China Resources 3- Understanding Engagement

Hopefully you have been following along with the China resources- remember it is always easier to small chunk it by doing a little piece every day rather than saving it all for the end.


In this post I want to highlight some articles debating the pros and cons of engagement as a strategy. In broad strokes, engagement is generally opposed to containment. Containment is a policy designed to isolate and weaken a hostile state or potential rival. Containment was the policy during the cold war where we avoided diplomatic and economic relations with the Soviet Union. Containment was a big part of US China policy until the mid 90s when we shifted to a strategy of engagement. Engagement is designed to integrate a country into the existing international liberal order through trade, to make them a “responsible stakeholder” in the international scene.


At this point the US does not have a pure “contain” or “engage” strategy, its a mix often referred to as “congagement”. Congagement is the idea that while we are economically engaging the PRC, we are also using our military in a “balancing” posture. Balancing means we are forward deploying assets to counter Chinese aggression, negotiating security arrangements with regional competitors to China, and using foreign policy like the TPP to exclude China from beneficial trade. This nuance complicates a lot of aff relations advantages/neg containment/appeasement disads. These terms- containment and engagement- don’t mean the same thing to every author. Some authors say we should do X, because containment fails, but what they mean by X would be considered containment by many other topic authors. For these, and other reasons, getting a good grip on the key topic terms/articles will be important.



Let’s start with this interview with John Mearsheimer, realist idol of many debaters.


Mearsheimer’s point is that the US IS containing China, and statements to the contrary are mere PR:


Now, in the 1990s, the Clinton administration did pursue engagement. There was little evidence of containment: and you could do that in the 1990s because China was then weak enough that it didn’t matter. So I believe in the 1990s that the Clinton administration really did believe in engagement and thought that containment was a bad idea and pursued this policy of engagement. But we’re now reaching the point where China is growing economically to the point where its going to have a lot of military capability, and people are getting increasingly nervous. So what you see is we’re beginning to transition from engagement to containment; and this, of course, is what the pivot to Asia is all about. Hilary Clinton, who is married to Bill Clinton and pursued engagement in the 1990s, is now the principle proponent of the pivot to Asia; and she fully understands that it is all about containment. Of course, what’s going to happen here given that we live in the United States is that we’re going to use liberal rhetoric to disguise our realist behavior. So we will go to great lengths not to talk in terms of containment even though we’re engaged in containment and even though the Chinese know full well that we’re trying to contain them. But for our own sake and for our public we will talk in much more liberal terms. So it’s liberal ideology disguising realist behavior.


Next we have an article by Blackwill and Tellis entitled “Revising US grand Strategy Toward China


Though many others have painted them as advocates of containment this again seems to be a terminological distinction. They don’t so much want to contain China as they just want China to have a bad time

This model has bequeathed Beijing with huge investible surpluses (in the form of vast foreign exchange reserves), substantially increased its technological capabilities (thanks to both legitimate and illegitimate acquisitions of proprietary knowledge), and—most important—has tied the wider global economy ever more tightly to China. Although this last development has generated wealth and welfare gains globally, it has also produced several unnerving strategic consequences. It has made many of China’s trading partners, especially its smaller neighbors, asymmetrically dependent on China and thus reluctant to voice opposition even when China’s policies leave them disadvantaged.21 China’s economic integration has also produced higher relative gains for itself, even with its larger trading partners, such as the United States—not in the narrow sense pertaining to the bilateral terms of trade, but in the larger strategic sense that its overall growth has risen far faster than it might have had China remained locked into the autarkic policies of the pre-reform period. U.S. support for China’s entry into the global trading system has thus created the awkward situation in which Washington has contributed toward hastening Beijing’s economic growth and, by extension, accelerated its rise as a geopolitical rival. Furthermore, China’s growing economic ties have nurtured and encouraged various internal constituencies within China’s trading partners to pursue parochial interests that often diverge from their countries’ larger national interests with regard to China.22 Finally, economic integration has shaped the leadership perceptions of many of China’s trading partners in ways that lead them to worry about their dependence on and vulnerability to China. Even if such worry is sometimes exaggerated, it weakens their resistance to both Chinese blandishments and coercion.23 Given these outcomes, it should not be surprising that Beijing has consciously sought to use China’s growing economic power in a choking embrace designed to prevent its Asian neighbors from challenging its geopolitical interests, including weakening the U.S. alliance system in Asia. Beijing’s commitment to sustaining high economic growth through deepened international interdependence, therefore, provides it not only with internal gains—a more pliant populace and a more powerful state—but consequential external benefits as well, in the form of a growing military and deferential neighbors who fear the economic losses that might arise from any political opposition to China. These gains are likely to persist even as China’s economic growth slows down over time—as it inevitably will—so long as Beijing’s overall material power and its relative growth rates remain superior to those of its neighbors.24 (10-13)


Next we have a similar not quite containment advocate in Aaron L Friedberg. He surveys 6 possible foreign policy options the US has for China and explains them as a continuum from doubling down on engagement to hardcore containment.

The goals of this mixed strategy have been to ‘tame’ and ultimately to transform the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Through balancing, the United States aims to uphold its alliances and to preserve peace and stability by deterring aggression or attempts at coercion. At the same time, through engagement, Washington has sought to encourage China’s full incorporation into the existing international system, in the anticipation that its leaders will come to see their interests as lying in preserving and strengthening that system rather than seeking to challenge or overthrow it. Although, in recent years, they have become somewhat more circumspect in stating this goal directly, since the early 1990s US policymakers have also continued to hope that, in time, China’s domestic political institutions would evolve toward something more closely resembling those of a liberal democracy. This is not a process to which the United States has sought to contribute directly, but rather one that it has attempted to encourage by indirect means, including the promulgation of ideas and, above all, the promotion of trade. Thus, since the early 1990s, one of the primary justifications for deepening economic engagement has been the claim that expanding trade and investment would accelerate growth, thereby hastening the emergence of a reform-minded Chinese middle class. Albeit with occasional shifts in rhetorical tone and emphasis, and comparatively minor adjustments in the blend of engagement and balancing, for the past quarter-century successive US administrations have continued to adhere to the same basic approach. In the last several years, however, questions have emerged about the adequacy and long-term durability of this strategy. While China is obviously far richer today than it was in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, it is no more democratic. Indeed, to the contrary, the elevation of Xi Jinping to the status of China’s paramount leader in 2012 has been accompanied by a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, a further tightening of controls over access to the internet, and new restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organisations, especially those suspected of trying to strengthen civil society in order to promote human rights and social justice. Despite decades of deepening engagement, China appears, if anything, to have moved further away from meaningful political reform. Meanwhile, fuelled by rapid economic expansion, the nation’s military capabilities have grown to impressive dimensions. Among other developments, the deployment by China of so-called ‘anti-access/area-denial’ (A2/AD) forces has raised serious questions about the future willingness and, perhaps, the ability of the United States to project power into the Western Pacific. Especially in light of the fiscal constraints under which it now labours, it is not obvious that the United States can continue to play its accustomed role in preserving a favourable balance of power in East Asia. Finally, China’s recent behaviour, especially in disputes with several of its maritime neighbours, has caused some observers to re-examine the pleasing assumption that the country is fast on its way to becoming a status quo power. To the contrary, China’s assertion of the right to control most of the water, islands and resources off its coasts, and its new-found ability to use displays of power and threats of force to advance those claims, have shattered the illusion that it wants nothing more than to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the existing international order. In light of all these developments, analysts have begun to consider whether and, if so, how the prevailing approach should be adapted to meet changing circumstances. A survey of recent writing suggests that there are six possibilities presently on offer in public discussion, each involving a different mixture of the familiar elements that make up current strategy. As described more fully below, these can be arrayed along a spectrum ranging from renewed and redoubled efforts at engagement, to a virtually exclusive emphasis on balancing. (89-91)



Moving on to more pro engagement articles, we first have Beyond American Predominance in the Western Pacific: The Need for a Stable U.S.-China Balance of Power which argues the US is on the decline in Asia inevitably, so we should start planning for a world where China plays a more involved role.

On the U.S. side, for an arguably growing number of American and some foreign observers, Beijing’s de facto challenge to American predominance in the Western Pacific is a mere prelude to a larger effort to eject the United States from Asia and eventually replace it as the regional (and for some, global) superpower. Chinese support for a multipolar, balanceofpower system is thus seen as a mere tactical feint designed to undermine U.S. power while Beijing prepares to become the new hegemon. Indeed, for such observers, Beijing’s greater assertiveness regarding maritime territorial disputes as well as U.S. and Japanese intelligence and surveillance activities along its coastline constitute strategic gambits designed to “test” U.S. and allied resolve and ultimately to create “nogo” zones essential for the establishment of Chinese control over the Western Pacific. Such an outcome would directly threaten both U.S. and allied interests in an open, secure, and peaceful AsiaPacific region. Given this supposedly unambiguous threat, for these observers, the only logical course of action for the United States is to decisively disabuse Beijing of its aspirations by enhancing American predominance and thereby increasing, rather than reducing, Chinese vulnerability in the Western Pacific. This view is held not only by scholars and policy analysts outside Washington. It is also fairly common among U.S. government officials, both civilian and military. It offers a blackandwhite, Manicheantype solution to a supposedly clearcut threat, and one that is extremely appealing to those many U.S. policymakers and analysts convinced of the huge merits (and necessity) of continued American predominance in maritime Asia. In fact, even for those who reject the notion that Beijing is working to dislodge the United States from the region, predominance remains the best insurance against an uncertain future, for the reasons outlined above. While the type of U.S. predominance in Asia espoused by most U.S. observers can vary somewhat, depending in part on how one views China’s capabilities and intentions, the bottom line for virtually all such individuals is the need for a clear U.S. ability to prevail in any important militarypolitical contingency involving China. Moreover, this view is reinforced, in their minds, by the notion that America’s allies and friends also supposedly desire and require continued U.S. maritime predominance. The problem with this outlook is that it is based on an inaccurate, increasingly unrealistic, and dangerous assessment of both the threat the United States confronts in Asia and the likely consequences of the remedy proposed. Beijing’s de facto attempts to limit or end U.S. predominance along its maritime periphery are motivated almost entirely by uncertainties, fears, insecurities, and a certain level of opportunism, not a grand strategic vision of Chinese predominance, despite the arguably growing expression of ultranationalist views within China. Those who view China as an aspiring hegemon seeking America’s subordination and ultimate ejection from Asia almost without exception base their argument on shaky theoretical postulates and faulty historical analogies or on the decidedly nonauthoritative views of a few Chinese analysts, not current, hard evidence regarding either Chinese strategies and doctrines or Chinese behavior, past and present. Such observers argue that all rising powers seek hardpower dominance in an anarchic interstate system and that China is a power that always sought to dominate its world. However, such absolutist beliefs run counter to the very mixed record of power grabbing and power balancing, aggression and restraint, deterrence and reassurance that has characterized great power relations historically. They also ignore the fact that, in the premodern era, Chinese predominance within its part of Asia most often consisted of pragmatic and mutually beneficial exchanges of ritualistic deference for material gains, not Chinese hard power control. While implying a preference for symbolically hierarchical relationships with smaller neighbors, China’s premodern approach did not amount to a demand for clearcut dominance and subordination. Moreover, the advent of modern, independent, and in most cases strong nationstates along China’s borders; the forces of economic globalization; and the existence of nuclear weapons have enormously reduced, if not eliminated, both the willingness and the ability of Chinese leaders today to dominate Asia and carve out an exclusionary sphere of influence, especially in hardpower terms. By necessity, their objective is to reduce their considerable vulnerability and increase their political, diplomatic, and economic leverage in their own backyard to a level where Chinese interests must be reflected in those major political, economic, and security actions undertaken by neighboring states. This is a much less ambitious and in many ways understandable goal for a continental great power. And it does not necessarily threaten vital U.S. or allied interests.



Next we have an article from former Aussie PM Kevin Rudd which analyzes the future of US China relations given the power of Xi


These issues should not be seen as “no-go” areas in the relationship. Rather, they should be acknowledged clearly as major difficulties, but they should not be allowed to derail the entire relationship. Even dire circumstances, such as a major crisis, would warrant direct communication between the two Presidents, to explain to one another why it is necessary to imperil the entire relationship. These chokepoints in U.S.-China relations, as difficult as they are, can be managed through a common strategic framework and with common political will. However, these deep “realist” elements of the relationship should be matched by “constructive” engagement between the U.S. and China in difficult areas of their bilateral, regional and global relationship where true progress is possible. Otherwise, there is a danger that unalloyed strategic “realism” will suffocate the relationship altogether. Or worse. Given the generally bleak assumptions about each other’s ultimate strategic intentions, there is the perennial risk of “hyper-realism” becoming a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in crisis, conflict or even war. (27)


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