China Is Like Russia
And U.S. foreign policy should reflect this.
For now China looks positively sedate compared with Russia. But it has been laying the groundwork for aggressive action. Beijing has already been pushing its neighbors around, engaging in aggressive gunboat “diplomacy” in the East China Sea, and slowly altering the status quo in the South and East China Seas. Beijing’s national security planners are sensitive to questions of international legitimacy and therefore cover their deeds in (wrongheaded) interpretations of international law, followed by cultural diplomacy and a fair bit of propaganda.
Most important, Beijing carefully watches U.S. resolve and credibility—its desire and willingness to impose consequences—important characteristics of international politics now deemed anachronistic by “21st century” Western elites. Beijing has seen that Russia has succeeded in a.) getting Washington to turn its back on U.S. treaty allies (see the severing of promises to place missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic); b.) maneuvering President Obama into a position in which he has abandoned his opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule in Syria; and, most incredibly, c.) invading, thus far without real repercussion, two sovereign states who have tried to tilt to the West.
Xi Jinping must be asking: if the final, post-Cold War settlement in Europe is now up for grabs, are there any American red lines that are not at least worth testing? Can Beijing claim precedent and act to “protect” Chinese-speaking populations abroad? Is there more China could be doing to drive wedges between the United States and its Asian treaty allies, especially Japan and South Korea?
The United States should act proactively now to ensure that President Xi determines the answers to those questions are no, no, and no. U.S. options for responding to Russian moves are now limited – which is the whole point of Russia’s decisive action. But in Asia Washington can still avoid a fait accompli. It must head off all attempts by China to revise the peaceful regional order built on the blood and treasure of America and its allies. China will gain more power and prominence, so Washington needs an unrelenting strategy with unrelenting execution that guarantees that China is surrounded by strong independent powers allied with the U.S. Grand pronouncements of a “pivot” to Asia notwithstanding, that work has not really begun.
Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Michael Mazza is a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at AEI.
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