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Only China can change US hardball policymaking (2)

15:18, October 15, 2010

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Somehow a hardball approach makes sense to many U.S. policymakers. Privately it cannot make much sense to President Obama. But given conventional American policymakers' and China experts' zero-sum game view of the world, he has to have a solution supported by China. He was not a career foreign policy or China expert before entering the Senate and running for President. Many American policymakers feel that for the United States to win, China must lose. Their post 1945 grand strategy is collapsing. At the same time it is being reiterated forcefully. Their thinking is that the United States must intimidate China economically and militarily because China is the fastest growing and second largest economy, the United States second largest trading partner, largest holder of U.S. dollar reserves and government debt, and has economic, foreign and defense policies of peaceful coexistence with America.

They must allow cool heads to prevail in military crises because it can easily get out of control. For example, South Korean ships should not be being torpedoed in the Yellow Sea. That has to be stopped. Collisions of war ships and fishing boats should not be allowed to happen in the South China Sea. But the United States and China need a brilliant, unconventional new way to respond to such provocations. Rather than China being manipulated and portrayed as a war-like power, China must insist on joining the U.S. and South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea and the U.S. and Vietnam naval exercises in the South China Sea. Those U.S. shows of force jointly with China's neighbors today should be turned into peacekeeping by China with the United States, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc. If that is not done, then such challenges to China will force it into counter measures justifying even greater challenges and dangers to China and Asia.

Instead of stabilizing Asia as it did in the past, the United States is destabilizing what is a peaceful and economically progressing region of the world. Policymakers in President Obama's administration continued arms sales to Taiwan as cross-straits relations are improving. They are confronting China over Internet regulation and encourage separatist movements and regime change in China, although or because it is experiencing unprecedented positive economic development and social change. They are seeking further sanctions and announcing that they are making military regime-change plans toward China's neighbor North Korea. They have announced they have regime change plans for Iran, where China gets 25 percent of its oil. They have wanted and worked toward regime change in China for over 60 years. These types of policies can only produce more rather than less global instability.

Conducting major U.S. military exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea and Vietnam in South China Seas, and intervening in sovereignty issues in the South China Sea are taking us onto slippery slopes that America and China must back quickly away from. In this century the world is far too fragile. Economic and military force is too devastating to play great power games anymore. To the Chinese, this is common sense. But in the United States, policy-making idealism dictates that projecting power militarily is what has to be done because economic recovery requires an economic and military showdown with China.

U.S. economic recovery is hard, slow and requires big changes in U.S. policy and American ways of life. Projecting power militarily seems easy, fast and requires no fundamental changes in U.S. policy. All it requires is economic and trade protectionism and military aggressiveness with China that may be popular among many U.S. voters. But what is easy will not create the sustainable economic recovery Americans urgently need.

President Obama has pledged that he will double U.S. exports to China in an effort to increase U.S. competitiveness and stimulate its economy. To increase exports to China, the United States will need to remove policies that restrict trade with China and propose policies that are mutually beneficial for both nations.

Increasing U.S. exports to China also requires preventing a trade or currency war. Nonetheless, economic and trade policymakers in President Obama's administration have implemented tariffs on steel, tires and other goods made in China, introduced more than 23 anti-dumping, anti-subsidy and special protectionist tariffs, and launched at least six Section 337 investigations against China for alleged unfair practices in export trade. At least a 53 percent increase in the number of cases involved 7.6 billion U.S. dollars worth of Chinese exports, which is 800 percent more than in the previous year. The U.S. is seeking to increase its exports to China while setting up trade barriers for China's exports. China is the world's largest importer, and currently China and the U.S. are each other's second largest trading partners. There are threats of new tariffs if China does not agree to the United States' proposed carbon emissions cap and trade proposals and lately talk of a currency war and tariffs over cap and trade. This is occurring in addition to longstanding U.S. trade restrictions on what can be sold to China because U.S. military strategy is traditionally preparing for war with China.

This is not the optimum path for American policymaking. Or is it? Americans are suffering from relentless and unsuccessful wars, unsustainable global trade deficits and government debt, high unemployment and the worst economic crisis in a hundred years. To many U.S. policymakers who learned their craft in the Cold War, hard ball seems to be the realistic approach to the United States' most important bilateral and multilateral relationship. It is obvious to them that China, with its second largest and fastest growing economy, is an increasingly dangerous threat to U.S. economic and national security. Their zero sum game view of how global economics and geopolitics work assumes and acts as if for America to be successful, China must be unsuccessful. They are wrong. They do not realize that or they do realize that and are trying to engineering or blundering into a showdown.

The key point is that until President Obama and the American people are presented with a plan for how America and China can both be successful in the 21st century, we are on the slippery slope. Chinese policymakers' safe response is to provide President Obama with a new grand strategy introduced for discussion in a white paper for the Presidents of American and China. China's leaders and President Obama should also read and discuss Thomas Barnett's "The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating." The Sino-U.S. relationship must be made profoundly better soon. Therefore it must be fundamentally different soon. The 20th century is over.

John Milligan-Whyte has been called the "new Edgar Snow" and "21st century Kissinger" and is the winner of Social Responsibility Award from the 2010 Summit of China Business Leaders. John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min are co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series, founders of the Center for America-China Partnership, which has been recognized as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for the success of America and China's success in the 21st century," and the authors of the America-China Partnership Book Series that created a "New School of America-China Relations."

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The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min are the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010. They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for America-China Partnership in 2005. E-mail: [email protected]