Thursday, October 8, 2009

Think-Tank Report Calls on U.S. To Engage, Not Challenge, China

Defense News


Think-Tank Report Calls on U.S. To Engage, Not Challenge, China


TAIPEI — A new report issued by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) proposes strategies for U.S. policymakers that encourage China to become a “responsible stakeholder” and “peacefully integrate into the regional and international order.”

Washington-based CNAS was co-founded in 2007 by Kurt Campbell, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for Asia, and Michèle Flournoy, now undersecretary of defense for policy. Though their names are not on the report, CNAS is clearly the brain­child of both.

Issued Sept. 24, “China’s Arrival: A Strategic Framework for a Global Relationship” strongly suggests that the United States make a “concerted effort to engage China as a major partner in confronting global problems.”

The report reviews energy security and climate change, China’s emerging naval strategy, nuclear proliferation and arms control, and offers some pragmatic recommendations to Washington policymakers that discourage the tendency to treat China “as a threat.”

It was written and edited by Linton Brooks, Joshua Busby, Abraham Denmark, Lindsey Ford, Michael Green, John Ikenberry, Robert Kaplan, Nirav Patel, Daniel Twining and Richard Weitz.

Not everyone agrees China should be treated as an equal player on the global stage so soon.

“We need to be careful not to give China credit for becoming a global power before its time,” said Dennis Wilder, former senior director for East Asian affairs on the George W. Bush administration’s National Security Council.

“If this is done, we may undervalue our friends in Asia and undermine our own strength in the region. China is becoming a responsible international stakeholder, but we should not forget that it still has some distance to go in this regard.”

The report concedes that there are bumps in the road. For example, China continues to be apprehensive about assisting the United States on North Korea. China fears a unified Korean peninsula, calling it “geopolitically inconvenient to China,” said Kaplan, a CNAS fellow.

The main reason is geostrategic.

“Jutting out far from the Asian mainland, the Korean Peninsula commands all maritime traffic in northeastern China and, more particularly, traps in its armpit the Bohai Sea, home to China’s largest offshore oil reserve,” Kaplan said.

A divided Korea is “momentarily useful to China,” despite the “many headaches its hermitic regime gives Beijing,” he said. It provides a “buffer between China and the vibrant and successful democracy that is South Korea.” Just as China does not want a unified Korean peninsula, it needs to consolidate control of Taiwan.

The problem with Taiwan is that it occupies a key piece of strategic territory. Kaplan said the island “dominates the center point of China’s convex seaboard.”

Taiwan’s physical presence, as an obstacle, “irritates Chinese naval planners.” China views the “first island chain” as a “reverse maritime Great Wall” that restricts China’s naval expansion. “Of all the guard towers along the reverse maritime Great Wall, Taiwan is, metaphorically, the tallest and most centrally located,” Kaplan said, and Taiwan’s return to China would end the “maritime straitjacket.” 

Future Recommendations 

The paper recommends the United States prepare mentally for a future that would include a rearmed Japan, a unified Korea, a Taiwan unified with the mainland, and a neutral Philippines and Australia.

Washington should prepare for Chinese military expansion into the South China Sea. Beijing views the area as a “second Persian Gulf,” according to the paper, and as China’s economy grows, the need for oil will create a significant Chinese naval presence in this region.

The report warns of Chinese “wild cards” the U.S. should be prepared for, including the increase in nuclear-armed submarines and the development of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons.

“Unlike a strategic attack, the Chinese might conclude the United States would not retaliate for a tactical EMP attack that caused no casualties,” said Brooks, a former director of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

A third wild card, regarding Taiwan, is the possibility China might risk using nuclear weapons on a U.S. naval task force, according to the report.

The paper makes five recommendations to U.S. strategic planners: 

■ Acknowledge mutual vulnerability as a fact of life. A ballistic missile defense against Chinese missiles is not politically feasible for the long term. 

■ Offer confidence-building measures to help China see the limited nature of U.S. ballistic missile defenses.

■ Continue efforts toward a strategic dialogue on nuclear issues. 

■ Complement that dialogue with technical talks. 

■ Ignore arms control for now.

“Worrying about China in strategic arms control, before U.S. and Russian warhead levels approach those of China, is premature,” Brooks said.

Taiwan is not the only obstacle to better military relations. CNAS fellow Denmark suggests that others include the U.S. 2000 Defense Authorization Act, which regulates U.S. military contacts with China, and the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military modernization, which Beijing claims hypes the “China threat.”

However, there are signs for hope, Denmark said. Prior to the April G20 conference, China and the United States agreed to upgrade the primary pre-existing dialogue from the Strategic Economic Dialogue to the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED).

The designation of the U.S. State and Treasury department secretaries and China’s vice premier and state councilor with diplomatic and economic portfolios as the heads of the delegation to the S&ED “signaled a shift in the substance of the relation,” Denmark said.

The addition of “relatively high-level military representatives signaled a broadening of the dialogue to include military and security issues.” Though this was an improvement, Denmark said, it “did not go far enough” and should have included the U.S. defense secretary and the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. This would have made “the S&ED truly reflective of the entire relationship.