Following is my response to a critique by Steven Kopits, President of Princeton Energy Advisors, based in Princeton, New Jersey, who featured a recent article in The National Interest, a leading US journal titled China Should Push for American-Style Hegemony on 3 August, 2016.
"Many thanks for taking a keen interest in my South China Morning Post op-ed article. For ease of reference, a ready link to it is appended here".
"Most of my ten points are inter-related. Instead of a blow-by-blow riposte, here are the main strategic fundamentals which underpin my thinking:
(a) As I tried to outline, the South China Sea is not just about territorial claims, historic or otherwise. It’s no less than China’s national security. China’s long-standing sense of insecurity over the Malacca Dilemma is compounded by US military postures under its Pivot to Asia, with the aim of redeploying 60% of global naval assets to the region. This sense of insecurity is now further sharpened by straining relations with Taiwan under new President Tsai Ing-wen. One should not under-estimate Beijing’s resolve to safeguard such overarching core national interests. China’s development of a blue-water navy, improving A2/AD capabilities, establishment of a nuclear submarine base in Hainan Island, and recent island-building with military facilities in the South China Sea must be seen in this broader context.
(b) Freedom of navigation underpins the economic viability of the South China Sea on which China’s economic survival depends. There is no reason why China wants to disrupt normal mercantile shipping or navigation. Nor would China gain by pushing the US out of the Asia Pacific, even if she could, which she can’t by a long chalk. America is much embedded economically and militarily in the region. But military manoeuvres including fighter-bomber fly-past are a different story. Admittedly, these FONOP activities have been going on for a long time past. But China is much much stronger now compared with say, 20 years ago. Would the United States accept similar Chinese FONOP operations near its shores?
(c) Neither China nor the United States wants a war in the Asia-Pacific. China, because of her myriad domestic challenges and unfinished transition to a more sustainable and balanced socio-economic model. The United States because the American people are getting a little tired of unproductive wars in distant shores. 70% of Americans say it is more important for the next president to focus on domestic policy than foreign policy. Click here The case for US restraint is meticulously presented in a recent 113-page Cato Institute report - Our Foreign Policy Choices – Rethinking America’s Global Role. A resume is here.
(d) Few Chinese now see China as just an Ordinary Power, least of all President Xi. However, the vast majority, including President Xi, do not see China as a new hegemon in an increasingly inter-connected, inter-dependent and multi-polar world. President Xi has on various occasions raised the prospects for what he calls “New Great Power Relations”. The emphasis is on the word “NEW”. The so-called Thucydides Trap doesn’t have to be sprung. Security Dilemma can work either way, in escalation or diffusion. The two countries don’t have to agree on everything. There can be healthy competition and rivalry. But there are also specific areas for cooperation. Trust is a two-way street. War is not inevitable.
(e) A long-view on US-China relations is offered by seasoned diplomat Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy in The Diplomat (August 24, 2016):
“U.S. policy towards China should be based on realistic assumptions. China is surrounded by powerful neighbours. Beijing can no more dominate East Asia than the United States can retain the type of dominance it enjoyed when China was militarily weak. The goal should be to forge a stable military balance with China where each side possesses capabilities sufficient to deter the other from using force to resolve serious differences, while lacking the dominance that could, in the eyes of the other, foster aggressive intentions.
"Beijing is learning that assertive behaviour alienates its neighbours and drives them into the arms of the United States. When it displays readiness to accommodate the interests of countries on its periphery, and relies on consultations and peaceful negotiations to resolve disputes, its neighbours seek the benefits of economic cooperation with China. We should capture and utilize this dynamic in our policy approach, neither provoking China nor giving it free rein to run roughshod over the interests of its neighbours. For effective implementation, this means we must tightly integrate our economic, defence, and diplomatic strategies in East Asia”.
The above echoes what Henry Kissinger thinks in his New York Times best seller – World Order (September 2015). A more nuanced and less militarily-confrontational approach towards China is called for. That is also reflected in my quoted admonitions of Brookings Institution’s Jeffrey Bader on the South China Sea - What the US and China should do in the wake of the South China Sea ruling. Click here
(f) China's trump card is not the military. It's connectivity. China’s growing gravitas as the world’s second largest economy is underpinned by her unique role as a central hub to the globe’s supply and value chain. China is doubling down on this by launching a One Belt, One Road inter-continental strategy of infrastructural connectivity, connecting Central Asia and Western Europe including energy, resources, technologies and other investments even more closely to China. In part this acts as a counterweight to the US Asia Pivot. Perhaps in this vein, our lines of thinking tend to coincide, though I disagree with the idea of hegemony.
Perhaps that is the spirit in which my Op-ed article should be read".
Best personal regards,