China: America Hedges Its Bets


China: America Hedges its Bets

 The National Interest, 6 December, 2013

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The rise of China in economic, political, and military terms is a key challenge for the security policy of the United States, which has both helped affect that rise and now hedges against the possible risks of that rise.

China’s sudden declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea is yet another vindication for US policy in the region. While there have been a number ofcriticisms of President Obama’s pivot to Asia; the policy was and remains the correct one. The decision to re-orient itself back to the Pacific was largely in reaction to a perception that a lack of diplomatic focus had not been good for the region. US allies in the region, such as Japan, Singapore and the Philippines, argued that a continued absence of focus by the United States in the region had become increasingly dangerous as China began to inexpertly exert its power in the region, particularly over maritime domain disputes. It has done this through a long-term incremental approach to de facto sovereignty over the East and South China Seas. In many ways, these claims have resurrected the logic of balance of power politics, and while Southeast Asian states have striven to avoid choosing between Washington and Beijing, the feeling was that China was taking advantage of the vacuum to assert a power-based hierarchical order. While Washington has also tried to avoid a zero-sum competition with China, the Bush administration and Obama administration began to carefully shift their view of China as it behaved with increased hubris in the region.

In the year following the announcement of the pivot policy, Chinese pundits accused the US ofcontainment, asserting a US plan to stem China’s rise as a great power. This is wrong for a number of reasons. First, this accusation ignores the US prominent role in developing China’s economy. All through the 1990’s, the US granted China most favored nation trade status, making this permanent in 2001. In addition, the US sponsored China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in2001. While there are no statistics on this topic, US investments into China since the 1970s could be over the trillion dollar mark. Robert Manning from the Atlantic Council has argued if the US wanted to enact a policy of containment of China, it would look quite different from the complex policy package that we see today. It would, for example, involve far more balancing behaviors including the attempted the diplomatic sidelining of China, a military build-up aimed specifically at Chinese platforms, and the creation of further alliances in and around China’s periphery. The US is not attempting such policies, nor does it think such policies are possible. Instead, as Evan Medeiros has argued convincingly, Washington is carrying out a policy of strategic hedging, a dual-track policy in which it carries out two policy bundles; one of engagement and one of balancing simultaneously. This article seeks to show how the United States came to follow such a complex policy, while also seeking to understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent in such a policy.

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