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AEI's "American Strategy For Asia"

2:41 PM, Jan 14, 2009 • By DAVID ADESNIK
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In addition to engagement, the United States must make a concerted effort to balance China's growing power and hedge against unpleasant surprises. In part, this entails a well-calibrated response to Beijing's rapid military modernization, driven by annual increases of almost 10 percent per year in its military budget going all the way back to 1990. Even more important, the United States must deepen its military cooperation Japan, India, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and other friends in Asia who share our deep concerns about China's intentions.

If the past is prologue, firm efforts to strengthen military cooperation with our friends and allies will result in the ample expression of hurt feelings and wounded pride by Chinese diplomats and high officials. These expressions should be duly noted but in no way inhibit the balancing component of American strategy. In the past, the advocates of engagement have often mistaken the warmth of official relations between Washington and Beijing as the essential barometer of success for American strategy in Asia. This habit was the corollary of mistaken predictions in the 1990s that the democratization of a wealthier China was inevitable, therefore the essential mission of U.S. diplomacy was to prevent unnecessary conflicts during China's alleged authoritarian interregnum.

A final word is in order about the role of "soft" or "smart power" in Asia, especially given Sen. Clinton's lavish praise of smart power in her confirmation hearings. On its final page, the AEI strategy notes that journalists and other commentators have reflexively employed a standard storyline, according to which "the United States has suffered a grievous loss of popularity, thanks to the style and policies of the Bush administration." Yet polling data from the Pew Research Center shows that the United States still has approval ratings of more than 50% across Asia, giving it a more positive reputation than China, whose charm offensive is often praised by Western observers. Moreover, America's stock has been rising over the past two years while China's has been falling. The bottom line is that we don't have to choose between being popular and being secure. Working with our democratic friends and allies to build an Asia that is "prosperous, peaceful and free" can make us both.

David Adesnik is a defense analyst in Washington DC who served on the foreign policy staff for McCain-Palin 2008.