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April 13, 2005



I'm not sure I agree. China's only stated territorial ambition is Taiwan. Admittedly that is a controversial claim on a democratic nation, but work with me here. Even if this worst happens and China invades Taiwan, and even should it become a war, it would most likely only be over Taiwan. There is no talk of regime change in China. Likewise China isn't interested in attacking the mainland US.

I understand the theory of creating a circle of allies to contain China. But China also has crucial ties with each of those nations e.g. Wen's recent visit to India and PM Howard's visit to China soon. The nations involved are not American pawns: they have agendas and interests of their own. I think the American foreign policy establishment understands that. State is busy improving relations with these allies but I don't think they are neive in thinking they will be certain bulwarks against potential Chinese aggression.

One last point: a common theme I've repeated often is China will react to how it is treated. If American hawks win the day and treat China solely as a threat it will become that threat. But that is not a certainty. China is a not a USSR. There is plenty of room for co-operation and mutual benefit, for partnership. That is the best way to "contain" China, not by considering it the evil Red empire.

All that said, impressive research and well done on the post.

Bill Rice


Thank you for your thoughtful comments. My point is not that the US will work against China per se, but work with like minded countries (not pawns... I think I clearly attempted to list each nation's self interested reason for cooperating with the US position) to contain China from acting out aggressively towards Taiwan. Through this manner and engagement with China diplomatically we can wait out the clock for a more free China.

Without a democratic mainland China, I do not see how Taiwan will ever remove the "two systems" and submit to Beijing.

I am not sure we are as far off on our mutual thinking. I think you would agree that a China feeling constrained in its military options to invade Taiwan is a good thing. A China that has growing economic ties with surrounding democracies is a good thing for it will promote a larger middle class and ultimately a democratic China, if nationalism doesn't consume the nation first.

Kind regards,

Bill Rice
Dawn's Early Light



First of all, I think the United States will need to look the term 'ally' differently in future, at least in Asia. It will not mean a bunch of countries under a common military command (led by the US) playing a geopolitical game against an adversary.

I would think the term ally would imply a general agreement on a shared long-term goals and a vested interest in each others' prosperity. As Simon points out, Australia has benefited tremendously in the last decade thanks to China's voracious appetite for natural resources. So have Japan and even Taiwan. To an extent, so has India. These countries would jeopardise their economic interests by adopting a dogmatic hostility to China.

That does not, however, mean that any of these countries will gang up with China against the US. Far from it, these countries will see a need to ally with each other, and with the United States not least because of the bonds of democracy.

As I commented on an earlier post, this system will be badly jolted in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and an American intervention. The bad news is that this is bad news for everyone, the good news is that China knows this.

Bruce Chang

Nitin, the current leadership of China knows this, but as with the Arab world, the ChiComs find themselves in a position where the party no longer has a true raison d'être, and people are becoming more demanding. While nationalism has always been a tempting safety valve, it could eventually backfire. Consider what the Party must do if the people it egged on begin making unrealistic demands, say, for China to take military action against Taiwan or Japan. Then some young colonel joins in the chorus, and is not dressed down by his superiors. The Politburo may find then that they've painted themselves into a corner, where their only recourse is either to take action on popular opinion that they themselves fomented, or take action against yet another group of demonstrators.



Great post. Your comment that through "this manner and engagement with China diplomatically we can wait out the clock for a more free China" is exactly right. I agree with your conclusions, but I'd like to comment on some of your supporting claims and implications

Just as Japan was able to strike quickly at Pearl Harbor, China may be able to strike quickly against Taiwan, but like Japan circa 1941, China does not have the access to oil and the ability to hold off a militarily superior United States.

The problem goes beyond oil -- like Imperial Japan, Communist China does not have access to the outside world in a conventional war with the United States. The US Navy and US Air Force would be able to quickly shut down Chinese lines of communications to almost everywhere. Assuming both sides has the resolve to accept the military loses and the responsibility not to use conventional weapons, the situation would quickly deadlock in a stalemate militarily advantageous to the United States (China having a huge army..... in China).

On the mainland the People's Liberation Army is militarily undefeatible, even with a total blockade.

Such an extended conventional war is unlikely with Beijing, but (barely) possible.

While the United States did help promote democracy during the Cold War, it did not do so with the passion and energy our nation needs to now pursue it. The Cold War was about pragmatic compromises, supporting unsavory dictators as well, especially in the Middle East, to keep countries in the US sphere rather than the Communist sphere.

In a post Cold War world, where different ideologies dominate the world debate, the old paradigm of working with unsavory nations cannot continue to ensure US security.

Between the Cold War to Globalization era, America switched from a negative to a positive foreign policy. As I blogged earlier

The Soviets were attempting to connect as much of the globe as they could to their command-and-control economy. For them this was a future worth creating. Reagan didn't have a future worth creating. He saw a future worth destroying. We sought to disconnect every state the Soviets connected, and we succeeded.

Bush, with Clinton's help, switched America from being anti-Communist to pro-Open-Society. There were just as many ideologies during the Cold War, but our relative weakness, our main enemy's strength, meant we focused on his destruction.

If the US fails to defend a democratic Taiwan from China then it destroys any credibility won in the War on Terror with other nations. If we fail Taiwan what is our response to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Ukraine, Japan, Australia, our European allies, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and many other nations that depend on American security?

While China may be a problem for the United States, it is not a threat to globalization itself. China's future worth creating is a lot like ours, only with differente emphases. bin Laden's hopeful future is a nightmare. China is a developing authoritarian state that is slowly opening up. Saudi Arabia is terrible awfulness, in country-form

It would be possible to America to abandon Taiwan and maintain momentum in the Global War on Terrorism. We could make a trade with Beijing for abandoning Taiwan, and structre the trade to keep up the forward momentum.

It would be unwise, but it possible. Our response to Saudi Arabia and others would be "China is not good but getting better, you are terrible and getting worse."

Additionally, allowing China to take Taiwan by force would automatically make the 21st Century a Chinese Century, as the ability for the US to promote and defend global security would crumble. Any century that has a non-free government as the apex of the international order will not be a century of peace, economic development and the expansion of liberty.

A historical analogy is useful. Would the 20th century have been better or worse if the Britain did not intervene to save Belgium? We would have had a authoritarian-Germany-dominated trade-oriented Europe. Berlin would have torn Russia apart, crushed the terrorist states in the Balkans, isolated Paris, and probably back democracy in Belgium significantly. Instead, London saved Brussels and we got Lennin, Stalin, and Hitler for our troubles.

China is "good enough" to be the major player in Greater East Asia. It's not the future I want, but it's not necessarily bad.

Elsewhere in your post you mention that China's strategy may be to make a quick negotiated settlement favorable to Beijing. If that happens it is important that we will have thought about the consequences clearly.

Because of Japan's fears of a rising Chinese dragon, they have extended their military relationship with the US to include defending Taiwan. If war was to break out in the Taiwanese Strait, the economic engine of Asia and possibly the world would grind to a halt. It is in Japan's long term political, national security and economic interests to work with the United States in providing a proper deterrent to China. It is encouraging that Japan has boldly taken this step

Good point. Assuming a conventional naval start, international sea lanes would quickly be taken by America with China's navy destroyed. America would be dictating when and where trade continues and resumes. While mercantile cowardess leads nations to favor peace at almost any cost, American force rebalances the equation in favor of our interests.

While a popular Indian worry about any future US arms deal would be the possibility of another arms embargo, as happened with India and Pakistan over the 1996 nuclear testing. This scenario is unlikely to repeat itself, because the US strategically needs New Dehli and New Dehli is not likely to start a war with Pakistan.

Kind-of related, especially where Taiwan is concerned. North Vietnam invaded the South in 1972, and lost. America's left-dominated Congress then imposed a de-facto arms embargo on Saigon, and two yeras later Hanoi easily won. Beacuse of the influence of a small but powerful left, America has won a reputation for perfidity. India (and Taiwan) are both taking this into account.

The United States along with democratic countries in Eastern Asia have an opportunity to build a constructive alliance to deter China from seeking its goals militarily, but they must act now and wait for an emerging dragon to reform democratically.

Exactly right.

John Reed

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