” That was the guidance the commander in chief gave to the U.S. military, the idea being that since, the peace of Europe was eternal and self-sustaining, and the Middle East was a mess made by George Bush, that the most important mission for the 21st century was to keep an eye on the Chinese, the “rising” great power.
10:21 AM, Dec 17, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
Alarm bells have gone off in Beijing, in Moscow, and even among some so-called “realists” in the West. They caution that the pending U.N. General Assembly consideration of an EU-Japan joint resolution on North Korean human rights violations, scheduled for December 18-19, could push Pyongyang over the edge. Publicly censuring North Korea for its crimes against humanity, they warn, might lead to a fourth nuclear test and even potentially trigger another military confrontation on the Korean peninsula. These voices, as a result, advocate continued silence despite overwhelming evidence of massive human rights violations, about which the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (COI) report wrote the following: “The gravity, scale, and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the modern world.”
12:08 PM, Nov 14, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama held a townhall today in Burma where he was met with signs that read "Reform is fake" and "Change." He commented on the signs before getting on with the program.
5:14 PM, Jul 1, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
In 2007, during his first term as Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe penned a work titled Toward a Beautiful Country, My Vision for Japan. The recent re-examination of the 1993 Kono Statement on the Imperial Japanese military’s use of “comfort women” during World War II (a euphemism for sex slaves), which was presented to the Japanese Diet on June 20, is the antithesis of the actions of “a beautiful country.” It represents a backward step, reopening a dark chapter in 20th-century history, which most of the world woul
10:25 AM, Apr 23, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The State Department is warning of a protest in Malaysia on Friday, one day before President Obama is expected to arrive there on Saturday.
9:37 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
President Obama is about to undertake a fence-mending mission to America’s Asian allies in Tokyo, Seoul, and Manila. The U.S. “pivot” to Asia is coming under renewed scrutiny following Beijing’s announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) for the East China Sea in November, Pyongyang’s recent firing of two midrange missiles into waters near Japan and South Korea, and regional whispers questioning American resolve.
Jan 20, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 18 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
You would guess that an agreement between the United States and Japan to move a Marine air base from one location to another on Okinawa would be good news. And it is, for three reasons. First, because there has been opposition to relocating the base on the island, and negotiations had stalemated. And second, because the move is endorsed by Okinawa’s governor, who had initially opposed it.
9:01 AM, Dec 6, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The press covering Joe Biden's trip Asia caught an unusually frank comment from the vice president. Biden, speaking about himself, reportedly said that his "profound insights on policy are vastly exaggerated, but we do have profound respect for the people of South Korea."
11:55 AM, Dec 3, 2013 • By GARY SCHMITT
Absolute coherence when it comes foreign policy is a rare thing. International relations will forever be a mix of principles, interests, circumstances, and necessities. But recognition of that fact doesn’t mean one has to jump to the opposite conclusion that foreign policy is simply a grab bag of decisions, lacking any coherence whatsoever. But, more and more, this appears to be the case when it comes to the Obama administration’s so-called “pivot” to Asia.
1:00 PM, Sep 13, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Barack Obama will be traveling to Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines, at the beginning of next, the White House announced today.
3:01 PM, Jul 1, 2013 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
On the first weekend in June and for the twelfth year in a row, senior foreign policy makers, military officials, politicians, and defense industry representatives flocked to an exclusive hotel resort in this Southeast Asian city-state for the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian Security Summit. The event now draws a Who’s Who of global military power personalities: Asian, European and U.S. defense ministers; regional military commanders, including a high-level delegation of strategists from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) military.
9:29 AM, Jun 25, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
While Daniel P. Schrag, White House climate adviser, tells the New York Times that "a war on coal is exactly what's needed," so far the Obama administration has been a boon for U.S. coal exports.
12:34 PM, Apr 14, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Secretary of State John Kerry told the press in Beijing that he discussed with Chinese government officials investing in America's infrastructure. Kerry called the security concerns "very, very few; very, very little."
10:29 AM, Apr 12, 2013 • By VANCE SERCHUK
John Kerry’s first visit as secretary of state to Asia this week will be rightly dominated by the heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, where Kim Jong-un’s regime continues to generate headlines around the world with its bluster and brinksmanship.