Avoiding war with China: Revisited

(From the National Interest)

By John Glaser

I want to thank Harry Kazianis for taking the time to rebut my recent article in which I argued that, in order to avoid a clash with a rising China the United States should abandon its strategy of primacy in the Asia Pacific. Containment of China is a costly and risky strategy, I claimed, and one that is not necessary to secure America’s vital national interests. Crucially though, the core of my argument came down to this: the prospect for such apparently belligerent policies to successfully dampen China’s regional ambitions is very dim. That Beijing will grow more assertive in response seems more likely.

PLA armored unit

PLA armored unit

Kazianis decided not to address the essential core of my argument in his rebuttal. He says that China is the real troublemaker in the region, not us. China has provocatively expanded its military budget and has acted out on its overly expansive maritime and territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, which its neighbors dispute. Our allies in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines, he argues, quoting a Taiwanese official, “want more America, not less” because “Washington is the only thing that ensures China’s rise is not Asia’s nightmare.” Finally, he claims that Americans have an obligation to maintain our predominant military position in the region for the sake of “the international order in Asia.”

Citing government officials in East Asia who argue for “more America, not less” is hardly an argument in favor of continuing our current strategy. It’s not difficult to understand why that is their view—after all, we carry the burden for their security. Few states would reject “mutual” defense guarantees and massive subsidization of their military power by a distant country when the alternative is doing all that hard work themselves. Moreover, it’s difficult to put too much stock in their hysteria about China’s nefarious rise when it’s supposedly vulnerable and terrified neighbors are reluctant to spend more than 1-2 percent of their GDP on defense. As long as Americans continue to underwrite the defense of China’s rivals, they will continue to free-ride on our offerings. Meanwhile, the gap between our foreign policy and our vital national interests widens. Read more


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