Moreover, not all of China's ambitions are about money or economics. The Taiwan issue is one that China considers more important than economic considerations. It has made clear on various occasions that its response to a formal assertion of independence by Taiwan would lead to military action and that its definition of its national interest would take precedence over economic considerations. Given China's history, I don't believe China is bluffing.
Finally, China may well be viewing the South China Sea through the prism of the historic maximum extent of its empire. The context of that situation was vastly different from today's context. China was able to exert regional preeminence at that time due to a combination of its own power, how is neighbors viewed it, and the neighboring entities' lack of capacity to exert independence from China's influence. Today, there are well-organized, independent sovereign states with their own distinct interests. Accommodation is the more viable approach, if confrontation is to be avoided and mutual benefit maximized.
Last edited by donsutherland1; 06-15-11 at 10:20 AM.
If the people are looking too favorably upon the US, Japan, or Taiwan the national media will begin to circulate stories that will cause an increase in ire against any or all of the three nations. Yet the government must indeed be careful to avoid the people demanding some type of military action against the US, Japan, or Taiwan. The government knows that if a scenario arose they would be forced into actual war else face appearing impotent and weak which would not bode well for the governing body.
The US may indeed put pressure on China to rein in their activity in the South China Sea, yet China is very much aware of the delicate balance that must be struck there. The Chinese are doing what they have done for the last 40 years and that is flexing muscles in the region. I do not think they will actually carryout any direct military action in the region against any neighbor. The only way I see China ever putting nationalist interests above economic is in the case of Taiwan declaring formal independence.
Now, over the past decade China and Taiwan have greatly improved relations, with there now even being flights between the two, and the two populations are becoming ever more sympathetic towards eachother, even though any declaration would certainly cause war.
In the end though all one needs to know about the Beijing government is that they want at all costs to avoid looking unable to control their naition and unable to lead successfully. If they go into all out war with the US or even their neighbors, the economic downfall alone may very well create unstability within the nation leading to mass uprisings. Thus, there is a delicate balance there and as long as the US and it's allies realize how to use this balance to their advantage, I do not see any dire threats coming down the pike.
This is exactly the kind of situation that calls for proactive diplomacy. To minimize acting in a fashion that China would find offensive or worse, the diplomacy needs to be conducted privately. The previous U.S. offer to help mediate the growing dispute in the South China Sea was made publicly and China reacted harshly. It viewed the offer as merely an attempt by outsiders to dictate a solution. Unless China's sensitivies are dealt with, even well-intended diplomatic initiatives could backfire.
Having said all that, the U.S. does need to clearly articulate its interests and reaffirm its commitments to China. The United States' reactive, ad hoc response to Mideast events may well have suggested that U.S. commitments are limited. After all, the U.S. actively turned on a long-time dependable ally in Egypt, appeared poised to sacrifice the friendly government in Bahrain even as Bahrain hosted the largest U.S. naval base in the region and those arrayed against it enjoyed at least the public support of Iran, and even squeezed Israel beyond what any previous Administration had done despite its being a highly visible strategic ally. The combination of China's growing power and signals of limits to U.S. commitments might well have created an incentive for China to "test" things in the South China Sea. Continuing U.S. ambiguity could lead to further tests and, over time, a growing risk of miscalculation.
As I have stated in the past, I do not believe the U.S.-China relationship needs to evolve into a confrontational one. The path it takes will depend on the decisions and choices made both in China and the U.S. in coming years and beyond. In that context, it is crucial that China fully understand U.S. interests and know that the U.S. will not abandon its commitments to its regional allies. The U.S. also has to fully understand China's interests and needs. Once the constraints are readily understood on both sides of the Pacific, the bilateral relationship could then focus on the broad common ground that could yield enormous benefits to the U.S., China, and China's neighbors. Regional stability has provided vast benefits to all the countries. Proactive diplomacy would be an investment in sustaining that beneficial stability.
I believe that the chronic absence of such a policy has already reduced the United States' strategic flexibility and increased its vulnerability to energy shocks. In the long-run, the risks will mount. At a minimum, I expect resource nationalism to grow more commonplace. At worst, there could be conflicts over resources.
Hence, at least in my view, the continuing absence of such an energy policy is really quite incomprehensible. It is an extraordinary evasion of political responsibility. Nonetheless, given the bipartisan commitment to the status quo, I expect no significant changes anytime soon (aggressive investments/policies/outcomes).
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