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Reluctant Stakeholder: Why China’s Highly Strategic Brand of Revisionism is More Challenging than Washington Thinks

MacroPolo – April 2018

At the end of 2016, as Donald Trump prepared to take office as President, I penned an essay for Foreign Affairs magazine on “China and the World.” The editor, my friend Gideon Rose, had asked me to respond to two straightforward questions: Is China a “revisionist” power? And in particular, does not Beijing’s championing of a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) demonstrate its revisionism? Well, much has happened since I published that essay in December 2016. For one thing, the Trump Administration has developed its own answer to these questions. In White House and Defense Department strategy documents, the Administration has made clear that it views China not just as a “revisionist” power but as the world’s principal champion of alternative rules, principles, and structures. In this telling, Beijing has eschewed the institutions and rules that have prevailed since World War II, especially those preferred by the United States. Instead, it aims to lock in a Sinocentric vision of the world through parallel institutions, disruptive bilateral initiatives, and a rewriting of global rules … [But] I still see a lot more complexity than these many strategies, statements, and speeches do. Here are six important things Washington is missing. Thinking through the implications of these could help the United States to compete more effectively.

Why America No Longer Gets Asia

The Washington Quarterly – Spring 2011

Asia was for centuries an economically and strategically integrated region. Today, that Historical Asia is being reborn, and remade. Yet the United States is badly prepared for this momentous rebirth, which is at once stitching Asia back together and making the United States less relevant in each of Asia’s constituent parts. Asians are, in various ways, passing America by, restoring ancient ties and repairing long-broken strategic and economic links. The United States will not cease to be a power in Asia, of course, particularly in East Asia where Washington remains an essential strategic balancer, vital to stability. But unless U.S. policymakers adapt to the contours of a more integrated Asia, and soon, they will miss opportunities in every part of the region over time — and find the United States less relevant to Asia’s future.

The New Asian Order

Foreign Affairs – February 3, 2015

There is something deeply symbolic about a forlorn group of Americans listening to power brokers from China, India, Japan, and elsewhere discuss how to remake the financial order on a pan-Asian basis. Yet Americans should not be so surprised. Heavy symbolism aside, such meetings are the outgrowth of trends that date at least to the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Indeed, they are not new, nor were they invented by Beijing—although China, it is true, has sought to leverage them to its advantage. They will remain a lasting feature of political and economic reality in Asia. And they are almost certain to pose a growing competitive challenge to U.S. leadership in the Pacific. Washington should not shy away from this competition. The United States can and should adapt and compete. But doing so will require, first, a clear understanding of the depths and origins of change in Asia. Put simply, the United States cannot succeed, in either geopolitics or business, unless it properly understands the sources of its competition in the first place.

A Tale of Two Asias

Foreign Policy – October 31, 2012

Whatever happened to the “Asian Century?” In recent months, two Asias, wholly incompatible, have emerged in stark relief. There is “Economic Asia,” the Dr. Jekyll — a dynamic, integrated Asia with 53 percent of its trade now being conducted within the region itself, and a $19 trillion regional economy that has become an engine of global growth. And then there is “Security Asia,” the veritable Mr. Hyde — a dysfunctional region of mistrustful powers, prone to nationalism and irredentism, escalating their territorial disputes over tiny rocks and shoals, and arming for conflict. In today’s Asia, economics and security no longer run in parallel lines. In fact, they are almost completely in collision.

Trump and China

The National Interest – January/February, 2017

For most of the past four decades, American presidents have presumed that a “successful” China would be good for the United States. But this is no longer the case. Today, that long-standing consensus is breaking down in the face of several dynamic changes. Across the American political spectrum, from right to left, a new and more skeptical consensus about the rise of Chinese power is eroding the aspirational and optimistic view that prevailed for more than forty years. It would be difficult to understate just how important and dramatic this shift could turn out to be. And the Trump administration’s approach to China must also be formulated against the backdrop of four swiftly changing strategic and economic conditions in Asia: the growing economic and financial integration of the region, which has shifted the relative balance of power against the United States; China’s newly assertive strategic posture; the increasingly diverse economic and social ties that now characterize American interaction with China and will make coalition building difficult, whether for more cooperation or more conflict; and the combination of eroding U.S. military advantage and protectionist trade pressures. A Trump administration has the opportunity to adapt to these conditions. If it does, it can define an agenda with China that sets American policy onto a more strategically and politically sustainable course.

The Big Bet at the Heart of Xi Jinping’s “New Deal”

MacroPolo – November 27, 2017

China’s post-1978 grand bargain no longer holds. Hundreds of millions have grown prosperous during 39 years of economic reform. For these teeming millions, prosperity alone is, quite clearly, no longer sufficient. Their expectations now transcend wealth and economic mobility. Increasingly, they demand not just material gains but social ones too—equitable life chances, better welfare protections, safer food, drinkable water, cleaner air, and more responsive (if still unrepresentative and undemocratic) government … Yet if one looks at where the Party actually appears to be taking China, then it’s clear that the story is not so straightforward as a simple effort to deliver “a better life” to the Chinese people. Xi’s team means to meet heightened public expectations at the same time that it attempts to rearrange China’s three prevailing public “contracts”— elements of its social contract, political contract, and economic contract—all of which are fraying.

The United States in the New Asia

Council on Foreign Relations – November 2009

In this Council on Foreign Relations special report, Evan A. Feigenbaum and Robert A. Manning examine Asia’s regional architecture and consider what it means for the United States. They identify shortcomings in the region’s existing multilateral mix and contend that the United States must increase its involvement in shaping Asian institutions in order to advance U.S. strategic interests and protect the competitiveness of American firms. The authors outline six principles for U.S. policy toward Asia as a whole and recommend particular policies toward Northeast and Southeast Asia. Among other steps, they urge the United States to maintain a strong presence at Asian meetings; avoid intractable security issues and focus instead on topics ripe for cooperation; make use of ad hoc groupings as well as formal ones; vigorously pursue regional and global trade liberalization efforts; and view some Asian institutions that exclude the United States as acceptable, just as with the European Union. The report also presents thoughtful recommendations for how Washington can influence the multilateral landscape in ways beneficial to American interests. The result is a document with important implications for U.S. policy toward a region that promises to play a central role in shaping the coming era of history.

Lenin’s Chinese Heirs

Foreign Affairs – October 14, 2015

Xi Jinping’s priorities are unambiguously clear: the Communist Party, the Communist Party, and the Communist Party. Xi’s recent predecessors tended to view “getting the economy right” as the secret sauce to assure the Party’s credibility and its political success. But Xi has bet the reverse—that a rejuvenated and more credible Party is the ticket to implement necessary economic reforms. Among other things, this means that, by proxy, Xi is rolling back his predecessors’ efforts to make the Party more representative of business and private economic interests. Where former President Jiang Zemin’s initiatives aimed to make the Party more representative of China’s establishment, for Xi, the Party itself is the rightful establishment. The leadership’s efforts to fix the Party have come, in effect, at the expense of their predecessors’ long-standing and singular focus on near-term growth. But that is not all: Xi’s team is also choosing, as a direct consequence of this focus on rectifying and rebuilding the Party, to constrain the government’s capacity for economic management, not least by pulling China’s technocratic bureaucracy into the whirlwind of elite politics.

Pacific Partnership: Strengthening U.S.-India Relations

Foreign Policy – April 28, 2015

Obama’s visit to India is said to have shepherded in a new basis for regional cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. But Obama and Modi have to make their broadly shared interests in the region more real. The good news is that an enhanced turn toward the Pacific represents a sensible evolution of the U.S.-India relationship. India has burst out of the confining shackles of its South Asian strategic geography. It has become an Asian player, better integrated into the East Asian economic system than at any time since 1947, and has acquired some capacity to influence the broader Asian balance of power. Bluntly put, while continental Asia — Afghanistan, for example — has long been an arena for U.S.-India disagreement and rancor, maritime Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific offer some natural affinities of interest. But in that context, the new emphasis on diplomatic (and to a lesser extent, economic) levers will test the depth and quality of the two countries’ coordination.

India’s Rise, America’s Interest

Foreign Affairs – March/April 2010

The future scope of the U.S.-Indian relationship will depend on choices made in both Washington and New Delhi: the United States looks to India to sustain its economic and social change while still embracing a partnership with Washington, and India looks to the United States to respect Indian security concerns. And the countries will need to carefully manage looming disagreements between them, including on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China.

Federalism, Chinese Style

Foreign Affairs – May 6, 2014

Even as China needs to curtail certain state powers, it still requires a resilient and effective state — to enforce rules and standards, provide public goods, and perform a vast array of administrative functions. And it needs those tasks to be handled at the right administrative level. Beijing too often does things that would be better left to provinces and municipalities. Local governments, for their part, frequently take on responsibilities that Beijing could handle more effectively. This has led to several significant problems: unfunded mandates, confusion about who is in charge, and policy paralysis. Put bluntly, China needs a new “federalism” — a realignment of central and local government power — that can adapt to the conditions of a rapidly changing economy.

Is Coercion the New Normal in China’s Economic Statecraft?

MacroPolo – July 25, 2017

Just how durable—and vulnerable—are any country’s economic ties to China in the face of political headwinds and strategic strains? Perhaps more than any country in Asia, China has experimented in recent years with the use of economic levers in coercive ways. This matters for two reasons—first, because if blunt coercion is, in fact, some sort of “new normal,” then foreign governments and firms need to mitigate the risks of being caught in Beijing’s crosshairs; and second, because Beijing’s relations with so many countries are tense, thus any of them, particularly on China’s Asian periphery, could become a future target … But blunt coercion isn’t likely to become routine. It is a tool—one tool—in an increasingly diverse toolkit. It may be useful, therefore, to lay out a rough typology of precisely what Beijing now has in its toolbox: because China’s economic interactions with the world are so diverse now, blunt coercion is one of just five types of leverage—and not necessarily the most important one. Let’s call these five types: “passive,” “active,” “exclusionary,” “coercive,” and “latent” leverage.

China’s Pakistan Conundrum

Foreign Affairs – December 4, 2011

China will not simply bail out Pakistan with loans, investment, and aid, as those watching the deterioration of U.S.-Pakistani relations seem to expect. Rather, China will pursue profits, security, and geopolitical advantage regardless of Islamabad’s preferences. Indeed, Beijing’s investment calculus is increasingly based on a sophisticated balancing of three types of risk: geopolitical, political, and financial.

China’s Techno-Warriors: National Security and Strategic Competition from the Nuclear to the Information Age

Stanford University Press (2003)

In the spring of 1987, the father of China’s strategic missile program, Qian Xuesen, told colleagues that China must steel itself for a century of sustained “intellectual warfare.” His use of a military metaphor was not a linguistic quirk, but reflected the central role of the military in China’s emergence as a modern state, especially in the period since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Over the course of the Communist era, a uniquely military approach to China’s development became embedded in the ideologies of the country’s political leadership, in policy choices about national security and economic development, and in the organizational solutions adopted to put these policies into practice. This book tells the story of how and why the Chinese military came to play such a powerful role in China’s economic and institutional development. It weaves together four stories: Chinese views of technology since 1950, the role of the military in China’s political and economic life, the evolution of open and flexible conceptions of public management in China, and the technological dimensions of the rise of Chinese power. But the book primarily explores and explains a paradox. This military approach to technology and development emerged during China’s period of greatest external threat, 1950-69. Yet these policies and management methods persist even as China enjoys perhaps its most benign strategic environment since the 1840s.

Review in Foreign Affairs, by Lucian W. Pye: ” … [p]acked with solid information and exceptional insights. Feigenbaum’s [book] is a masterful review of how military considerations have dominated the development of science and technology in China. He traces in great detail how the Chinese leadership’s decisions about weapons needs have dictated the development of science from the Mao era to the present.

Strengthening Fragile Partnerships: An Agenda for the Future of U.S.-Central Asia Relations

Author for the Central Asia Study Group and Project 2049 Institute – February 2011

 … an honest appraisal needs to acknowledge the many shortcomings of these American efforts. To date, and in nearly every respect, the United States has failed to achieve its initial, ambitious, strategic objectives in Central Asia … Clearly, it is time for Americans and Central Asians, working together, to reassess their relations in this important but volatile region. Our study group has considered U.S. interests in Central Asia. On that basis, we propose guidelines for American policy. In key areas, we put forth a bipartisan action agenda aimed at creating a more effective and enduring partnership between the United States and the nations of Central Asia.

 

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