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Thorough and concise summary of the Chinese challenge
on September 18, 2005
_The Coming Conflict with China_ by Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro is a relatively brief (at 221 pages) but thorough assessment of the possible threat of and (to a lesser extent) the possible solutions to an emerging China in the early years of the 21st century. While not condemning China in any manner I would describe as hateful or racist and indeed acknowledging that there is a distinct possibility China may one day grow more democratic and develop close ties to the United States in the future, the authors contended that American policy makers need to be aware of the real threat to American vital interests posed by the Chinese, the disparity between stated Chinese goals and actual Chinese policy, and the ineffectiveness if not downright naivety of past American policy dating from the late 1980s, when China and the United States no longer had the Soviet Union as a common enemy and thus no longer had much in the way of common ground on strategic issues. Chinese policy has changed markedly since then thanks to events beginning in the late 1980s, notably with the brutal crackdown of the Tiananmen Square student occupation in 1989 (the Chinese saw this and other actions as a real threat to their Communist Party), the consequences of Mikhail Gorbachev's political reforms (which the Chinese interpreted as diluting the Soviet Communist Party's power and leading to their ousting), and the 1991 Gulf War (a display of very advanced military technology and planning that stunned the Chinese, showing to them how far behind the Americans they were and technology they would have to begin to master in order to achieve territorial goals in the South China Sea and any possible future military actions against Taiwan).
The leadership in China has been working towards a goal of domination over Asia by a four-pronged strategy. First, and foremost, to gain sovereignty and control over Taiwan (the authors described in detail the Chinese naval, air, and army build up in the last decade or so), second, to expand Chinese military presence in and take control of the South China Sea (in large part by annexing small islands and island groups such as the Spratly Islands and Mischief Reef, illustrated in a map in the front of the book), third, to reduce the American military presence in East Asia (particularly if possible on the Korean peninsula, done by encouraging the collapse of North Korea and the reunification of the peninsula under South Korea, ending the need for a large American military presence there), and third, paradoxically, to maintain a high American troop presence in Japan to keep it from rearming and becoming more assertive in international affairs. The latter point is one the authors stressed several times, as the growing power of China will require a more powerful, skilled, and assertive Japanese military, as the Americans alone cannot hope to counterbalance China, to keep Taiwan safe and free, and to keep the sea lanes open (in the face of Chinese dominance in the South China Sea and any possible future actions in the waters around Taiwan such a blockade).
In addition to being on the road to becoming a hostile hegemon in Asia - a direct threat to American vital interests, as such a hegemon could coerce American allies, threaten vital trade routes and sea lanes, and counteract or otherwise threaten American military deployments in the region - China is already an economic threat to American economic interests and furthermore is using its unfair trade practices to aid it in its military buildup by amassing large foreign cash reserves and acquiring advanced technology by coercion, deception, theft, or simply strong arm tactics (additionally many companies that do business in the United States are actually owned or are subsidiaries of the People's Liberation Army). China has been added in this endeavor by something the authors called the New China Lobby, a loose organization of businesses, investors, and economic advisors that have a large financial stake in China; eager to do business there, they either follow direct Chinese suggestions and orders or act in ways they generally believe Beijing will like in order to curtail or abolish American policy designed to end Chinese tariff and non-tariff barriers (as well as any linking of economic and regulatory benefits such as Most Favored Nation Status to human right issues within China), and by companies based in our European allies, who China turns to from time to time to punish some American firm for failing to hand over high tech or proprietary technology or for Washington for passing some legislation or making a statement that Beijing disagreed with.
Bernstein and Munro stated that the U.S. should have three goals with regards to China, namely to ensure peace in Asia by maintaining a stable balance of power there, to encourage China to become a responsible state committed to non-proliferation, peaceful resolution of disputes, and honest free trade, and third, to induce China to become more democratic and respectful of human rights. To achieve those goals they suggest that Washington push for a 5% annual reduction in the trade-deficit ratio, fully and loudly support all international forums to decry Chinese human rights abuses, and be "cool and correct" but not lavish and celebratory in Chinese-American diplomatic relations (summits should not be "occasions for tyrants to bask in glory"). Americans should be realistic about Tibet, as while there is virtually no chance that it will become an independent country and too much "sentimental nonsense" has been written about some idyllic Tibetan past, Washington should nonetheless maintain a respectful and public relationship with those who represent Tibetan cultural and religious aspirations and as with human rights issues in general unapologetically point out Chinese excesses in that area. Additionally, America should seek to maintain the technological edge it has over China, deter Chinese nuclear buildups, maintain Taiwanese defenses as a credible deterrent, and to encourage and strengthen Japan militarily and politically, ending its internationally abnormal military weakness and "diplomatic pariah-hood."