China and its Discontents

Air-Sea Battle: A Dangerous, Unaffordable Threat

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Below is a cross-post of an essay I published in The Diplomat.

It is an obvious statement that war between the U.S. and China would be catastrophic, wasteful, and a colossal failure of both countries’ grand strategies. The consequences would be difficult to quantify — massive repercussions to the global economy, loss of life, and possible escalation to nuclear war. Neither the U.S. nor China could possibly “win” from such a war, at least using any rational definition of victory.

How then has this reality affected debates over Air-Sea Battle (ASB)? Proponents of ASB are careful to note that war with China is unlikely and unwanted, and that ASB exists to deter war with China. But these studied responses paper over some logical problems with the battle concept.

One major assumption proponents make is that ASB is the only deterrent that will prevent a revisionist China from attacking first. Under this calculus, perceived intentions are often ignored. As the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments’ Andrew Krepinevich writes in one of the first public reports on ASB: “While both countries profess benign intentions, it is an old military maxim that since intentions can change overnight—especially in authoritarian regimes—one must focus on the military capabilities of other states.”

But one doesn’t have to rely on Chinese intentions to assess how competing strategies would alter its strategic calculus. For China, a more limited U.S. strategy such as a Sea Denial campaign or T.X. Hammes’ Offshore Control would make war a failure before it began:

  1. A U.S. blockade and other war-induced economic crises at home would severely reduce the Chinese industrial capacity and mobilization, and force China to back down before it started to affect the popular legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. Interdicting shipping along the Malacca and Sunda Straits, and in the Indian Ocean, would cut off about 80 percent of China’s oil imports, or about 45 percent of total supply. Remaining overland pipelines could also be targeted. This would leave the PLA with limited domestic production, 90 days worth of oil in their Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and severe rationing among the Chinese population. The PLA would be able to survive with that level of supply, but Chinese industry would grind to a halt.
  2. In wartime China would be surrounded by U.S. allies (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and Taiwan) and states hostile to Chinese ambitions (Vietnam, India). If China attacked first, China would lose any propaganda/psychological campaign targeting international public opinion.
  3. A2/AD is a strategy aimed at degrading an opposing force as it reaches closer to the Chinese mainland—not projecting power. If it started a war it would not have the capabilities to finish it and break out of a crippling blockade.

These factors all suggest that a more limited military strategy towards China would be sufficient. More limited military strategies look especially desirable when one considers the high-risks of ASB. ASB, and particularly its long-range strikes deep within the Chinese mainland, are highly escalatory and offer no good way to end a limited war. In all likelihood, an emphasis on long-range strike platforms would result in a long-term arms race that would culminate in warfare with more expansive aims far out of proportion to those desired. The U.S. should not under any circumstances directly contest the CCP’s control of the Chinese state, the PLA, or its nuclear forces (i.e. the command and control structure) with long-range strike platforms. This would “back them into a corner” and spin the conflict off into an extremely dangerous, unpredictable direction.

These platforms­ — especially Prompt Global Strike, the Long-Range Strike Bomber and other classified programs — are wasteful in a time of steep defense cuts. In planning for the China scenario, the U.S. should be focusing on acquiring weapon systems that have low-visibility, low-escalation potential, high-survivability, and high-deterrence value, which would allow the U.S. military to conduct a blockade (lower-end surface combatants sitting outside of China’s reach) and deny the PLA Navy the ability to sail in their neighborhood (Virginia-class submarines).

The impulse to plan for and win a decisive, high-technology war against China represents a basic bias within the US military: as former PACOM commander ADM Timothy Keating remarked, in reference to China, “[PACOM] must retain the ability to dominate in any scenario, in all environments, without exception.” This is understandable because it is the job of the military to decisively win wars. But this also often leads to a confusion of ends and means, and a focus on military victory to the detriment of achieving political aims. This is why it is the job of Congress and the White House — the elected political leaders — to set political constraints on the use of military force. As Amitai Etzioni points out in a recent article in the Yale Journal of International Affairs, neither the White House nor Congress has done due diligence in reviewing ASB or opened up the necessary public debate regarding actual strategies toward China.

But the U.S. military has another, less recognized bias, and it’s the same one that has infected much of political science as an academic discipline over the past couple of decades. Just as many political scientists have embraced scientism, favoring quantitative approaches, statistics, and models over the study of ideas, people and cultures, many strategists have embraced a kind of fatalistic, geopolitical game theory. This approach treats military capabilities as the only relevant facts, as if you could plug every opposing weapons system into a computer and derive the perfect strategy. This is a form of hubris that B.H. Liddell Hart rightly criticized when noting how the psychological influences on warfare show that mathematical approaches to strategy are “a fallacy” and “shallow.”

To be fair, ASB is not mainly being driven by such a highly quantitative approach; rather, ASB has its roots in Net Assessment, which attempts to be a more holistic discipline. As Paul Bracken puts it, Net Assessment tries to “model simple and think complex,” thinking about the balance between two countries not only in terms of capabilities, but also doctrine, psychology, and the like. It is neither an art nor a science, but perhaps a mix of both.

But strategists could push the bounds of their imagination further. George Kennan, for example, strongly believed that the best foundation of strategy and diplomacy was not social science but history, art, and literature. This led him to be more humble about the limits of what strategy can accomplish. As John Lewis Gaddis quotes George Kennan: “Strategy [is] ‘outstandingly a question of form and of style.’ Because ‘few of us can see very far into the future,’ all would be safer ‘if we take principles of conduct which we know we can live with, and at least stick to those,’ rather than ‘try to chart our vast schemes.’”

This is exactly how we ought to be thinking about the prospect of a Sino-U.S. conflict. This is especially true because, as Avery Goldstein argues in recent articles in International Security and Foreign Affairs, the most pressing Sino-U.S. strategic problem is not the threat of war decades away, but the current danger of crisis instability creating a conflict spiral.

Having fought two wars in the last decade that diminished its national power, and now facing sharply contracting defense budgets for the foreseeable future, the US cannot blindly step into another major conflict. It needs to adopt a conservative strategy, that keeps its means within its limited ends, and thinks about “principles of conduct,” not “vast schemes,” by which a war with China can be avoided.

Ideological Contradictions on Tiananmen Square

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"Hold high the great flag of socialism with Chinese characteristics, under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping theory, the important thought of 'Three Represents,' and the Scientific Outlook on Development, and firmly and steadfastly advance on the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics, so as to build an all-around moderately-prosperous society and continue the struggle."

“Hold high the great flag of socialism with Chinese characteristics, under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping theory, the important thought of ‘Three Represents,’ and the Scientific Outlook on Development, and firmly and steadfastly advance on the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics, so as to build an all-around moderately-prosperous society and continue the struggle.”

When Western political commentators speculate on whether Xi Jinping could implement political reform, they are really asking whether or not Xi Jinping can successfully deal with Mao’s legacy and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) legitimacy in the context of a modern, state-capitalist country. This is tricky because Mao’s legacy and the CCP’s legitimacy are inextricably linked—pull on one thread of the “Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong” formula and the entire apparatus could come crashing down.

The slogan shown, displayed on Tiananmen Square last November after the CCP’s 18th Party Congress (from a picture I took at the time), takes pains to include the ideas of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, but makes no mention of what is supposedly the foundation of the CCP: Maoism, Marxism, and Leninism. Marxism and Leninism have always been in the Party Constitution; Maoism was added in 1945, and taken out only briefly after Stalin’s death when some CCP leaders were afraid of replicating Stalin’s personality cult around Mao. Maoism was added back in after those leaders were purged. But now the CCP can’t be bothered to include these three in a propaganda outlet in one of the most visible spots in the country, right in front of Mao’s Mausoleum.

The sign is symbolic of an unsolvable paradox—the CCP is undermined by an ideological platform completely contradicted by its current economic and social systems, but it cannot change its ideology without the party losing its monopoly on power and the cadres losing their wealth and influence. That’s why it’s unlikely the CCP will reform politically until it is inevitably forced to change.

One Brilliant, One Depressing Video from Ai Weiwei

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First, Ai Weiwei mocks his captors while he was detained for a year (watch to the very end, please, it’s worth it):

The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs has more on the video, including this very surprising piece of information:

The video was shot by the cinematographer Christopher Doyle, an Australian resident of Hong Kong who is best known for his work with Wong Kar-wai, a director of highly stylized films, and Zhang Yimou, who has in recent years been a favorite of the Communist Party. (ital added)

One question: what is Zhang Yimou of all people doing making a film for Ai Weiwei? Has he found his conscience?

And now the second, disturbing, video:

The title states that this was a street brawl in Beijing between Han Chinese restaurant workers and Tibetan street vendors, but Tsering Woeser on twitter has said that one of the groups was not Tibetan, but made up of members of the Qiang ethnic minority.

Written by Will

May 22nd, 2013 at 10:53 am

New Post at East by Southeast: Myanmar Ethnic Reconciliation is Impossible Without Chinese Cooperation

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The group blog East by Southeast, curated by my friend Brian Eyler, director of IES Kunming, has published an article I wrote. Here it is reproduced.

Just outside of Yangon lies the “National Races Village,” a park laid out as a geographical representation of Myanmar, with real-sized model minority homes dotted around the park next to miniature lakes and mountains. The park feels quite similar to the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park in Beijing; both represent slightly bizarre attempts to paper over inter-ethnic conflict, as if both countries are trying to live out some sort of “big socialist family” of yesteryear.

Unfortunately Myanmar also seems to have copied much of China’s policies towards ethnic minorities. Sixty years ago, China promised its ethnic minorities that if they cooperated with the CCP, they would be granted self-autonomy. Myanmar promised the same thing in the form of the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which called for power sharing between the majority Bamar and ethnic minority groups. Both countries failed to live up to their promises. In China, the CCP has engaged in a campaign to eradicate traditional cultures and languages, and has kept minority areas under tight control by party officials. In Myanmar, Ne Win’s military coup in 1961 gave rise to centralized, authoritarian control, and to ethnic rebel groups who fought the military for decades.

But China hasn’t just been a bad model for Myanmar to follow; in fact, China’s involvement in Myanmar has directly contributed to bad ethnic relations and violence there. Most prominent is China’s long support for the United Wa State, previously known as the Burma Communist Party (BCP). China’s support for the BCP began under Mao as an armed insurgency against the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military. After the BCP collapsed in 1989, the organization was retooled as the United Wa State Party (USWP) and Army (USWA), and signed a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government. It also transformed itself from a revolutionary group into the largest drug-trafficking organization in all of SE Asia and one of the biggest heroin producers in the world. To this day, China has continued to fund and arm this practically-Chinese private militia, which organizationally seems to model itself after the CCP and draws off of Chinese electricity, cell phone service, etc. If anything, China’s support for the USWA has only intensified in recent years, because it wants to retain its influence in Myanmar and does not want the USWA to be defeated by the Tatmadaw, as it seems the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) will inevitably be. Just recently it was reported that China has provided the USWA with helicopters armed with air-to-air missiles.

And what of China’s efforts earlier this year to facilitate a ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar government and the KIA? China is playing multiple games here. It wants Myanmar to be stable enough so that its state-owned corporations can successfully strip the country of its natural resources, but it doesn’t want the country to adopt wholesale political reconciliation, lest its contracts come under scrutiny and it gets kicked out of the country. Like many of China’s actions, this is a shortsighted move to retain influence; the long-term effects are counter to China’s actual interests. China sees only the current resource-extraction deals it has with the government, and the potential cancelation of such deals if the Burmese people, including ethnic minorities, have a greater say in that government’s policies. But what it does not seem to see is that as Myanmar’s GDP per capita rises from its current abysmally low figure, China is going to be Myanmar’s main source of finished products and investment capital. If China continues on its current path, then the Myanmar people, who are already fed up with China’s exploitative practices, will protest and force a change in the situation. In that situation, China would massively lose. This possibility is especially unfortunate given how much China could gain from a prosperous Myanmar, and how positively China could influence the country.

If China cooperates, it would be difficult, but not impossible to negotiate a Panglong 2 Agreement implementing political reconciliation. The current government insists that any political reform operate under the current constitution, which is still heavily biased towards the military and wouldn’t be a good framework for a federal governmental structure. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi is not universally liked by ethnic minorities nor seen as their democratic savior; she is mainly a Bamar political figure. But the current government also realizes that if Myanmar does not deal with its ethnic problem, then the West will sour on Myanmar’s reform and the prospects for economic growth will wither away. This is a strong positive incentive to get it right. Let’s hope China agrees.

Sino-US Crisis Planning vis-a-vis North Korea Needed

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This morning Situation Report quoted Bonnie Glaser on Gen. Dempsey’s upcoming trip to China to meet the new Chief of the PLA General Staff Fang Fenghui:

The CSIS’ Bonnie Glaser tells Situation Report that Dempsey will take advantage of an increasingly engaging military-to-military relationship with China. She thinks Dempsey will be talking with the PLA about nuclear and cyber issues and also, of course, about Korea. “I’m pretty sure that one of the things that will be discussed is a very long desire to try to launch a dialogue with the Chinese about the potential for instability in North Korea and what the responses might be,” she said. “The potential for chaos, insecure WMD facilities and of course the risk” of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula between the Republic of Korea, the U.S. and the Chinese are all top concerns. Past attempts to address the potential failure of the North Korean regime have failed. But now may be the time because the Chinese have grown impatient at North Korea’s noise-making, and talking with the U.S. could send a strong signal to the North Korean leader, she said.

“I think that what we have now is a window of opportunity with China’s high level of frustration with the North Koreans and their provocations,” she said.

It would be a very good thing if this were true. Whereas China only recently became willing to credibly enforce sanctions on its erstwhile ally, it has so far not engaged in crisis planning with the U.S. over potential North Korean instability. At some point a crisis on the Korean peninsula will rear its head, war will break out, and the DPRK will collapse, and this lack of joint-planning will make an already-bad situation ten times worse. If a crisis does occur, my bet is that the PLA will cross the Yalu River in order to secure their borders, prevent a massive flow of people into China, secure WMDs, and stabilize the area. What will be different from the original Korean War will be that, even though both the U.S. and China will be heavily involved in North Korea, neither side will want nor intend conflict with the other. This makes planning and communication essential.

Written by Will

April 19th, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Paul Clement’s SCOTUS Oral Argument Reframed to Support Marriage Equality

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Reposted from Facebook:

Here’s an idea: Paul Clement argued last week in Hollingsworth v Perry SCOTUS oral argument that the government’s rational interest in preserving hetero-only marriage is to further its fundamental procreative purpose. But in what alternate universe will gay marriage deter straight couples from making babies (“oh, I suddenly have the option to get gay-married! time to switch sides!”), or encourage LGBT folks to go straight and make more babies? Conversely, marriage equality (and this is a point that has been made before) only encourages more children to be raised in stable, loving family homes (surely a rational government interest if there ever was one). What happens to children after procreation is actually a greater government interest than the procreative act itself. The pro-marriage equality argument often focuses on defining marriage as primarily an expression of love and commitment, which is true and great; but how would this debate be different if we focused more on the ways in which marriage equality strengthens society, supports children, and is in the end a pretty conservative idea?

Note: I am not in favor of this case being decided under rational basis review.

Written by Will

March 31st, 2013 at 3:48 am

David Brooks’ Specious and Trite Op/Ed on Chinese Education

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David Brooks wrote an embarrassingly clueless New York Times op/ed a couple days ago comparing Chinese and American learning styles, making conclusions that wouldn’t line up if you had even spent a minimal amount of time in the Chinese educational system. Brooks seems to think that the Chinese educational system exists as some sort of Confucian utopia:

“Westerners tend to define learning cognitively while Asians tend to define it morally. Westerners tend to see learning as something people do in order to understand and master the external world. Asians tend to see learning as an arduous process they undertake in order to cultivate virtues inside the self.”

But in reality this doesn’t reflect modern Chinese education at all. Education in China today is more free than it used to be but it is still heavily influenced by Mao: education’s purpose is largely defined as fulfilling a set of political goals, not cultivating virtuous individuals. Kids grow up with explicit “values lessons” in elementary school, but instead of cultivating a love of learning and a sense of citizenship, they learn obedience to authority and rote memorization. Then when they get to high school and college they transition to political education emphasizing traditional Marxism-Leninism. I suppose this is one kind of moral outlook, but normatively it certainly isn’t one that I would establish in schools.

The structure of the system itself squelches creativity and independent moral thought: the gaokao (the national standardized college admissions test) is morality-free, largely cognitive/instrumental, and serves as the main admissions standard, thus eliminating more whimsical criteria like admissions essays. Once students get into college, they must choose a major (often in a technical field that they are not interested in) and are never allowed to switch majors. Furthermore, they face academic dishonesty at all levels: among students and among faculty (hardly encouraging of independent thought!). Finally, no actual Chinese student would define their learning goals the way Brooks does. Brooks likes to think Chinese students emulate the Confucian ideal:

The idea is to perfect the learning virtues in order to become, ultimately, a sage, which is equally a moral and intellectual state. These virtues include: sincerity (an authentic commitment to the task) as well as diligence, perseverance, concentration and respect for teachers.

But in fact almost every Chinese student will tell you they work hard in order to a) Satisfy parental expectations, and b) If they’re a male, find a good job so they can buy an apartment and a car, get married, and support a family, or if they’re a female, attract a husband who will support them. This is but one more example of what Wang Hui calls “the de-politicization of politics”: “commercial logic is replacing political reasoning, a developmentalist discourse is replacing political participation, and a restructuring of interest relations of capital is replacing a debate on political values.” Framing education first as a method to drill in obedience and second as a way to create happy capitalist pawns strengthens the power of the CCP twice over.

A friend of mine describes what is most disappointing about this op/ed, however: “In the usual tunnel-vision view of the West as Wall Street and Hollywood, the whole tradition of moral learning going back to Aristotle and Aquinas is overlooked.” One would think that, even though David Brooks is no China expert, he might have a pretty good understanding of pedagogy and the philosophy of education in the West. The inculcation of virtue has been one of the principle pedagogical aims of education in the West all the way up until being deemphasized in the second half of the 20th century. In my view, while Confucianism has historically emphasized virtue, the virtues taught in the West have generally been normatively superior (this is especially true of the concepts of citizenship taught in Western public school systems–systems that are under attack in the U.S. by low funding and voucherization). I agree with Brooks that a moral impulse in education is good and that we should re-imagine what it means to teach citizenship today, and even that Confucianism might have something valuable to teach us in this regard. But he is completely wrong in looking to modern China for inspiration.

Paul Clement’s Anti-Marriage Equality Argument and Other Complicating Factors

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Garrett Epps at The Atlantic gives a good summary of one of the main arguments made by anti-marriage equality lead lawyer and Supreme Court barrister extraordinaire Paul Clement in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. Per Epps’ summary, Clement argues in his brief that the LGBT community is no longer politically powerless and should be allowed to continue the fight for equality through political means, obviating the necessity for judicial action. But as Epps notes, this is a disingenuous argument, because it is geared towards denying the LGBT community a suspect classification of strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

The question of whether the court will use rational basis or strict scrutiny in these cases is exceedingly complicated, and there are some things Garrett does not mention. In the Prop 8 case Judge Walker used the rational basis test precisely because of the fear that people like Paul Clement would successfully argue against the use of strict scrutiny and overturn the decision. If the Court also uses the rational basis test, then Clement’s argument is unnecessary.

But the Supreme Court doesn’t need to fear being overturned. The use of which level of scrutiny probably hinges on Justice Kennedy, since he is the swing vote and wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas. Personally I think the reasoning in Lawrence v. Texas translates quite well to the argument for marriage equality. As I argued here, it is a natural fit, and very powerfully-written. But it also does not map well on to these questions of scrutiny. In his opinion, Kennedy used the Due Process Clause to overturn anti-sodomy laws. But even though the use of the Due Process Clause would traditionally require strict scrutiny and the violation of a fundamental right, he doesn’t explicitly use strict scrutiny, and is apparently in favor of using a whole new form of review that hasn’t yet been entered into jurisprudence (enhanced rational basis? I am not sure).

I imagine that other justices might be opposed to introducing a whole new form of review, even if Justice Kennedy does write the majority opinion. My hope is that the Court finally settles the issue and applies strict scrutiny to the LGBT community. This would make future cases easier to decide and finally cement LGBT equality on every front. Introducing a new standard would of course have far-reaching implications, confusing the entire judicial system and overturning a lot of firmly entrenched jurisprudence. Probably a good reason why it is unlikely. But I may be completely wrong!

EDIT: I should add that I find Prof. Epps’ commentary on Justice Scalia to be hilarious:

In the eyes of its enemies (and who seriously doubts Justice Scalia’s distaste for homosexuality?), any persecuted minority may suddenly morph into a tyrannical over-caste, without pausing at the civic equality stop.

Written by Will

January 25th, 2013 at 3:36 am

Posted in Justice

“Black Jails” a Stain on China’s Legitimacy

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Earlier last week, major news outlets in China reported that a Beijing court had, for the first time, sentenced 10 Henan provincial authorities to jail for illegally detaining petitioners who had come to Beijing to air their grievances. Many China watchers, including myself, were surprised and happy to see China move in the right direction of strengthening the rule of law and depoliticizing the judicial system. The next day, however, the news was retracted; apparently no court in Beijing had made any such ruling.

The end result was quite a disappointment, especially because this brief moment of false hope is but one in a long string of depressing incidents. The illegal detention of petitioners in ‘black jails’ has long been an acute problem in the nation’s capital. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, millions of people utilize the petition system in China, often because of land disputes in which local officials illegally confiscate land and then sell it to developers for a kickback. Petitioners also seek redress of grievances against a number of other issues, including environmental damage, police abuse, and even rape. Petitioners begin with the local petition office, and if that is unsuccessful, they gradually make their way up to the provincial and national level offices. It is unknown how many people make the journey to the State Bureau for Letters and Visits every year, but it is probably in the realm of 100,000 people. Once there, many of the petitioners are ‘grabbed’ by provincial authorities and imprisoned in ‘black jails,’ before being sent back to their hometowns. The Chinese government officially denies the existence of black jails.

The problem for the CCP leadership is that much of their legitimacy in the future will rest on the government’s responsiveness to the concerns of the average citizen. But provincial authorities and the judicial system have time and again failed to live up to any minimal standard of justice. It is widely understood in China that the government and the courts serve to uphold the interests of the rich and powerful. In the past few months (and as I suspect into the next few years), “rule of law” and reforming the judiciary have been buzzwords not just among Western China experts but among the Chinese elite themselves. But this case only serves to illustrate the vacuity of official promises to reform.

I hope that I am wrong. I hope Xi Jinping and the Politburo Standing Committee make concerted efforts to crack down on the egregious abuses of power among provincial and local officials, and to provide real justice for those (mainly indigent) citizens who spend a small fortune to come to Beijing to plead their cases, only to be imprisoned and turned back. But in a system in which every instrument of power, from the military, to the state, the media, and the courts, are designed to serve the political interests of the party, how could it be otherwise?

Written by Will

December 10th, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Review of “A Contest for Supremacy” by Aaron Friedberg

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Want to read the ultimate hawkish view of the US-China relationship? Read Aaron Friedberg’s recent book, “A Contest for Supremacy.” Throughout the book Friedberg emphasizes that the US-China relationship is inevitably heading down a dark road, that China is forsworn to become a hegemon and direct competitor, and that US policy is currently overweighted on the side of diplomatic engagement rather than military balancing. For a man who wants more balancing, his book is seriously unbalanced. What follows is not so much a review, but a list of grievances, in no particular order. Here’s what’s wrong with the book:

  1. Underrates internal threats to China’s rise. Friedberg mentions them briefly (demographic problems, impending environmental catastrophe, failing economic models), but doesn’t let them get in the way of predicting a Chinese juggernaut. Friedberg also sketches some possible Chinese futures, concluding that a truculent, hyper-nationalist China is more likely than either the status quo or democratic regime change. Granted, I agree with him that a hyper-nationalist China is more likely than a peaceful democratic China, but a more likely scenario than either is a future where China’s internal problems derail any of the global ambitions he ascribes to it.
  2. Mistakenly casts Chinese foreign policy thinking as more or less monolithic. Yes, no Chinese political leader currently or will likely in the future call for the demonopolization of the CCP’s power. But beyond that, there is serious political disagreement within the CCP. Economic and political reform are not settled within the party. Neither is foreign policy. The very lack of any coherent grand strategy (which Friedberg mentions) should tell him this.
  3. Underrates human leadership as making a difference in the US-China relationship. Is foreign policy merely the product of impersonal, historical forces, or can individuals play a role in shaping history? Friedberg seems to believe almost entirely in the former. I think this does not accurately reflect reality. Automatons don’t make foreign policy, human beings do.
  4. Unnecessarily combative and essentially labels everyone else defeatist appeasers. Seriously, he labels everyone who disagrees with him with these sorts of names. It’s unnecessary, especially because it’s not true. Probably no one he attacks would argue that the US shouldn’t maintain its qualitative military edge; the debate is in how to do this. He derides the idea that Sino-US cooperation can be borne on the back of issues like climate change, trade, etc. Why not? These are legitimately problematic issues, and we need China’s help to solve them, or else we are screwed. He doesn’t even mention climate change in his last chapter.
  5. Makes assertions about hypotheticals that are ungrounded from reality. Friedberg does this all over the book. The basic model is: what if China becomes a global superpower, projecting force all over the world to secure its interests, while the US de-arms, weakens, and appeases China according to our worst neoconservative fears? These are not credible hypotheticals, and they lead to baseless fear-mongering.
  6. And finally and most importantly, he underrates the effectiveness of current US policy. Throughout this entire book, Friedberg ascribes no less than the future collapse of all US interests related to China and the Asia Pacific to the Democrats and the current administration’s policies. But Democrats are not the feckless appeasers Friedberg is crudely making them out to be. Of course, just shortly after this book’s publication, the Obama administration announced the pivot/rebalance to Asia. But many of the policy proposals Friedberg advances, including the development of Prompt Global Strike and the Next-Generation Stealth Bomber, have been in the pipeline for a long time. And to be quite honest, the rebalance is not so much a quantitative shift as it is a qualitative shift; the difference is a matter of emphasis, not really a matter of resources. With or without the rebalance, US policy towards China continues a long tradition that has not been upset since the Tiananmen Massacre. It’s worked surprisingly well, and is a sound strategy going into the future.

Friedberg miscalculates both American and Chinese strategy. Engagement and balancing are not goals in of themselves; they are means to an end. That end is a peaceful, strong and rising China that is integrated into the international system. He pays lip service to this, but advocates absolutely zero proposals to make China as it is today more integrated. Everything he proposes is designed to deter the Chinese from overturning America as the global superpower. But this is also a miscalculation of Chinese strategy. China doesn’t want conflict with the US. It’s not building a military that can project force globally. It is developing relatively limited capabilities that would defeat adversaries in a Taiwan conflict and deter an American attack against the mainland. Is this going to change in the future? Very unlikely. China’s integration into the world economy, and its dependence on the US Navy to secure trade and energy shipments, make the calculus fall far in favor of peace and development. Conflict on any mass scale would cause chaos and misery for the Chinese people (think about how current CCP leaders shudder when they hear the words, “Cultural Revolution”). The CCP could very well lose power because of it. And for any foreseeable timeline into the future, the PLA would lose any conflict with the US military. Hands down.