August 6, 2015
The end of the Cold War provided the US a temporary reprieve from great power rivalry. China’s rise to economic and military power, however, now heralds its return. The next president must manage a relationship with China that is increasingly defined by strategic competition. Despite Beijing’s revisionist intentions, the thrust of US-China strategy is one of integration. The US government policy apparatus is designed to integrate Beijing into the “family of nations,” as Richard Nixon wrote in 1967, as if it were another rising “Asian Tiger” as South Korea once was. How will POTUS #45 approach a China that, aside from economic matters, shows little interest in firmly supporting a US-led world order?
1) How should the US respond to China’s island building in the South China Sea?
China continues to build man-made “islands” in the South China Sea’s contested waters. Previously submerged reefs now feature airfields, ports, and military installations. With island military facilities and an increasingly menacing navy, China can project power, coerce its neighbors, and try to control vital trade lanes. Additionally, China’s attempt to claim territorial waters around these “islands” threatens freedom of navigation, the bedrock of the international system.
Any effective US strategy in the region must involve active diplomacy backed up by hard power. The United States needs to coordinate with Southeast Asian claimants to negotiate a political solution for territorial and resources disputes in the South China Sea. This initiative should engage China, but if Beijing is obstinate, the parties should work around it toward a solution. While negotiations develop, the US must continue freedom of navigation exercises, surveillance missions, and robust partner military capacity building. The bottom line, however, is that the US lacks a permanent military presence in Southeast Asia – something that could be remedied by a shipbuilding program to permanently place a sufficient number of ships in the PACOM theater.
Read the full article at the American Enterprise Institute: 5 questions that every presidential candidate should answer: China edition