Expressing concern over China’s “increasingly assertive” behaviour in the Asia Pacific region, top US Senators and experts today said Washington should be clear that its cooperation with Beijing on North Korea will not be at the expense of America’s interests in the region. “I welcome the Trump administration’s outreach to China on the issue of North Korea. But as these discussions continue, the US should be clear that while we earnestly seek China’s cooperation on North Korea, we do not seek such cooperation at the expense of our vital interests,” said Senator John McCain. “We must not and will not bargain over our alliances with Japan and South Korea. As its behaviour toward South Korea indicates over the last several years, China has acted less like a responsible stakeholder of the rules-based order in the region and more like a bully.
“It’s rapid military modernisation, provocations in the East China Sea and continued militarisation activities in the South China Sea signal an increasingly assertive pattern of behaviour,” alleged McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee at a Congressional hearing, during which he was joined by several other lawmakers and eminent experts echoing the same sentiments. McCain ruled that despite efforts to rebalance the Asia- Pacific, US policy has failed to adapt to the scale and velocity of China’s challenge to the rules-based order. “And that failure has called into question the credibility of America’s security commitments in the region. The new administration has an important opportunity to chart a different and better course,” he said.
Ranking Member Senator Jack Reed wanted to know how the US will balance its military presence with economic engagement to counter the narrative that China is the economic partner of choice? “And most important, how will it balance cooperation and competition with China, especially given the important of China’s cooperation initiatives ranging from North Korea to terrorism?” he asked. Ashley Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said as the US thinks China as a strategic competitor, it is important not to think of China as merely a regional power, but increasingly as a global challenge to the United States.”China is already a great power in Pacific Asia. It is increasingly active militarily in the Indian Ocean. It is seeking facilities in the Mediterranean and along the African coasts.
“Within a couple of decades, the size of Chinese naval capabilities will begin to rival those of our own and it is likely that China will begin to maintain a presence, both in the Atlantic and in the Arctic Oceans as well. So we have got to think of China in a new way, not just simply as an Asian power, but as a global power,” Tellis said.
Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea Chair at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said Beijing is unlikely to let off on the economic pressure on South Korea over the THAAD defence system for at least another one or two financial quarters. “This will hurt South Korean businesses and tourism even more, but it should also spark serious strategic thinking in the US and South Korea about reducing the Republic Of Korea’s economic dependence on China.”Given the energy revolution in the US and the removal of export restrictions, the two allies should think seriously about new bilateral energy partnerships that could reduce South Korean energy dependence on China and the Middle East,” Cha said.
“Given the energy revolution in the US and the removal of export restrictions, the two allies should think seriously about new bilateral energy partnerships that could reduce South Korean energy dependence on China and the Middle East,” Cha said. Aaron Friedberg, a professor at Princeton University noted that China is behaving more assertively, both because its leaders want to seize the opportunities presented to them by what they see as a more favourable external situation and because they feel the need to bolster their legitimacy.
“And to rally domestic support by courting controlled confrontations with others whom they can present as hostile foreign forces, including Japan and the US.
“If in the 20th century, the US tried to make the world safe for democracy, in the 21st, China is trying to make the world safe for authoritarianism, or at least it’s trying to make Asia safe for continued communist party rule of China. They are using and trying to coordinate all the instruments of policy to achieve these ends,” Friedberg said.
He said China’s actions aren’t limited to pursuing its claims and trying to extend its zone of effective control in the maritime domain. Along its land frontiers, Beijing has also unveiled a hugely ambitious set of infrastructure development plans. The so-called one belt one road initiative, which aims to transform the economic and strategic geography of much of Eurasia.
“China’s leaders have begun to articulate their vision for a new Eurasian order, a system of infrastructure networks, regional free trade areas, new rules written in Beijing and mechanisms for political consultation, all with China at the centre and the US pushed the periphery, if not out of the region altogether.
“In this vision, US alliances would either be dissolved or drained of their significance, maritime democracies would be divided from one another and relatively weak, and China, meanwhile, would be surrounded on the continent by friendly and subservient authoritarian regimes,” Friedberg said.
China’s strategic intent is to chip away at decades of American security and economic primacy in Asia, said Kelly Magsamen, the former US principal deputy assistant secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.
“And some are going to get squeamish about the idea of US-China great competition, the great power of competition. But to ignore the fact that China is already in competition with us – excuse me, would be tantamount to strategic malpractice.
“I do not mean to suggest that we should enter a new Cold War in China, nor can we cast aside areas of cooperation that benefit our interests. But we need to be clear-eyed about our long-term interests in preserving the American position and that should be our North star. To do so, the US needs to invest in our comparative strengths and by extension, our credibility,” Magsamen added.