China: Toward Cooperation and Competition

January 18, 2011

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington today.  After a year in which military relations were suspended and ties were strained across the board, the U.S. and China are looking for ways to cooperate on global challenges such as combating terrorism, curbing nuclear proliferation, addressing climate change, global pandemics, and economic crises.  Security experts and China hands agree that a decline into Cold War style hostility will harm the interests of the US, China, and the rest of the world – and that the US retains an enormous military advantage.  Washington can and must find ways to make its concerns heard on economics, human rights, and other differences, while also exploring areas ripe for partnership and encouraging China to join us in shouldering global burdens.

U.S.-China cooperation and engagement central to tackling global challenges and threats.

As the Washington Post reported yesterday, “Chinese President Hu Jintao, who travels to Washington this week for a state visit after a year marked by disputes and tension with the United States, said the two countries could mutually benefit by finding ‘common ground’ on issues from fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation to cooperating on clean energy and infrastructure development. ‘There is no denying that there are some differences and sensitive issues between us,’ Hu said in written answers to questions from The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. ‘We both stand to gain from a sound China-U.S. relationship, and lose from confrontation.”” Michael Schiffer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs has also explained, “A strong U.S-China bilateral relationship, and a strong relationship between China and its neighbors, all working in concert with a China that observes international norms, that plays by common rules of the road, and that exercises its new-found national power responsibly, can be a significant force in tackling shared challenges. So, while we may still have some distance to go before we achieve deep and genuine ‘strategic understanding’ between our two nations, there are opportunities to build and improve on areas of bilateral cooperation.”

Nina Hachigian, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, explained, “Make no mistake:  this is not just an issue of China doing ‘what America wants’ or behaving ‘according to American interests.’  Global warming, global macroeconomic imbalances and nuclear proliferation, among others, affect citizens the world over.  The demands for China to act are coming from many corners, not just Washington.”  In a recent report, Hachigian further recommended, “As it has already, the Obama administration needs to make the case directly and consistently in bilateral meetings with China that when it steps up to the plate on key global issues the effort is welcomed publicly and privately and, conversely, that free-riding is not appropriate to a country of China’s stature. The United States needs to encourage its partners and allies to do the same, as international respect is an important lever to move China.”  [Washington Post, 1/17/11. Michael Schiffer, 1/6/11. Nina Hachigian, 8/13/10. Nina Hachigian, 1/11.

U.S. remains vigilant against growing Chinese military power, retains massive advantage. Defense analyst Fred Kaplan puts China's military strength in context: "For all the talk of its new capabilities and potential threats, the Chinese military is still-and will long be-small stuff compared with the U.S. armed forces. China is finally about to deploy its first aircraft carrier. The United States has 11... China has 38 combat ships, four of them weighing more than 7,500 tons; the United States has 111, of which 79 are in that class. China has one amphibious landing ship; the United States has 24, along with 11 amphibious assault ships. China has six nuclear attack submarines; the United States has 58. China has 1,605 fighter planes; the United States has 3,695.  And back to that stealth plane. That's China's only one; the United States has 139. Nor do numbers convey the full extent of the gap. The excellent Web site DefenseTech.org asked aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia to size up the Chinese stealth plane, known as the J-20, against the U.S. F-35. He listed 11 criteria by which to gauge a modern military aircraft, including not only whether its surface is contoured to make the plane less visible to radar (the essence of stealth) but also its access to multiple sensors and data links, an electronic-warfare system, a powerful engine, sophisticated weapons, and training and doctrine that enable a pilot to take advantage of all these things. The Chinese plane has one of those features-the curved surface-but none of the others, whereas the U.S. planes have all of them. Again: It's worthy of attention, some concern, but not worry."

President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb explains further, "U.S. hawks are pounding the drums about increases in China's military spending. It is increasing by double digit percentages annually, and that's a lot, and it is worrisome. But Washington spends about $750 billion yearly on defense, while Beijing's comparable budget is in the neighborhood of $150 billion. American hawks are also blowing their trumpets over technological advances in Chinese weaponry. For example, they're developing better missiles, and so are we. And they are also testing new ‘stealthy' jet fighters ahead of schedule. But U.S. forces can still detect them and shoot them down, as Defense Secretary Gates noted." [Fred Kaplan, 1/11/11. Les Gelb, 1/16/11]

We must manage our differences – and voice them openly – without a slide into antagonism would damage the core interests of both nations.   US leaders of both parties are united on this point – even as they also raise important concerns over economics and human rights as well as security.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluded last week, “It is clear that we cannot paper over the difference between our countries; nor should we try to do so,” she said. “But the future of our relationship can be strong if we each meet our responsibilities as great nations.”  Zbigniew Brzezinski recently writes in a New York Times op-ed that, “The worst outcome for Asia’s long-term stability as well as for the American-Chinese relationship would be a drift into escalating reciprocal demonization. What’s more, the temptations to follow such a course are likely to grow as both countries face difficulties at home… Thirty years after their collaborative relationship started, the United States and China should not flinch from a forthright discussion of their differences – but they should undertake it with the knowledge that each needs the other. A failure to consolidate and widen their cooperation would damage not just both nations but the world as a whole. Neither side should delude itself that it can avoid the harm caused by an increased mutual antagonism; both should understand that a crisis in one country can hurt the other.”

Henry Kissinger writes, , “The aim should be to create a tradition of respect and cooperation so that the successors of leaders meeting now continue to see it in their interest to build an emerging world order as a joint enterprise.” [Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1/2/11. Hillary Clinton via the New York Times, 1/14/11. Henry Kissinger, 1/14/11]

What We’re Reading

Three ministers withdrew from Tunisia’s national unity government, one day after it was unveiled.

Haitian authorities question Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Haitian former exiled president, to determine whether he should be prosecuted for alleged abuses and theft from the treasury during his rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu richly rewarded Defense Minister Ehud Barak for leaving his Labor Party, giving four cabinet posts to his five-member breakaway faction.

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of police recruits, killing at least 52 people and undercutting Iraqi security efforts as the nation struggles to show it can protect itself without foreign help.

Pakistan’s refusal to attack militants in an area on its northwest border has made it easier for American drones to strike them.

Eurozone finance ministers urged an increase to the currency bloc’s bailout capacity, in a bid to assuage market fears that Portugal and others might need rescue.

The Sudanese Islamist opposition leader, Hassan Al-Turabi, has been taken into custody by Sudan’s security members along with a handful of mid-rank members of his

Popular Congress Party (PCP) after warning that street protests similar to the ones that occurred in Tunisia could happen if president Al-Bashir failed to share power.

The Russian president, on a rare visit to the West Bank, reaffirmed Moscow’s recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Spanish police arrested 10 people in their first operation against the Basque separatist organization ETA since it called a permanent ceasefire.

Ukraine’s ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko vowed not to flee her homeland as she again appeared before prosecutors in part of a wide-ranging corruption probe that has already sent 10 of her senior aides to jail and banned her from leaving the capital.

Commentary of the Day

Paul Krugman explores whether there exists a way to save Europe’s democracies from sinking together in the ill-conceived currency union.

Daniel DePetris suggests that since 9/11, political Islam has become the de facto opposition movement for millions in the Middle East who wish to change, democratize, and improve their societies – and this shift can be used to the advantage of the United States and its western allies.

Leslie H. Gelb revisits Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address for lessons about the importance and interrelatedness of responsible foreign and domestic policy that continue to resonate fifty years later.

 

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