US Lack of Global Vision in Balancing China


US President Barack Obama (L) walks with China's President Xi Jinping at the Zongnanhai leaders compound, ahead of a dinner in Beijing on November 11, 2014. The summit of Asia-Pacific leaders supported a China-backed "roadmap" towards a vast free trade area, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on November 11. AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama (L) walks with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Zongnanhai leaders compound, ahead of a dinner in Beijing on November 11, 2014. The summit of Asia-Pacific leaders supported a China-backed “roadmap” towards a vast free trade area, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on November 11. AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

I am surprised by US strategists’ lack of global vision when I read Robert D. Blackwill and Ashley Tellis’s report for the Council on Foreign Relations titled “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China” and Stephen M. Walt’s article in Foreign Policy magazine on the report titled “Where Do We Draw the Line on Balancing China?”.

China is indeed the strongest emerging economy, but not the only one. If the US wants to remain world leader, it has to deal with not only China but also lots of other emerging economies especially a community of them. That is the real problem a declining United States will be facing and the trend China is exploiting.

In the past, France tried to grow into a rival to the US but failed. It realized that France alone was not large enough and had not enough resources to contend with the US. It develops the initiative of European community to have a strong Europe to be America’s rival.

The EU has expanded too fast and therefore has some teething problems, but its potential to be US rival is obvious.

In my post “CHINA’S GREATER ASIA CO-PROSPERITY SPHERE” on January 29, 2012, I point out China’s idea to learn from the EU to set up what I called China’s Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere (Co-prosperity Sphere)

In the post, I said, “China is now at a turning point. For further economic growth to realize its dream to become too strong to be bullied by other countries, it needs a huge market, lots of natural resources and cheep labor.”

China has succeeded in copying the models of Asian emerging economies such as Singapore, Taiwan, etc. in growing rich first by exploiting its own cheap labor and then keep up the growth through investment abroad to exploit the cheap labor in other countries.

China wanted to export its Chinese model. At that time, it chose North Korea as a country to turn from extreme poverty to prosperity by copying the Chinese model but failed.

Now, Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched his initiative of the Silk Road economic belt and 21st century maritime Silk Road (One Belt, One Road) as China’s first step to establish the Co-prosperity Sphere, which if successful may become something similar to European Community.

What China is doing is to turn the poor and backward countries in the Belt and along the Road into emerging economies so that China may exploit the cheap labor and natural resources while providing them with China’s vast market to enjoy the cheap products provided by them.

That is what Xi means a win-win result he pursues through his initiative.

China and ASEAN’s quick success in their free trade area (FTA) proves that China’s approach is indeed a win-win one. It is so convincing that two major Asia-Pacific economic powers South Korea and Australia agreed to have FTA relations with China last year.

Now, China has FTA with lots of Asia-Pacific countries. In addition, it has iron-brother relations with Pakistan and Shanghai Cooperation Organization with Russia and Central Asian countries.

That enables China’s pursuit of a Free Trade Area Asian Pacific (FTAAP) to become a reality in the foreseeable future. The FTAAP will be the embryo of China’s Co-prosperity Sphere or an Asia Community similar to European Community.

Robert D. Blackwill and Ashley Tellis suggest in their report the following prescriptions to balance China: revitalizing US economy, building preferential trading arrangements with Asian partners (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership), denying critical technology to China, shoring up U.S. and allied military capabilities in Asia, etc.

Stephen M. Walt says in his article, “Needless to say, it is hard for a realist like me to find much fault with these prescriptions (and other prominent realists have been sounding similar warnings for some time now).”

It seems American prominent realists including Robert D. Blackwill, Ashley Tellis and Stephen M. Walt all lack global vision. They all fail to realize that the issue is not to balance China but the Asian community China will establish.

US politicians’ lack of global vision is typically reflected in their entire ignorance of Russia in their strategic switch to pivot to Asia.

Perhaps the ignorance is due to their arrogance. I am not sure. I only know that President Bush boasted that the US was capable to fight two wars simultaneously but made his successor President Obama unable even to fight one war against ISIS that has publicly announced its intention to attack the US.

Let’s return to US pivot to Asia. Everybody knows the pivot aims at containing China though the US denies that.

It has failed to convince China as China begins its arms race with the US for that. However, the denial makes Russia believe the pivot is also aimed at containing Russia.

There is the following section in my post “South China Sea dispute: Encirclement of China” on July 8, 2013:

Encirclement of Russia, a Byproduct of Encirclement of China
Like German strategists in World War II, US strategists miscalculated.

Germany knew well that it should not fight a war on both eastern and western sides, but it attacked the Soviet Union and finally lost the war for that.

Now, in formulating the new strategy of “return to Asia”, the United States neglects the potential of Russia, the major part of the disintegrated Soviet Union with the ambition to succeed the Soviet Union as another number one in the world, an equal rival to the United States.

At that time, Russia was in dire predicament. All former Soviet constituent and satellite countries have been or are being drawn away by the EU. It has almost no influence in Europe.

In the strategic areas for its security in the Middle East, the West lead by the United States have been cutting Russian ties with the countries there, first Iraq, then Libya and now Syria. It seems that Russian influence will remain only in Asia mainly in India and Vietnam.

If by its return to Asia, the US has substituted its influence for Russia’s in India and Vietnam and subdued China by encircling it, then it will be Russia’s turn to be closely encircled by the US.

Without Russia, there will be a large hole in China’s Co-prosperity Sphere, but it was very difficult for China to win over Russia as Russia regarded China’s rise as a threat to its security.

However, US pivot made Russia understand the need to have China and Japan as its allies or at least friends to counter US encirclement. It gave China the opportunity to win over Russia as its ally. In that process, Russia tried hard to win over Japan as a balance to China while improving its relations with China.

China’s support for Russia in Ukraine issue has made Russia its de facto close ally while Japanese Prime Minister failed in his efforts to build close ties with Russia to balance China as he takes side with the US in Ukraine issue.

Now, US President Obama is stupid again to say that his tightening of US ties with Japan does not target China. He makes Russia believe that Russia is also the target.

Through estranging Ukraine from Russia, Europe and the US have succeeded in encircling Russia in the west. They have forced Russia to go east, but the US and Japan are trying to encircle not only China but also Russia in the East. The natural outcome of US and Japan’s efforts to tighten their ties is closer ties between Russia and China.

Previously, Russia was afraid of Chinese people’s infiltration into Russia’s Siberia, but now Russia has to go east to develop Siberia with Chinese assistance as Russian people do not want to go east. Russia will become an enthusiastic member of China’s Co-prosperity Sphere.

Do US politicians have the vision to foresee that consequence? No, that is why I regard them as strategy illiterates.

US strategists seem also to ignore Indian Prime Minister Modi’s desire to copy Chinese model in economic development. India as an emerging Asian power may become an important member of China’s Co-prosperity Sphere.

US problems lie in its declining economic strength instead of China’s rise to contend with it for world leadership.

China is rising but so are other countries. An alliance of two or a few rising countries, especially between China and Russia may put an end to US world leadership unless the US keeps growing at similar growth rate.

Source: Council on Foreign Relations “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China”

Source: Foreign Policy “Where Do We Draw the Line on Balancing China?”

Full texts of the Council on Foreign Relations report and Foreign Policy article are respectively available at: http://www.cfr.org/china/revising-us-grand-strategy-toward-china/p36371 and https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/04/27/where-do-we-draw-the-line-on-balancing-china/