Containing China: The surprising alliance

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Several years ago, in his best-selling book "The Clash of Civilizations," political scientist Samuel Huntington argued that the future of Asia would be characterized by rising Chinese dominance, at the head of coalition of nations, drawn to Beijing by its economic, cultural and military power.

Even pro-Western states such as South Korea, Thailand and perhaps even Japan would be overwhelmed, and gradually come under Chinese influence.

While Huntington's overall theory was intriguing, in this case he was completely wrong. In fact, what has happened over the past decade is that a loose coalition of nations -- including the ones Huntington predicted would become Chinese satellites -- has begun to unite against the rise of China.

China has not helped its cause with its territorial ambitions. In recent months, Beijing has initiated a conflict with Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, a potentially oil rich zone.

The Chinese are also locked in an ongoing struggle over control over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, disputing with Vietnam, the Philippines and other states over this resource-rich area.

India and China have for decades argued, and in some cases fought, over their mutual boundaries in the Himalayas as well. The greatest potential flash point, of course, is control over the island of Taiwan, a de facto independent state since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and communist control over the mainland.

China routinely threatens to invade if Taiwan declares its independence, and has built up amphibious forces, rocket and missile batteries, and a growing navy to increase the reality of these threats.

It is in this last category, its navy, that China is engendering the most concern. From its recently announced plans to deploy three aircraft carriers, along with its ongoing efforts to build a deep water navy, China has begun to show real signs of early global capabilities.

With Chinese defense spending continuing to increase by double-digit percentages each year, the Chinese navy is the prime recipient of much of this budget.

Second only to the U.S. in overall military expenditures, the Chinese are also the only major power that is currently increasing their acquisitions of armaments, both through domestic production as well as through multibillion dollar contracts from Russian weapons manufacturers.

Russian submarines, destroyers, naval aircraft and other purchases are making their way to China on a regular basis, arrayed to counter U.S. and allied ships in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and surrounding areas.

From Japan to Australia, Vietnam to India, most Asian and Pacific states now see their interests more aligned with the U.S. than with China. Only North Korea and Burma, allies of dubious value, can be considered loyal Chinese partners.

The Obama administration has taken some preliminary steps to support this growing anti-Chinese (or at least Chinese-wary) coalition, stationing U.S. Marines in Australia, improving military-to-military ties with Vietnam and India, and maintaining current overall U.S. forces in the Pacific, even as we reduce overseas deployments elsewhere.

However, there remains even greater potential to build on this broad base, with opportunities for increased sales of U.S. military equipment, joint multinational exercises, and even a potential revival of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, a military alliance created in the 1950s that was dismantled by the Carter administration in 1977 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

The U.S. should also support the territorial integrity and claims of its allies against threatened or actual moves by the People's Republic of China.

The Chinese government is a growing regional and global threat to genuinely free markets, an ongoing opponent of democracy and human rights, and an enabler of the world's worst regimes, from Syria to Zimbabwe to Sudan to North Korea.

Any additional efforts the United States can take to support the pre-existing opposition to Chinese ambitions will serve U.S. interests, as well as the cause of freedom, in the Pacific, East Asia and the world.

Dr. Wayne Bowen received his Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University, and is also an Army veteran.

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