Life in Chinas Asia


Article Notes


This article undermines its own point. Britain didn't intervene to roll back the US's Monroe Doctrine. The US didn't intervene to roll back the Soviet domination of the Eastern Europe. None of the other Great Powers intervened against Imperial China. And when the US did intervene against Imperial Japan, it resulted in the costliest and deadliest war in the history of the nation, culiminating in the only usage of atomic weapons in human history. So why should the US and Japan ally to constrain China's establishment of a sphere of influence in East and Southeast Asia, when this is likely to carry a punishing cost in terms of military and economic commitments, and may only delay the inevitable, rather than forestalling it?

While I agree that China is hardly an ideal hegemon, I have to question the current notion in US foreign policy circles that China must be contained by a US-led alliance. We have to remember that, at one point, the US was a similarly revisionist power; that its promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine was a rebuke to European Great Powers who saw the Caribbean and Latin America as their colonial spheres of influence. Similarly, China today is attempting to carve out the South China Sea and portions of Southeast Asia as its own strategic hinterland, much as the US exerts strategic superiority over North and South America.

It's clear that Japan, Taiwan, Korea and other Asian powers do not have sufficient economic or military power, even acting in concert, to constrain China, much in the same way that Canada, Mexico, Brazil and other American states cannot constrain the United States. It's clear (and I am in agreement with the article, here) that any such alliance to constrain China would have to be backed by the United States. Where I disagree with the article is that I think that attempting to contain China will destabilize the region and make future military conflict more likely.

Imagine if European powers had not acceded to the Monroe Doctrine, and instead had worked actively through their colonies in North and South America to try to contain the emerging power of the United States of America? Would that have worked to stabilize the world? Or would it have led to a series of wars as the US sought to establish a sphere of influence in which it had the ability to operate without interference from other powers?

Another example is modern Russia. After the end of the Cold War, the US and Europe expanded NATO to the edge of Russia itself, going back on earlier informal promises that the would not do so. But instead of stabilizing and containing Russia, this has only led to more instability, as the current Russian leadership, like its Communist predecessors, sees itself as under siege by a West intent on overthrowing it. This has led to an increase in tensions, and unnecessary strategic brinksmanship over Russian actions in Ukraine and its military buildup in Kaliningrad and along the Baltic States. Far from stabilizing Eastern Europe, the expansion of NATO has destabilized the region, and has made Great Power conflict more likely, not less.

Yet, despite having these two historical lessons, both from the recent and more distant pasts, we have established foreign policy experts advocating for US writing more checks against a bank balance that is already dangerously close to being overdrawn. I fail to see how further confrontation with China in East Asia is conducive to US interests in the long term. While we may gain short term advantages in trade and geopolitics, any such gains will be erased by the harm that will be done to long-term US-China relations. Being implacably and hypocritically opposed to China carving out a strategic hinterland only reduces our long-term leverage and closes off opportunities to further integrate China into existing international institutions.

It's clear that China will rise to become the pre-eminent Great Power in East Asia. What is not clear is what US-China relations will be at that point. Will the Chinese leadership see the US as co-equal Great Power that can be productively negotiated with? Or will they see the US as an implacable opponent, whose overtures are to be met with suspicion and hostility? The choice is ours to make, and will set the tone for US-China relations for generations. We should choose carefully.