The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. This paper is approved for public release by SAF/PAS; distribution is unlimited.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lieutenant Colonel (P) Neal Anderson was commissioned as an Armor Officer in 1978 upon graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He has served in a variety of command and staff positions in the United States, Asia, and Europe. From June 1995 to June 1997, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson commanded the 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, which deployed to Bosnia for a year as part of NATO's Implementation Force during Operation Joint Endeavor. Most recently, he was a Senior Service College Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, DC. Colonel Anderson is also a China Foreign Area Officer and earned his Master's Degree in National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1986. Upon graduation from the Defense Language Institute, he was posted in Hong Kong, where he completed his regional studies and traveled throughout East and Southeast Asia. He has also served as an Asia Analyst on the Army Staff in the Pentagon and as an Assistant Army Attaché in Beijing. Colonel Anderson's military education includes the Armor Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the US Army Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College, the US Army War College's Defense Strategy Course, and the US Army War College. He is currently Deputy Division Chief, Strategic Planning, Concepts, and Doctrine Division, Strategy, Plans, and Policy Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Headquarters, Department of the Army.
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Background—The Roots of Uncertainty
A World in Transition
The Debate over China Policy
The Elements of Consensus
U.S.-China Strategic Relations: A Balanced, Long-term Approach
The U.S.-China Constructive Strategic Partnership
Shared Interests and Incompatible National Goals
Preventing Conflict–Moving from Deterrence to Reassurance
Mutual Security Perceptions and Requirements
Vital Bilateral Issues–Conflict or Compromise?
Maintaining Peace and Stability across the Taiwan Strait
Maintaining Peace and Stability on the Korean Peninsula
Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
Maintaining Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea
Maintaining Stability and Balance in U.S.-Japan-China Relations
Maintaining Peace, Stability, and Balance in South Asia
Important Issues of Mutual Concern: Arms Control and Disarmament
Maintaining Stability, Prosperity, and Access in Central Asia
Human, Civil, and Political Rights in China
U.S.-China Military Relations in a Strategic Context
Past as Prologue?
China’s Perception of Military Relations with the U.S.
America’s Perception of Military Relations with China
Measures to Overcome Uncertainty and Stabilize Military Relations
We are pleased to publish this twenty-ninth volume in the Occasional Paper series of the US Air Force Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). As we did earlier this year with our publication of two companion papers on NATO, we now offer two complementary studies that address Chinese security developments and US-Chinese relations into the first part of the 21st Century. The first study, Russ Howard’s Occasional Paper 28, The Chinese People’s Liberation Army: "Short Arms and Slow Legs," examines the military side of the Chinese equation, concluding that at least in the short- to mid-term, the PLA will become a stronger regional power, but will not emerge as a global military peer competitor to the United States. In this companion Occasional Paper 29, LTC (P) Neal Anderson’s Overcoming Uncertainty: U.S.-China Strategic Relations in the 21st Century, the focus shifts to the diplomatic and economic dimensions of the Chinese equation as a foundation for long-term military relations between the US and China. Colonel Anderson presents a comprehensive review of US-Chinese bilateral relations in crafting a framework for strategic cooperation based on a clear appreciation for individual national and regional interests. Recent events, including the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by US aircraft and the renewed tension between China and Taiwan, underscore the importance of adopting an informed and strategic approach to US-China relations. Together the two studies, written by two very bright and able United States Army officers, offer valuable insights into a rising regional power with whom the United States must interact in shaping a secure and stable East Asia.
About the Institute
INSS is primarily sponsored by the National Security Policy Division, Nuclear and Counterproliferation Directorate, Headquarters US Air Force (HQ USAF/XONP) and the Dean of the Faculty, USAF Academy. Our other sponsors currently include the Air Staff’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Directorate (XOI); the Secretary of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment (OSD/NA); the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (incorporating the sponsorship of the Defense Special Weapons Agency and the On-Site Inspection Agency); the Army Environmental Policy Institute; the Plans Directorate of the United States Space Command; the Air Force long-range plans directorate (XPXP); and the Nonproliferation Center of the Central Intelligence Agency. The mission of the Institute is "to promote national security research for the Department of Defense within the military academic community, and to support the Air Force national security education program." Its research focuses on the areas of greatest interest to our organizational sponsors: arms control, proliferation, regional studies, Air Force policy, information warfare, environmental security, and space policy.
INSS coordinates and focuses outside thinking in various disciplines and across the military services to develop new ideas for defense policy making. To that end, the Institute develops topics, selects researchers from within the military academic community, and administers sponsored research. It also hosts conferences and workshops and facilitates the dissemination of information to a wide range of private and government organizations. INSS is in its seventh year of providing valuable, cost-effective research to meet the needs of our sponsors. We appreciate your continued interest in INSS and our research products.
I am deeply grateful to many people whose review and suggestions contributed to this paper. In particular, Dr. Paul H.B. Godwin, Admiral Eric McVaden (retired), MG Michael T. Brynes (retired), Dr. Alfred D. Wilhelm, Jr., and Mr. Kenneth Allen provided invaluable input, though their review should not necessarily be construed as support for the views expressed in this paper. Any errors, factual or otherwise, are my own.
America’s relationship with China dipped to a post-Tiananmen low during the 1995-96 military confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. Miscalculation by both sides was followed closely by new energy in both the Clinton and Jiang administrations to improve relations. Summitry ensued. Jiang’s visit to the U.S. in 1997 was reciprocated by President Clinton’s trip to China in June 1998. A strategic partnership had been declared. Raised expectations for smoother relations were soon dashed by a host of issues, including Beijing’s crackdown on political dissent, trade, campaign finance, technology theft, and missile deployments. The debate over China policy, once again, played out in the media. The net effect of this rapid succession of events has been to bring substantive progress in U.S.-China relations to a virtual standstill, with no clear vision of how to proceed. Several factors have contributed to this state of affairs, each of which should be addressed by policies that put U.S.-China relations on a foundation that serves America’s long-term interests in Asia and around the world.
Most fundamentally, mutual fear colors every aspect of U.S.-China interaction. America is afraid that China will ultimately use its growing military power in pursuit of its expanding political and economic interests. Beijing is afraid that the U.S. will try to prevent China from achieving its modernization goals, including increased political influence, economic expansion, and attendant military capabilities. Thus, there remains an omnipresent perception on both sides that the United States and China are on a road to inevitable confrontation that could include military hostilities. Policymakers and defense planners on each side are, therefore, required to "hedge" against some future, undefined, military threat from the other which, in turn, feeds mutual distrust. Bilateral relations are mired in this vortex of fear and suspicion.
Second, incompatible national goals add to mutual anxiety. America and China do share profound long-term interests in peace and stability that provide an environment for continued economic growth. This shared interest is affected quickly, however, by differences in stated national goals. In the broadest sense, beyond peace and stability, the two sides have different views of both their own and the other side’s requirements for security. China’s national goals also include comprehensive development and reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. In contrast, after peace and security, U.S. national goals can be described as economic prosperity and the promotion of democratic principles abroad. These differences in core national objectives immediately give rise to tension in bilateral ties and influence each side’s approach to key bilateral and multilateral issues.
Third, a sound, post-Cold War strategic foundation for the relationship has not been established. An attempt to do so was made in 1997, when the U.S.-China "constructive strategic partnership" was declared. Since then, however, inadequate substance has been added to the phrase to either guide bilateral relations or enable the U.S. or Chinese administrations to forge domestic policy consensus. Instead, the phrase now conjures up widely disparate images. For example, critics of the U.S. administration’s policies are, literally, offended by the phrase. Others see constructive partnership, at best, as a long-term goal, while present day realities fall far short. For their part, many Chinese are equally uncertain about the meaning of the Sino-U.S. strategic partnership. Some describe it as a process. The result of this confusion, on both sides, is that it fuels policy debates in Washington and Beijing, rather than contribute to consensus or provide common, long-term vision and substance. It might be more helpful to think of constructive strategic partnership as both a goal and a process. As bilateral relations evolve in the years ahead, the process—the systems and mechanisms established in pursuit of the goal—are likely to be more important than agreement on any single issue. National security and prosperity themselves are processes, not events. Long-term relations with Beijing should be no different as the U.S. and China strive to coexist peacefully.
Fourth, for the past twenty-five years, U.S.-China relations have been based on a formula conceived in the early 1970s by Zhou Enlai and Richard Nixon, which has sought to focus on convergent interests and, at the same time, set aside fundamental differences. This formula may have been correct during the Cold War, but is no longer effective in its aftermath. By trying to avoid the most difficult issues in the relationship, governments in Washington and Beijing are exposed to broad criticism for "overlooking" the undesirable behavior of the other side, and for "appeasing" the other side for near-term political gain. This formula also contributes to unrealistic expectations of the relationship on both sides, which have historically been too high during good times and too low during the bad times. Consequently, this reduces the willingness and ability of both governments to make the political investment required to build and sustain a broad, long-term domestic policy consensus. Changes in both countries, and in the strategic landscape, argue for a new policy approach.
Finally, domestic politics in Washington and Beijing have bogged the relationship down. While less is known about the debate in China over its "America policy," it is safe to say that the discussion there is an intense one. In the U.S., the debate over China policy is losing the perspective and strategic balance needed to serve best America’s long-term interests. In short, this debate has taken on an overly partisan flavor. With the campaign for America’s year 2000 presidential election already begun, the tenor of the China debate does not bode well for near-term Sino-U.S. relations. A more productive debate would focus on broader interests, seek to build bipartisan consensus on a long-term approach toward Beijing, and distinguish between policy and policy management.
In full view of our experience with China in the last twenty years, we know with certainty that our vital national interests in East Asia—peace and prosperity—cannot be fully achieved without China’s constructive contributions. We know also that we are unlikely to agree fully with the Chinese government on matters related to human, civil, or political rights. Friction will continue with China over trade issues, just as it exists in relations with even our closest allies. Taiwan will continue to be an extremely sensitive issue, indeed, likely the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China bilateral ties. Despite these and other lingering difficulties, we do now have an unprecedented strategic window of opportunity in relations with China.
The United States and China’s vital interest in sustaining a peace that continues to favor economic development will not change in the foreseeable future. Equally important, the United States is superior to China in every aspect of national power, and that also will not change in the foreseeable future. As such, from a position of strength, the U.S. is uniquely positioned to advance its relationship with China in a way that best serves its long-term regional and global interests, builds trust, and responsibly accepts strategic risk where possible and prudent. The first and most fundamental step in formulating a long-term approach toward China is to get the relationship on solid footing strategically; that is, recognize and accept the legitimate security concerns of each side and take specific measures to reassure, vice deter, one another. As part of its strategic engagement with China, the U.S. military can play a unique role in narrowing the gap in strategic perceptions on both sides. It is this, the strategic foundation of U.S.-China relations, along with its military component, that should be stabilized and remain so, even when friction arises over other issues.
This has already been another defining year in Sino-U.S. relations. With several key anniversaries in the backdrop, a variety of China-related issues will continue to surface. These issues are real, contentious, and wide-ranging—from stability on the Korean Peninsula and across the Taiwan Strait to China’s alleged technology theft, trade surplus, and suppression of political dissident. How these and other challenges are managed will most certainly set the tone for U.S.-China relations well into the 21st century. Needed now, more than ever before, is a balanced, bipartisan domestic consensus on policies toward China that truly serves U.S. long-term national security interests in Asia and around the world. The basis of such a consensus is presented in the paragraphs that follow.
The policy recommendations developed in this paper address the fundamental problems that contribute to mutual uncertainty. Fears must be allayed, gaps in strategic perspectives must be narrowed, substance must be given to a bilateral strategic framework, difficult issues must be discussed, and domestic political processes should be used to strengthen, not undermine, policies. In each of these areas, U.S.-China defense relations should be used to their fullest to stabilize the relationship. As a key source of national power, as well as mutual concern, stable military ties can contribute significantly to preventing armed confrontation, overcoming uncertainty, and building trust. It is not a foregone conclusion that China’s growing power is destabilizing – that is so only if U.S.-China relations are not well attended and allowed to decay.
This paper is an effort to provide a framework for a balanced debate that could lead to improved stability and predictability in U.S.-China relations. The first section accounts for fundamental changes in the global strategic environment and addresses several assertions about where China is today and where it might be headed in the next millennium. These assertions are offered as a foundation on which a long-term strategic relationship with China might be built. Next, the paper attempts to distinguish between vital and non-vital issues in U.S.-China security relations, explains the similarities and differences in the two sides’ goals, interests, and strategic perspectives regarding these issues, and recommends policies to advance responsibly U.S.-China relations. It then explores U.S-China military relations, including why and how military ties should be stabilized and developed to support the overall bilateral relationship.
Two World Wars and a Cold War in this century have distorted our view of how close allies and how distant enemies are. Our current expectation of how far "friendly" nations should be willing to go to subordinate their own important, even fundamental, interests to broader, U.S.-led international endeavors may no longer apply. At the same time, America’s handling of its status as the world’s leading power over the past decade has exacerbated the perception of U.S. "arrogance and unilateralism" in many parts of the world, including countries which have traditionally shared our interests, values, and goals.
Some believe the period of virtually unchallenged global dominance the United States has enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, what Samuel Huntington has called America’s "unipolar moment," is waning, and that the world is currently in a state of transition that will last for the next decade or two. There is strong evidence supporting this conclusion, as many of the world’s major and lesser powers are currently struggling to define both themselves and their places in the 21st century world order. Russia, for example, still has global interests but only regional reach. NATO has developed a new strategic concept, while America’s European partners are searching for their own collective security identity. Japan, weakened economically, is trying to define its role in helping set the international political agenda. China vacillates, depending on the issue, from acting like a global power to portraying itself as the world’s largest developing, historically victimized country. India and Pakistan are trying to find their way after barging into the nuclear club. Even in the United States, there is an emerging debate over the proper role and employment of America’s power, particularly military power, in the future. After failed or only marginally successful interventions in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia, America’s struggle with the issue of deploying U.S. soldiers with NATO ground forces into a sovereign country to stabilize Kosovo is exemplary of this growing debate.
If current trends hold, the 21st century world likely will be characterized by diffused power. The United States, Europe, Japan, Russia, India, China, and other pockets of multilateral and transnational influence centered on the world’s vital resources are likely to compete for influence, using one or more aspect of overall national power. Despite the efforts of international diplomacy to find grounds for compromise and create win-win situations, power is and will remain fundamentally perceived as a zero-sum proposition—unless the powers find ways to accommodate one another. Globalization and economic interdependence will continue to complicate international relations, and the economic dimension of national security will become increasingly vital. Fundamental economic interests—access to markets and resources, sustained growth, and protectionist impulses—may well be the "security" issues of the future. In this arena, the United States’ position is also unlikely to prevail indefinitely. As the world’s other major countries increase their own power and influence, America’s relative power and influence likely will, to some degree, diminish. This is not inherently bad–both challenges and opportunities would result. Nor would this necessarily spell America’s demise. The U.S. likely would continue to be the "first among equals" but, on many non-vital issues, would also have to accommodate more often the interests of other powers. This will require a change in the way American leaders and people think about themselves, the country, and the other powers that emerge.
There will continue to be issues on which the interests of the world’s powers will converge. That would not necessarily mean the powers are "friends" in the way we think of today. Increasingly, there will also be issues on which the interests of the world’s powers diverge. Likewise, this would not automatically mean that the powers are enemies in the classic sense. We must think less in terms of friend and foe—in the absence of a crisis that fundamentally threatens national survival this distinction will lose relevance. Most nations, like people, turn their attention to development and prosperity once their security is "guaranteed." Peace, security, and stability will continue to be necessary, though not necessarily sufficient, preconditions for development and prosperity on the economic "battlegrounds" of the future. Unless the interests of the many are successfully addressed, the cumulative effects of "wins and loses" could manifest themselves in the political and military arenas.
The upshot of this discussion should be neither excessive pessimism nor optimism. It does, however, suggest that in the absence of a threat to a vital national interest, the world’s powers will have to find new ways to compromise, cooperate, and quite literally "share the wealth." This also speaks to the need to clearly define vital interests, in order to distinguish them from interests that are "merely important." This will be difficult in an increasingly complex 21st Century world, where issues will be colored shades of gray, not black or white, and one in which the terms friend and foe are likely to be much less relevant than they are even today. Thus, defining clearly our own core interests, as well as understanding clearly the core interests of the other powers, will be critical. By all indications, this will be increasingly difficult, particularly because the relative importance of national goals, interests, issues, and values has often become confused in recent years.
America already has an increasing variety of foreign and military policy challenges worldwide. Disagreement over how best to address these challenges appears to be at a post-Cold War high. At the ends of the spectrum, there are two possible outcomes. First, the Administration, Congress, and the American people might "leave domestic politics at the water’s edge," pull together, and achieve consensus on the best approach to these myriad challenges. Alternatively, domestic divisiveness might rule the day, reducing foreign and military policy "solutions" to the lowest common denominator. Political parties and groups might blame one another for failures, real or perceived, and simply move the country from one crisis to the next. America can hardly afford disunity at this critical juncture in its history. The United States is a country in transition, attempting to guide a world in transition. Managed well, this transformation would enhance America’s security and prosperity with, not at the expense of, the world’s other powers. Managed poorly, however, this metamorphosis could actually weaken the country within, and make it more vulnerable to challenges without. Regardless of what international role we assign ourselves, the world’s other powers will have much to do with the part we actually play. And, if we overreach, we risk, perhaps, the danger of collapsing under the weight of our own self-imposed global leadership. Thus, throughout this transition, it is critical that the United States keep its strategic balance.
The world’s changing strategic environment has important implications for America’s ability to formulate and sustain a Grand Strategy for the beginning of the next millennium. Arguably, in the absence of a major domestic or international crisis, the diffusion of power and interests renders improbable our ability to conceive and support a Grand Strategy like those of World War II and the Cold War. Meantime, peace likely will remain "an unstable equilibrium, which can be preserved only by acknowledged supremacy or equal power," and we will have to be wise enough to know when supremacy is required and when equal power is good enough. Moreover, "[t]he causes of war [will continue to be] the same as the causes of competition among individuals: acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and pride; the desire for food, land, materials, fuels, and mastery." Is it possible to break out of history’s endless cycle of war and armed conflict between states? Can the challenges and competition between countries in the 21st century world be moved to a "higher plane?" Unfortunately, man’s nature suggests probably not. Yet, this would be an appropriate goal for America in the next century, where U.S. leadership, involvement, and presence will still be required. As the world’s leading power, history has placed America in a unique position to pursue that aim. On many issues, American leadership will continue to be necessary; on others, particularly those involving other major powers, American leadership may not even be welcome. What will determine whether these challenges can be met "depends on the presence of initiative and creative individuals with clarity of mind and energy of will, capable of effective responses to new situations." Certainly, the consequences of failure "could not be worse than those we may expect from a continuation of traditional policies."
Particularly since the Tiananmen incident in 1989, the debate over China has been exceptionally divisive. In one Congressional Staffer’s view, there are essentially three views of China on Capitol Hill. First, there are those who believe China inevitably will be an adversary of the United States. Second, there are those who hold that China will ultimately open, evolve, and liberalize, and that we just need to be patient. Third, there is the zero-sum view that merely China’s emergence as a great power is fundamentally destabilizing.
James Lilley, former Ambassador to China, characterizes the debate in slightly different terms. In his view, the U.S. debate on a strategy toward China is shaped by four elements:
* the China threat view: "the Chinese are coming"
To be sure, Beijing’s behavior contrary to U.S. interests, real or perceived, fuels the debate over what to do about that behavior. The first step in long-term engagement with China, however, is for policymakers and lawmakers, on both sides of the political aisle, to sustain their engagement with one another. Absent consensus, pressures from both sides can lead to overreactive policy choices or legislation. Backtracking on China’s accession to the World Trade Organization during Premier Zhu Rongji’s April 1999 trip to the U.S. is the most recent example of this phenomenon.
Ambassador Lilley’s admonishment regarding the importance of U.S. relations with China and the potential consequences of being "wrong" should be the point of departure for a serious, balanced, realistic approach to relations with Beijing. The focus of this debate should shift from partisan "who's right" to bipartisan "what's right," and care must be taken to distinguish between policy management and the policies themselves. Debate is a strength in America’s political system but, like any strength, it can become a weakness if taken to an extreme. The U.S. should allow itself to be sidetracked by false choices or by exaggerated views of China as either inevitably benign or threatening. A fresh look at where China is now and where it is going is in order.
The Elements of Consensus
An effort to achieve a balanced, bipartisan consensus on which to base China policy should start with a framework that assesses China’s progress over the past twenty years, its current direction, and the likelihood of its achieving its goals. As a possible starting point for a debate on the elements of consensus, the following assertions are offered:
China is a country in transition, living in a world in transition. So are the United States and virtually every other country in the international order. China is also not yet a great power, and its emergence as one is far from guaranteed. In the absence of a threat to a vital national interest, the world’s powers will have to find new ways to compromise, cooperate, and quite literally "share the wealth." There is a pressing need to clearly define vital interests, in order to distinguish them from interests that are "merely important." This will be difficult in an increasingly complex 21st century world, where issues will be colored shades of gray, not black or white, and one in which earlier definitions of the terms friend and foe are likely to be much less relevant than they are even today. Defining clearly our own interests, as well as understanding clearly the interests of the other powers, will be critical. Several assertions have been made that warrant consideration in any debate over where China is today and where it wants to go. These assertions should contribute to broader consensus on China’s future and form a basis on which to draw the strategic conclusions necessary for long-range policymaking. On this basis a more substantive, stable strategic foundation, one that accounts for the enduring interests of both sides, should be built with China.
A balanced, long-term approach to China would start with the conclusions outlined above. In that context we begin with an interpretation of the U.S.-China "constructive strategic partnership," followed by an examination of the overarching strategic goals of both countries, and conclude with an assessment of the most important issues on the bilateral agenda.
The U.S.-China Constructive Strategic Partnership
The phrase "constructive strategic partnership" evokes widely disparate images among U.S. China-watchers. Some are offended by the phrase. A few might believe the U.S. is already engaged in such a partnership with China. Most believe it to be, at best, a long-term goal, while present-day realities fall far short. Unquestionably, the notion of a constructive strategic partnership with China is ill defined and, as such, fuels the debate over China policy rather than contribute to consensus or provide a common, long-term vision. Nevertheless, the words are etched in the 1998 National Security Strategy and the President repeated precisely this formulation in his welcoming remarks to Premier Zhu Rongji on the South Lawn of the White House on April 8, 1999.
For their part, many Chinese are equally uncertain about the meaning of the Sino-U.S. strategic partnership. Some describe it as a "goal," while others think of it as a "process." Both groups, however, believe that the U.S.-China strategic partnership is meaningful for two key reasons. First, it reflects a commitment by the top leaders of the two nations to try to find their way together in the post-Cold War world. Second, in the most practical terms, it reflects the importance both sides ascribe to the relationship.
The notion of the U.S.-China strategic partnership as a "process" is useful, but lacks the substance to provide a firm strategic foundation. It might be more helpful to think of constructive strategic partnership as both a goal and a process. As bilateral relations evolve in the years ahead, the process—the systems and mechanisms established in pursuit of the goal—are likely to be more important than agreement on any single issue. National security and prosperity themselves are processes, not events, and long-term relations with Beijing should be no different as the U.S. and China strive to coexist peacefully.
Shared Interests and Incompatible National Goals
The U.S. and China do share profound long-term interests. In the broadest sense, China’s national goals are peace, security, and stability (particularly in the Asia-Pacific region), comprehensive development, and reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. U.S. national goals can be described as peace and security, economic prosperity, and the promotion of democratic principles abroad. Thus, while the U.S. and China share a most fundamental interest—peace and stability—differences in each side’s approach to security and its other core objectives immediately give rise to tension in bilateral ties.
The core dilemma in U.S.-China security relations is mutual fear and uncertainty about the true, long-term intentions of the other side. In response to this underlying fear, political leaders and strategic planners on both sides "hedge" against worst-case scenarios which, in turn, feed the distrust of the other side. Americans are afraid that China will use its growing military power in pursuit of its vital national goals and interests. Beijing is afraid that the U.S. is trying to prevent China from achieving its full potential as a great power, including its legitimate defense capabilities. Efforts by both sides to allay the fear of the other have been only marginally successful and, as such, relations appear to have reached a plateau, with no clear way to break out of this vicious circle of mutual distrust.
A variety of issues exacerbate this problem, including different understandings on both sides of what defense capability is required to achieve security. America’s forward-deployed forces and its multiple bilateral alliances in Asia, for example, deemed essential to protect U.S. vital interests in the region, are seen by Beijing as an effort to surround and contain China. Beijing is routinely reminded of its military inferiority to the U.S. by American military actions in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and other parts of the world. In turn, China’s efforts to modernize selectively its largely antiquated armed forces are seen by U.S. defense specialists as potentially threatening. These perceptions are magnified by our view that China’s military lacks transparency, Beijing’s unwillingness to renounce the use of force against Taiwan, and other issues. Different goals, frames of reference, and preferred outcomes on specific security challenges are barriers to better security understanding and cooperation.
Economically relations are also strained, in part because the two countries’ economies are at different stages of progress. China is developing, while the U.S. desires for itself increased prosperity, producing fundamentally different approaches to socio-economic security. Trade, in particular, is becoming an increasingly contentious issue as China’s export led economic growth is slowing and America’s deficit is swelling. Though for different reasons, the political "survival" of governments in both Washington and Beijing is heavily dependent on the health of their respective national economies.
China’s stated goal of reunification, where uncertainty remains in both the U.S and China over how the Taiwan issue will evolve, is juxtaposed against America’s stated goal of promoting democracy abroad. This is perceived in Beijing as directly threatening to the Chinese regime. In the broadest sense, the clash of these core national goals spotlights Beijing’s emphasis on sovereignty and Washington’s emphasis on human rights. The America-led NATO military intervention in Yugoslavia underscores this contradiction in priorities.
The cumulative effect of these fundamental differences in national goals compounds mutual uncertainty and directly influences the two nations’ approach to issues of common concern. In addressing these issues, it is important to attempt to distinguish between those that affect the vital interests of both sides and those that do not. For the United States, its most vital strategic goals in the East Asia-Pacific region include:
Preventing Conflict—Moving from Deterrence to Reassurance
In the broadest strategic sense, both sides should seek to shift subtly the tone of security relations, where possible, from their emphasis on deterrence to mutual reassurance. In view of the shared distrust in the relationship, it is difficult for either side to take the first step toward reassurance. Both sides, then, should take the first step together. A permanent, bilateral standing security council is needed. This body should be charged with identifying problems, developing solutions, and monitoring their implementation across the entire range of bilateral security issues. In advancing this initiative, Washington must also ensure that it is fully coordinated with and understood by allies and other countries worldwide. This Standing Security Council (SSC) must also be allocated resources that reflect an enduring commitment to America’s defense relationship with China. Further, the top issue on the SSC’s agenda should be mutual security perceptions and requirements.
Mutual Security Perceptions and Requirements
America and China, like all nations, have legitimate security concerns. Mutual recognition and acceptance of this fact, as well as a mutual understanding of the steps each side is taking to address its concerns, are needed. Forward-deployed U.S. forces in Asia worry China, though many Chinese leaders would be willing to admit privately that Beijing benefits from their presence. Moreover, there is no foreseeable end in sight for America’s requirement to maintain a strong presence in East Asia and the Pacific. China should accept this, even if reluctantly. Concomitantly, the U.S. should accept that China has a need and right to address its own complex security environment and develop a military capability commensurate with its growing interests. This acceptance, while likely equally reluctant, is no less necessary. The existence of certain military capabilities on either side does not inherently mean they will be used against the other. Indeed, the fundamental purpose of the permanent security council is to ensure this does not happen.
Not surprisingly, the ability of America and China to cooperate on any single issue is generally determined by the quality of the overall relationship. This is likely to continue to be so, and argues strongly for an approach that addresses, rather than shrinks from, the deepest fears and most vital interests of both sides. Mutual acceptance of the legitimate security interests and perceptions of both sides would stabilize strategic relations in a way that would allow other difficult issues to be addressed candidly and confidently by both sides.
America and China bring both convergent and divergent goals, interests, and strategic perspectives to the many strategic issues facing their relationship. Clearer understanding of the vital interests on both sides is needed, as well as the relative importance of the issues themselves. Changes in the global strategic environment no longer afford the two sides the comfort of simply "putting differences aside." The tough security challenges must be addressed in a way that recognizes the interests of both sides and takes the first important steps toward overcoming mutual uncertainty. No issue is more difficult that Taiwan and, as such, we begin there.
Maintaining Peace and Stability across the Taiwan Strait
-- Dr. Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Asian and Pacific Affairs
Beijing officials acknowledge that "more predictability" in the bilateral relationship will be difficult to achieve, but note with some satisfaction that now there is "less uncertainty." Nevertheless, uncertainty remains. While China interprets Taiwan’s December 1998 elections and the strong showing by the Nationalist Party (KMT) as a vote for the status quo and a step away from independence, Beijing sees some danger in the "new Taiwanism" movement on the island, particularly in the context of Taiwan’s presidential election next year.
For its part, Taiwan seems to be struggling to redefine itself. According to one Taiwanese scholar, Taiwan’s domestic politics are in flux, a situation that likely will be intensified with the evolution of political regimes on the island, in the U.S., and on the mainland over the course of the next few years. In particular, Taiwan is searching for a new "national" identity. Taiwan’s democratization, economic development, and uncertainty over pro-independence forces are key factors influencing this debate. Taiwan’s leaders and people are asking fundamental questions. Are they still the heirs to China’s 1911 revolution? Is Taiwan building a new culture? If so, what might it be? These important questions will be answered in the context of the political stalemate that continues to exist across the Strait. Although cross-Strait relations appear, for now, relatively stable, there is no assurance that they will stay that way. Exacerbating mistrust in cross-Strait relations is Taipei’s attraction to theater missile defense (TMD).
Taiwan’s interest in TMD adds a new dimension of uncertainty to cross-Strait relations and the U.S. role in that relationship. Given the experience of our military confrontations with China over Taiwan in 1995-96, as well as Beijing’s stance on TMD for Taiwan, it should be clear that U.S.-China strategic cooperation and the tenor of the overall relationship are tied directly to the quality of cross-Strait relations. It should be equally clear, despite the fact that neither Washington, Taipei, nor Beijing desire armed conflict, that a misstep by any side could have this outcome. With these considerations in mind, the introduction of TMD into the cross-Strait equation may be unnecessarily and unjustifiably destabilizing.
Cross-Strait relations between Taipei and Beijing are extraordinarily complex. The United States walks a fine line between the two sides, between fulfilling its obligations to island security under the Taiwan Relations Act and meeting its commitments to China under the three communiqués, while trying not to get caught in the middle. Moreover, this issue is heavily laden with domestic political considerations in Taipei, Beijing, and Washington. Regardless of perspective, a hard line toward reunification plays well in all three capitals to serve other domestic political interests, related and otherwise. Apart from purely national defense considerations, TMD has potentially significant political "value" on all three sides. TMD for Taiwan also has potentially significant political liabilities and America should take great care not to get caught in a cross-Strait situation that could have unintended, undesirable consequences.
First, the United States should immediately and clearly de-link TMD for Taiwan from TMD development and possible deployment for any other country, particularly Japan. Tokyo and Seoul have both expressed their concern about provoking China with a missile defense system that extends, or is perceived to extend, to Taiwan. Fostering the impression in Beijing that TMD for Northeast Asia might be linked to TMD for Taiwan serves well neither regional nor American security interests.
Second, given the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, TMD for Taiwan may be more than a yes or no question. Perhaps a more nuanced approach would better contribute to cross-Strait stability.
Missile defense is actually a complex systems of systems, including early warning, low- and high-altitude weapons, command, control, and communications, and support. The U.S. sold to Taiwan, in 1993, three Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2 batteries. These are an upgraded version of the Patriot missiles used to defend against Iraq’s Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War. Taiwan has also expressed a desire to purchase Aegis guided-missile ships and the newer PAC-3 system when it becomes operational. Both of these weapons systems are commonly viewed as potentially integral components of any future, fully functional missile defense system. These sales may eventually go forward, but they should do so in a way wherein the U.S. unequivocally retains the master key to any complete missile defense architecture—for example, early warning and command and control systems. By drawing a clear line between a complete missile defense system and the individual components thereof, Washington could address the most fundamental concerns of both Taiwan and Beijing, and contribute to cross-Strait stability. Beijing would be assured that Taiwan possesses no operational missile defense without America’s active participation. Taiwan would be assured that if Beijing was acting in a threatening way the U.S. could add a missile defense capability to the situation. Concomitantly, this approach would avoid unnecessarily inciting either pro-independence advocates on Taiwan or those in China who would use missiles to intimidate the island’s population. Any other approach to TMD for Taiwan is likely to be inherently destabilizing. Further, removing TMD from cross-Strait relations is a decision that could be reversed at any time if Beijing’s behavior made it necessary.
China’s missile deployments across from Taiwan, which have been the center of much attention recently, are not new. A Department of Defense spokesman stated on 11 February 1999 that "China has not increased the numbers of missiles aimed at Taiwan in five or six years." Ashton Carter and William Perry note that "over the past decade the PLA has been shifting its war plans and weapons-buying programs from general war with its northern neighbor, the former Soviet Union, toward acquiring the capability to coerce Taiwan." Coerce Taiwan from what? China chose to actually employ its missiles only after there was sufficient concern in Beijing that Taipei was moving toward independence. This perception was reinforced by Washington’s decision to allow Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the United States, the political character of his speech at Cornell University, and domestic politics in Taiwan pursuant to its 1996 presidential election. Beijing likely underestimated the U.S. response to its decision to go ahead with missile exercises. Still, by the second round of exercises in March 1996, the U.S. and China appeared to be on the brink of conflict. Inasmuch as Lee Teng-hui was reelected with a strong majority of the vote, Beijing’s actions appeared to have achieved their intended effect. Yet, Beijing’s actions also had important negative consequences, including Taiwan’s interest in missile defense and the inclination of many in the U.S. government to give it to them.
China’s regimental-size missile unit remains deployed in Southeastern China specifically to discourage pro-independence advocates on the island and avoid the armed conflict that would almost inevitably result from an official shift to an independence policy by Taipei. As Avery Goldstein notes,
For the U.S., the questionable strategic benefits of TMD for Taiwan raise serious doubts about the wisdom of paying the political price in Sino-American relations that joint development would entail, especially if it includes Japanese participation…. However ineffective ballistic missile defenses may be at present, the Chinese (and Russians) worry that the world’s most advanced industrial powers will figure out ways to improve these systems and pose an ever escalating challenge to the one component of their military arsenal that is not hopelessly outclassed. Their fears (arguably as exaggerated as the hopes of TMD advocates) will make it more difficult to work together on other areas of common interest….
Helpful in a comprehensive approach toward this issue would also be the early, mutually acceptable conclusion of negotiations with Beijing regarding its accession into the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the same time, efforts should also be made to convince Beijing of its self-interest, particularly in terms of perceptions of China both in Taiwan and the U.S., in Taipei’s simultaneous or near-simultaneous accession to the WTO.
Meantime, Beijing will be watching closely Taiwan’s presidential election scheduled for March 2000. Although high-risk and therefore unlikely, if it perceives that the independence movement on the island is gaining too much momentum, China could once again resort to military intimidation. While the U.S. is unlikely to be able to influence at this point where China deploys its missiles, it can influence what China does with them. America’s discussion of TMD with Taiwan would diminish that influence in Beijing. As Goldstein notes, " [f]or a strategically decisive system, such a system may be worth [this] cost. [But], for the type of system currently available, it is a bad bargain." The U.S. should reserve the leverage of a serious discussion of TMD with Taiwan for a time when it is available and necessary. Entertaining Taipei’s interest in missile defense now gives away a card that would better be played later, if at all. As a senior U.S. official noted recently in testimony to Congress,
Maintaining Peace and Stability on the Korean Peninsula
China has, for years, played a constructive role in managing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. At least since the early 1980s and particularly since Seoul’s 1988 Summer Olympics, Beijing has quietly attempted to moderate Pyongyang’s behavior. China is also a participant, with the U.S. and the two Koreas, in the ongoing Four Party Talks. However, Pyongyang’s behavior and real progress in the Four Party Talks have been, in turn, disquieting and discouraging. As such, many believe China should be doing more to constrain North Korea’s missile development programs and proliferation activities, as well as ensure that Pyongyang has not resumed its nuclear weapons program.
While there are differences of opinion in Beijing, the prevailing view is that North Korea is isolated and under serious security strains from the legacy of the Korean War, U.S. sanctions, and America’s relationships with both South Korea and Japan. China also believes that to "preserve its special relationship" with North Korea, it must continue to engage Pyongyang quietly, calmly, and with a low international profile. Further, the Chinese assert that they have less influence over North Korea than we in the U.S. give them credit for. Judging by Pyongyang’s behavior, this may be the case.
North Korea’s missile launch over Japan in August 1998 exemplifies clearly the limits of Beijing’s sway over Pyongyang. The repercussions of that missile launch have overwhelmingly been contrary to China’s interests. Most significant, as a result of the launch, Japan has agreed to participate with the U.S. in TMD development and has committed to developing and launching its own reconnaissance satellites. In addition, the missile launch crystallized U.S. Congressional support for TMD deployment which is, in itself, highly undesirable from Beijing’s perspective.
Resolution of the standoff on the Korean Peninsula is ultimately a Korean matter, and the goals of the two sides remain fundamentally opposed. While Seoul desires reconciliation with the North, for Pyongyang "the ideal condition on the peninsula is neither war nor peace. This strategy allows North Korea to survive essentially unchanged without diverting additional resources to the military and without implementing significant reforms. In this context, the results of the Four Party Talks are likely to [continue to] be disappointing." China does share with the U.S. a profound interest in peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, but several factors shape bilateral cooperation on this critical issue.
China clearly is concerned about developments on the Korean Peninsula, but does not necessarily share the sense of urgency or heightened sense of threat that recent events have generated in Washington and Tokyo. Beijing views Pyongyang’s suspected nuclear weapons program as a means by which Kim Jong Il tries to extract further concessions from the U.S. and bolster his countrymen’s perception of his international standing and legitimacy. Nor does China believe that North Korea will either explode or implode in the foreseeable future, and urges the U.S. to take a more subtle, patient policy approach toward Pyongyang.
Beijing also does not necessarily share America’s preferred end state for the Peninsula. Certainly, both sides want any outcome to be peaceful, but each side would also favor a reunified Korea oriented its way. Thus, in any post-reunification scenario, the ultimate disposition of U.S. forces on the Peninsula will be a key bilateral issue. The potential regional implications of a complete U.S. military withdrawal from Korea, particularly regarding Japan, may be enough to convince Beijing to tolerate reluctantly the retention of an American military footprint on the Peninsula. That decision, however, will likely be determined by the overall condition of U.S.-China relations, just as the health of bilateral relations colors Sino-American cooperation on the Korean Peninsula today. "An American-Chinese relationship which is competitive overall will continue that competition on the Korean Peninsula." In that context, with both near-term stability and long-term American interests in mind, several steps should be pursued to help reduce friction and improve U.S.-China cooperation on the Peninsula.
First, the Northeast Asia Cooperative Dialogue, involving China, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and Russia should be invigorated and sustained. This Track II (unofficial) forum is useful for increasing multilateral understanding and defense transparency, and could also serve as a means to assess perceived threats posed by Pyongyang’s behavior, share views on possible alternative futures for the Peninsula, and informally discuss contingencies on the Peninsula that could range from peaceful evolution to war. Efforts to involve Pyongyang in this forum should also continue.
Second, a Northeast Asia Early Warning Center (NEAEWC) should be established to alert all six parties of planned missile tests by any side and to share immediately information in the event of surprise launches. Ideally, Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Pyongyang, Moscow, and Washington would all be involved. Even if the North Koreans opt not to participate, however, the center would provide a critical forum for information sharing in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Mutual mistrust over the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of the information shared could be overcome in time. In the absence of a formal early warning organization, at a minimum, a multilateral prior-notification agreement between the sides should be pursued.
Third, ways must be found to engage China and Russia in national and theater missile defense discussions. Already, the Russians have linked further progress on disarmament, at least in part, to this issue. China has unequivocally expressed its displeasure over Japan’s decision to participate in TMD development. In this context, regardless of how prudent or necessary missile defense might seem from our perspective, the decisions to develop and deploy should not be made without full consideration of the broader impact these decisions may have on other critical U.S. interests and relationships. Presently, for Beijing and Moscow, missile defense and effective deterrence are mutually exclusive concepts. But, this is a Cold War construct and, perhaps, a false choice for the 21st century. In the long-term, ways must be found that allow missile defense, continued disarmament, and effective deterrence to exist simultaneously. While near-term U.S. decisions regarding TMD development should not be hostage to sentiment in Moscow or Beijing, deployment is an entirely different matter. As such, the U.S. should immediately begin a parallel dialogue with Russia and China to find ways that will allow them to share the benefits of TMD rather than become its perceived "victims." It will take time for both Moscow and Beijing to develop trust in such an endeavor, but this dialogue is an essential step if the U.S. desires to pursue missile defense without creating an unacceptable sense of insecurity in Russia and China. In time, lessons learned in these discussions might also be applied to nuclear South Asia.
Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the means by which they may be delivered
In discussing proliferation issues regarding China, we must be mindful of both sides of the proliferation coin. First, there remains concern over China’s reliability and willingness to abide by the non-proliferation agreements to which it is party. Second, there is broad concern over the proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile technologies to China. While these issues are not necessarily directly related, they are often parts of the same discussion. So it is here.
China is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions. It continues its verbal commitment to the provisions of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and is an active participant in a variety of international non-proliferation dialogues, including Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations. Nevertheless, China’s proliferation record has been spotty, including missile sales to the Middle East and Pakistan, as well as nuclear and chemical weapon cooperation with Pakistan and Iran. As recently as November 1998 in Beijing, John Holum, Acting Undersecretary of State for International Security Affairs, protested continuing Chinese missile technology aid to Iran. Thus, although Beijing has taken several important steps since 1992 to adhere to its non-proliferation commitments, this issue remains one of great concern in the U.S. Indeed, concern has intensified dramatically in recent months as a result of allegations that China may have benefited from the unauthorized and illegal acquisition of sensitive U.S. missile and nuclear weapons technologies.
America’s concern over technology theft by any country, friend or otherwise, is serious and justified. According to news accounts, a bipartisan House Select Committee, chaired by Representative Christopher Cox, concluded that "China’s sustained, serious efforts to acquire advanced American technology over the past twenty years have damaged U.S. national security." More recent reports allege that China was involved in stealing nuclear weapons secrets from the U.S. laboratory at Los Alamos and similarly acquiring neutron bomb technology from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Some of these reports further contend that the current Administration may have mismanaged its investigation into claims of illegal Chinese activities. Meantime, these issues surface against a backdrop of long-standing, yet unproved, allegations that China also contributed illegally to the Democratic Party’s 1996 presidential campaign. The confluence of the events has added a strong partisan flavor to U.S. public attitudes toward China.
Needed now is a careful bipartisan assessment of what, if any, sensitive nuclear weapons or other technologies China may have acquired, and its impact on U.S. national security. Equally important is a bipartisan assessment of the possible failure of existing procedures and systems designed to safeguard U.S. information and technology. Where appropriate, systems must be repaired and human error punished. In the course of this process, however, it is also necessary to distinguish between the management of policy and policy itself. It is similarly necessary to keep policy and its management from being linked or muddled in ways that damage U.S. interests. Put bluntly, in would be naïve to think that China, as well as other countries, are not attempting to learn U.S. nuclear weapons secrets—and we theirs. Less obvious are the many and diverse good reasons to continue substantive exchanges between American and Chinese nuclear scientists and laboratories in ways that do not compromise secrets.
In this light, we should use the current debate over technology transfer to China to build a consensus on what technologies are vital to U.S. national security and reassure ourselves that they are, in fact, secure. In doing so, one of the key outcomes of that debate would also be to determine what technologies, including military and dual-use, are not vital to U.S. national security and areas for possible cooperation between the U.S. and China. Technology cooperation in carefully considered, non-threatening areas, even military, would serve well U.S. long-term interests with Beijing. Overall, China’s access to selected American technologies would be a powerful incentive for it to adhere to its non-proliferation and other responsibilities.
Regarding the proliferation of sensitive technologies to China, Washington should also coordinate and cooperate more closely with its allies. The Wassenaar Arrangement on Arms Export Controls, a post-Cold War convention intended to regulate sensitive military and dual-use goods and technologies, should be expanded and strengthened. Current members of the arrangement include mainly European countries; the only Asia-Pacific countries are Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Russia is a member and Israel is not, but both have extensive military equipment and technology ties with Beijing. Though less well known than Russia’s recent arms sales to Beijing, Israel has been providing China military assistance in a variety of areas since the early-1980s, including advanced jet fighter technologies, air-to-air missiles, airborne early warning systems, and tanks. Given the United States’ stated concern over China’s military modernization and power projection capabilities, it would be reasonable to conclude that this cooperation is inimical to U.S. interests. Yet, Israeli assistance continues, with recent reports suggesting that sensitive U.S. military technologies may have been compromised.
European Union (EU) countries, including France, Italy, and the United Kingdom have also continued to sell military hardware to China since 1989, despite U.S. sanctions prohibiting similar American sales. In fact, the EU has embarked on its own "comprehensive partnership" strategy with Beijing. Finally, Washington’s virtual silence over cash-strapped Russia’s arms sales to China, including advanced aircraft, cruise missiles, submarines, and destroyers, is understandable. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of these relationships with China suggests, at best, poor international coordination of China policy. At a minimum, it suggests strongly that the EU, Israel, and Russia either do not share the United States’ perception of the China’s growing military power or have a different view of what military goods and technologies are "sensitive." These contradictions should be resolved.
Finally, the United States should seek to further integrate China in the international non-proliferation framework. China’s membership in and compliance with the MTCR is, despite some views to the contrary, in America’s best interest. So too would be Beijing’s formal participation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which would restrict China’s nuclear power cooperation to only those countries subject to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s full-scope safeguards. China’s participation in and compliance with the terms of a strengthened Wassenaar Agreement might also alleviate concern about China’s export or re-export of selected military goods and technologies. As with most issues, China’s ultimate willingness to be integrated fully into the international non-proliferation regime and modify its behavior accordingly will depend, to a large degree, on the overall condition of U.S.-China relations. That said, however, non-proliferation does appear to be an area in which Beijing is increasingly willing to cooperate more closely with the U.S. and the international community. We should find ways to take advantage of this willingness.
Maintaining Peace in and Freedom of Navigation through the South China Sea
Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea, particularly on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, 150 miles from the Philippines, and on Woody Island in the Paracels, where China has built functional military aviation facilities, are of concern to both the United States and other claimants in the region’s territorial disputes. Unclear is China’s long-term intent in the area, and that uncertainty has spurred concern among some about Beijing’s military activity there. Several issues come together in the South China Sea—freedom of the seas (America’s vital national interest in the region), sovereignty (territorial claims), potential resources, and history. In themselves, most of the islands in the region are worth little. The entirety of Spratly Islands at low tide, for example, comprises less than one square mile of total land. In addition, all claimants except Brunei have made military excursions into the area and prominently pressed their claims. Taiwan, for example, maintains a battalion-size force on Itu Aba, the largest of the islands at 90 acres, where it has also built a small port and airstrip.
Most important, while is it possible that China has a plan of gradual encroachment in the disputed islands to bring de facto resolution to its claims—a "possession is nine-tenths of the law" approach—it is extremely unlikely, in the absence of another crisis, one involving Taiwan for example, that Beijing will do anything to hinder freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. Further, any foothold China does gain on the islands would, by the very nature of the region’s geography and China’s nascent military capability, be extremely tenuous. Finally, as was suggested earlier, Chinese behavior that is genuinely perceived as aggressive or threatening by its neighbors could draw a response from them, perhaps in the form of a military buildup of their own.
Publicly, Beijing continues to assert that it has acted "with restraint" in the South China Sea and declares its commitment to resolving these territorial disputes through peaceful means in accordance with international law. Meantime, it might be surmised that Beijing periodically "presses" its claims in the area for two reasons. First, China likely wants to be in a leading position regarding the exploitation of resources in the area, where high expectations have yet to be realized. Second, as alluded to above, occupation and periodic facility improvements on some of the islands tests the political will of other claimants and might be intended to strengthen its position if, and whenever, serious negotiations occur. Some also see a link between China’s military activity in the area and broader shifts in the region’s balance of power—for example, increased Chinese activity on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the closure of American military bases in the Philippines. Asia’s financial virus, with its attendant pressure on Southeast Asian governments and their defense budgets, might also fall into this category.
For now, without backing away from any of its territorial claims and in full view of its growing energy needs, China continues to work actively with international oil companies, including American and Taiwanese, to find and develop oilfields in the region. Diplomatically, China has also taken steps to improve and maintain cooperative relations with Southeast Asian states, including the late-February 1999 visit to Beijing by Vietnam’s Communist Party Secretary General.
In sum, the United States should continue to reiterate to Beijing its own critical interest in freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, as it too is increasingly dependent on Persian Gulf oil. The U.S. should also ensure that all of the claimants understand its opposition to any change in the status quo through the use of military force, and remind Beijing that negative perceptions of its behavior make U.S. domestic consensus on policies toward China more difficult to sustain. The territorial disputes in the South China Sea are issues that belong in the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the U.S. should work diligently to keep it on that body’s agenda.
Maintaining Peace, Stability, and Balance in the Evolution
of U.S.-Japan-China Relations
China recognizes the benefits it receives from U.S. security guarantees to Japan and America's military presence there. In the context of a century-long rivalry with Tokyo and, particularly, Japan’s occupation of China from 1931-1945, Beijing views U.S.-Japan security ties as a useful hedge against Japanese remilitarization. Beijing is, however, extremely sensitive about any expansion of the Washington-Tokyo alliance beyond the immediate defense of Japan. Consequently, China reacted strongly to the new Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation, updated in 1997, out of concern that they extend to operations related to Taiwan.
For its part, Japan remains equally wary of China. In head-to-head competition with China for the past hundred years, Japan has consistently perceived itself to be the superior power. China’s emergence as a major economic force, coupled with Asia’s financial crisis, has heightened Japan’s sensitivity. On top of this, China’s military modernization, which the Japanese believe is constrained mainly by budget considerations, is of some concern in Tokyo.
Tokyo also continues to experience periods of uncertainty about America’s commitment to its security, most recently during last August’s North Korean missile launch over Japan. From Tokyo’s perspective, the lack of early warning, delayed information about the launch, and unresolved disagreement with U.S. analysts over details of the launch, created a need for its own capabilities in certain areas. Japan’s decision to develop and launch its own reconnaissance satellites is a direct result of Pyongyang’s missile test. Finally, Tokyo felt slighted by both the form and substance of last year’s U.S.-China summit. The President’s decision not to stop in Tokyo in conjunction with the trip, coupled with U.S. criticism of Japan for its role in Asia’s economic downturn, praise for Beijing for not devaluing its currency, and no public acknowledgment of the close U.S.-Japan security partnership, was noticed in Japan. Indeed, U.S.-Japan security ties have been buffeted over the years by trade issues. It is reasonable to believe that, in the face of the continuing evolution of the balance of power in East Asia, Japan might eventually grow weary of being the "junior partner" in U.S.-Japan relations. Japan’s relative military weakness stands in sharp contrast to its economic influence. The confluence of these circumstances has several critical implications for U.S. policy.
First, U.S. policy toward China should be carefully coordinated with and not come at the expense of Washington’s longtime allies or countries with which the U.S. has important interests. Other recent examples of policy coordination problems include the President’s announcement during the June 1998 summit of the "three noes" policy regarding Taiwan. The formal statement surprised Taipei. Similarly, the President’s joint declaration with China during the summit to cooperate on reducing the nuclear weapons threat in South Asia was not well received in New Delhi. Finally, as discussed earlier, there is clearly a need for closer coordination of China policy with the European Union, Israel, and Russia. As the balance of power in Asia continues to evolve in coming years, close and continuous U.S. bilateral and multilateral dialogue with countries throughout the region will be necessary to avoid misperceptions and misunderstandings.
Second, the United States must work diligently with Tokyo to reassure it of America’s commitment to Japanese security and shield, as much as possible, security ties from difficulties in other aspects of the overall relationship. At the same time, Washington must work closely with both Tokyo and Beijing to clarify capabilities and intent, encourage confidence-building measures, and help explain balance-of-power perceptions on both sides of the Yellow Sea. In terms of trilateral cooperation, shared interest in a number of security issues throughout Asia, not the least of which is peace on the Korean Peninsula, provides incentive for closer collaboration, even if cautious.
For the long-term, the key U.S. challenge will be the maintenance of a regional balance that accounts both for changes in relative power and for history’s realities. In doing so, the trilateral efforts described above are most likely to be effective if U.S.-China and Japan-China relations are improving on parallel courses. This also presumes stable, confident, balanced security ties between Washington and Tokyo that are not perceived in Beijing as provocative. Ultimately, however, how Beijing handles its growing power will most likely be the determining factor in how the U.S.-Japan security alliance evolves in the coming years.
Maintaining Peace, Stability, and Balance in South Asia
One of the most potentially far-reaching series of events since the end of the Cold War was the 1998 sequence of nuclear weapons tests by India and Pakistan, which has revived concern that other countries might seek nuclear weapons as well. Moreover, the internationally accepted nuclear weapons states are now faced with the challenge of how to integrate newly declared nuclear powers into the world order without undermining fatally the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That India and Pakistan developed their nuclear weapons in response to different threats complicates this problem further.
In all likelihood, India will set the pace for future nuclear developments in South Asia. Although Pakistan will not attempt to match India weapon for weapon, its conventional force imbalance will compel Islamabad to possess a minimum deterrent capability if India deploys its weapons. The recent India-Pakistan summit and reports that both may be willing to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) before the end of the year are encouraging; more recent missile tests by both sides are less so. It remains to put mechanisms in place to stabilize the nuclear weapons situation in South Asia.
China’s role in helping to balance the nuclear situation in South Asia is circumscribed by the part it is perceived to have played in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, as well as the fact that India’s stated rationale for testing was based on its perception of a threat from China. Exacerbating this situation was the June 1998 joint U.S.-China declaration to cooperate on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons in South Asia. This statement drew criticism from New Delhi. Not only did it boost China’s international stature, but also conveyed the view that Washington is now willing to overlook China’s assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program—rather than "being a part of the problem, Beijing is now part of the solution." Two conclusions result. First, politics in Asia are still seen as a zero-sum game. Second, China’s position in South Asia’s security situation is a delicate one.
By testing, India rejected outright the United States’ contention that the NPT’s endorsement of only five nuclear weapons states is not discriminatory. Nevertheless, the U.S. is unlikely to concede to any formula that would recognize any new nuclear weapons states under the NPT. Equally unlikely is a complete nuclear rollback by India or, as a result, by Pakistan. Missile tests by both sides and continuing domestic political turbulence in New Delhi suggest that, in the near-term, there will be few broad answers to South Asia’s new nuclear status. In the meantime, practical efforts to stabilize the situation in the region should be actively pursued.
Apart from encouraging a sustained bilateral dialogue between Pakistan and India, the most beneficial step the U.S. can take at this point is to adopt the Council on Foreign Relations’ recommendation that
China and India should also be strongly encouraged to intensify engagement in their own confidence-building regime. With yet unresolved border disputes and mutual suspicions, these two potentially major powers face their own challenges of peaceful co-existence on the Asian continent. For the U.S., any urge to strengthen ties with either China or India at the expense of the other is bound to fail and should be avoided. Already Beijing is watching carefully America’s increased strategic involvement in South Asia since the nuclear tests.
Finally, a vigorous Track II forum should be established and sustained. This informal dialogue would involve key civilian, military, academic, and other specialists from India, Pakistan, China, America, and other countries in or with important interests in South Asia. Russian and Japanese participation might also be welcome. Key topics should include defense transparency, threat assessment, confidence building measures, and nuclear weapons safety, security, and command and control.
Important Issues of Mutual Concern: Arms control and disarmament
We know, painfully, that China is working actively to modernize and improve the quality of its nuclear forces, particularly in terms of accuracy and a MIRV capability. It certainly will not, however, attempt to match quantitatively the current U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals. Instead, Beijing has declined to participate in arms control talks until Washington and Moscow reduce their own nuclear holdings to about the 1000-warhead level and, in the interim, continues to improve gradually its own nuclear arsenal. Complicating further any near-term engagement with China on arms control is America’s commitment to developing theater and national missile defense systems. This is perceived as a decision by the U.S. to place missile defense ahead of arms control issues with either Russia or China, but this is a false choice. Ways must be found to reconcile the two issues. Russia may eventually ratify, primarily for economic reasons, the START II agreement, but China will continue to develop its nuclear arsenal unconstrained except by budget and competing defense modernization priorities.
Recent Congressional legislation directing that the U.S. develop and deploy missile defense systems has truncated the debate over the advisability of investing large amounts of national treasure in a program which, for technological reasons, has dubious returns. As a measure of security against limited numbers of missiles from rogue states, it is probably prudent to move forward with development. Experience with theater-level missile defense may contribute to a national-level system. There is, however, more at stake in this issue than technological feasibility.
First, is the question of what capability any missile defense system will have. Will it be designed to defeat one missile, or ten, or more? Hypothetically, a system that defeats twenty missiles would be of marginal concern to Russia, while it would effectively negate China’s current strategic nuclear capability. What then, might be the Chinese response? While Beijing likely will continue to modernize its nuclear forces, including the development of a stronger submarine-based capability, regardless of whether the U.S. pursues missile defense, how far and how fast Beijing goes likely will be tied directly to its perception of a U.S. missile defense capability. With limits on defense spending, China, like Russia, might feel compelled to rely more heavily on nuclear forces, than on conventional forces, to preserve its sense of security. At a minimum then, if a U.S. missile defense system is truly not aimed at China, ways must be found to reassure Beijing of that fact. These ways must go beyond words—there must be enough transparency in America’s missile defense program to reassure Beijing and avoid provoking an unintended response from China. This might also be equally true for Russia, although Moscow’s "tolerance" of U.S. missile defense may be higher.
As such, it is in America’s interest to begin immediately with Russia and China a serious and sustained dialogue that encompasses both arms control and missile defense issues, with a desired endstate for both in mind. In all likelihood, China will continue moderately to build up, while the U.S. and Russia eventually build down their nuclear arsenals. The endstate for all three countries should be a level of nuclear armament that provides all three sides a sense of real and perceived security. Equally important is agreeing on levels and types of nuclear weapons that are affordable, sustainable, and contribute to stability. In parallel discussions on missile defense, careful assessment of the long-term benefits and costs of any system that would cause an abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) is necessary. Both the form and the substance of these talks will be important. A re-negotiated ABM Treaty, or an agreement by both the U.S. and Russia to dispose of the Treaty, are preferable to outright nullification by the U.S., which would set a precedent with potentially negative, long-term implications. Most significantly, simply voiding the Treaty likely would be perceived as another symbol of U.S. "unilateralism," further erode trust between the U.S. and Russia and China, and create uncertainty over America’s willingness to fulfill its other international agreements.
Second, Washington should give serious consideration to a declaratory policy of no first use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In light of legitimate concerns about the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons, the time may be right to adjust declaratory policy to post-Cold War realities. Such a declaration by the five nuclear states recognized under the NPT would extend China’s current policy and strengthen the link between any use of chemical or biological weapons and a potential nuclear response and, thus, reinforce the deterrent effect on rogues like Iraq and North Korea, who appear intent on acquiring broad WMD capabilities. Some in Beijing also see a link between America’s declaratory nuclear policy and missile defense. In one analyst’s view, at the same time the U.S. is developing missile defense systems, it is "sticking to its first use policy, which means that it will have both spears and shields, which will greatly aggravate the concerns of other countries about the increasing possibility of using nuclear weapons by the United States [sic]." A policy change would address this concern. Reinforced security assurances provided by this policy change might also, in time, increase nuclear states’ willingness to decouple strategic and conventional forces. Moreover, a universal no first use of WMD regime would reassure non-nuclear states and could make the acquisition of chemical or biological weapons less attractive to many countries. Clearly, any change in America’s declared nuclear policy would require the assent of allies under its nuclear umbrella, and it would be useful to begin these discussions now.
Third, the United States should begin a dialogue with Russia and China on non-strategic nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons not covered by strategic talks must be brought under control. Commonly referred to as "tactical" nuclear weapons, this distinction is increasingly irrelevant, as the difference between strategic and tactical weapons is largely a matter of perspective. Nuclear tests in South Asia add impetus to the need for separate multilateral talks on non-strategic nuclear weapons. Moreover, these talks could build on China’s demonstrated willingness to control proliferation and bring all recognized and de facto nuclear weapons states to the same table.
Now, and for the foreseeable future, there are only two countries that can threaten America’s survival with nuclear weapons. For over forty years, that threat has been manageable and there is no reason to believe that it will not continue to be. American leadership in this endeavor, however, will continue to be necessary.
Maintaining Stability, Prosperity, and Access in Central Asia
The interests of several major and important powers converge in Central Asia, including the U.S., Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Europe, Japan, India, and Pakistan. Oil and natural gas in and around the Caspian Sea have attracted unprecedented attention in recent years and have led some to speculate that this may be the venue for a new "Great Game." America would like to avoid zero-sum competition for power, influence, and access in Central Asia and has stressed multilateral development of the region’s energy resources.
For its part, Beijing is already staking out its interests in the region, opting for "strategic partnership" with Russia in 1996 and, together with Moscow, reducing military deployments in their border areas. In July 1998, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan issued a comprehensive joint statement reflecting their convergence of views on a variety of political, economic, and security issues, reflecting China’s enduring interest in promoting peace and stability along its extensive borders in the region. Beijing has also signed an oil deal with Kazakhstan, and expects to build a pipeline from the Caspian Sea into China via its far northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang. In addition to energy resources, Beijing has other important interests in Central Asia, not the least of which is concern that Muslim fundamentalism could spread from that area to the Uyghur minority that populates Xinjiang. Finally, like the U.S., China would like to prevent any other single power from dominating the region.
Recent multilateral and transnational (oil companies) debates over how best to move Caspian oil to consumers, specifically the routes for overland pipelines, demonstrate increasing interest in the region. Fundamental relationships are being reassessed or strengthened with Central Asia in mind, including U.S.-Iran and U.S.-Turkey, where there is growing momentum toward unfreezing ties with Teheran and the importance of good relations with Ankara is reinforced. While the Newly Independent States of Central Asia have much in common, undoubtedly challenges to stability will arise as each moves along its own course to political liberalization and economic development. History and religion may complicate the security environment further.
As of yet, Central Asia has not become the venue of a new Great Game, but clearly challenges and opportunities lie ahead. In fact, American and Chinese interests in the region are largely the same and, thus, could provide significant opportunities for bilateral cooperation. Serious challenges could also arise if zero-sum competition should prevail. To take advantage of currently convergent interests, sustained bilateral and multilateral dialogue should be initiated to address political, economic, and security issues in the region. An unofficial Central Asia Cooperative Dialogue (CACD) could be very useful for clarifying perceptions and policies. Given the growing importance of this region, such a forum might alert its parties to problems before they occur.
Finally, the U.S. should also continue regular discussions with China about NATO expansion. Beijing’s concern over the participation of Central Asia’s newly independent states in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program is more than rhetorical support for Moscow. Central Asia is another important, yet unstable place on the globe where East meets West. PfP places NATO influence at China’s "back door." In this context, it may be useful to consider China’s involvement in NATO, perhaps as an observer.
Human, Civil and Political Rights in China
Even now one thing that has to die before our relations with China can be truly stabilized is the quaint belief that US approval or disapproval of China’s regime is going to have the effect in China that we intend. Today I would say that a stake has not been driven through the heart of that belief, at least in notable quarters of the US Congress.
-- Mr. David Acheson
A decade of reform and opening to the West was briefly, but dramatically, interrupted by thousands of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. With unprecedented international media coverage, the students played to their worldwide audience by erecting the Statue of Liberty-like "Goddess of Democracy." China’s Communist Party (CCP) was publicly embarrassed as efforts to negotiate an end to the demonstrations failed. What ensued was a crackdown so brutal and so public that all manner of Western sensibilities were violated. A decade later, the image of tanks near Tiananmen remains. For their part, some student leaders would admit that they pushed the regime too far. Some Party and military leaders, on the other hand, might privately acknowledge that the "police action" spiraled out of control. Lessons were learned on both sides. Democracy advocates in China today are employing subtler, more patient methods to press for change. The Party has strengthened the People’s Armed Police, paramilitary units equipped and trained to preserve domestic order using methods closer to international riot control norms. For the West, the lesson should be clear—the Party views its survival as tantamount to national survival and will use whatever means necessary to preserve itself, the country, and its drive to modernization. A decade later, this fundamental truth may have been clouded by President Clinton’s unprecedented public discussions of democracy during his trip to China last year. It should not have been.
Buoyed by the summit, China’s signature on the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, and widespread reports of political liberalization in rural areas, expectations for more rapid and widespread political reform were unrealistically raised in the West. In China, political activists attempted to use the momentum of these events to test the limits of CCP tolerance by registering an opposition Democracy Party. Predictably, the Party suppressed this national-level challenge, particularly since it came at a time when Beijing was increasingly concerned about China’s economic future. Meanwhile, the CCP continued and expanded its experiments with democracy in villages and a township.
There is little doubt that top leaders in Beijing understand the value and necessity of better governance. They have stabilized China’s political environment. The turbulence of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution have been replaced by the mantra of "peace and development." The National People’s Congress has unprecedented authority. Mandatory retirement dates for political and military officials are being enforced at all levels. Anti-corruption efforts by and in the government, though still spotty, are real and urgent. Chinese people now have significant freedom of choice in decisions about matters that affect them personally—education, employment and domicile. Nevertheless, while local, low-level political liberalization is likely to continue, political change in Beijing will continue to be, from our perspective, agonizingly slow and fall far short of what we would hope for China.
From Beijing’s perspective, U.S. rhetoric on civil and political rights is seen as arrogant and hypocritical involvement in China’s internal affairs. U.S. aid and comfort for China’s political dissidents provokes a reaction in Beijing as strong as the reaction by some in Washington to alleged Chinese government involvement in illegal campaign contributions. And, ultimately, U.S. political rights activists are perceived by Beijing as a modern day version of the Jesuit missionaries, who would "convert" China to Western religion and values. China will not allow itself to be changed by the West in ways that it does not want to change. China has and will continue to evolve politically. Further changes will be made for ultimately pragmatic reasons and be based on Beijing’s own cost-benefit analysis. Moreover, these changes will be made in a manner that, for peace and development’s sake, preserves national political stability and, in the final analysis, will have distinctly Chinese characteristics.
U.S. engagement with China on civil and political rights issues should proceed with revised, realistic expectations. Core national "values" clash on this issue, limiting both sides’ flexibility. For America it is democracy. For China it is sovereignty and the right to make its own decision about the relative importance of political rights, domestic stability and economic development. While the U.S. cannot and should not divorce its national values from policies toward China, it should work to control the impact of these disagreements on the tone and substance of overall bilateral ties. There is no demonstrable benefit to linking these issues to trade or other aspects of the relationship. America’s leaders should continue to voice strongly their concern, both publicly and privately. Beijing should be urged to ratify the Covenant on Human, Civil, and Political Rights it signed last year, as well as sign and ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Direct support for China’s local elections should also be provided to whatever degree Beijing is willing to accept.
In short, by working patiently within the limits of Beijing’s willingness to accept U.S. political systems and ideas, America has a far better chance of eventually witnessing China’s political liberalization. Moreover, to lean openly and indiscriminately toward any Chinese individual or group that advocates democracy for China is a course fraught with peril. Deep divisions exist in Chinese politics that the U.S. should best avoid, as our experience with Chiang Kai-shek during World War II would indicate. As one Chinese activist said recently about efforts to sooth differences between dissident factions, "Six years ago, we tried to merge two groups into one, [but] ended up with three." Even in the best of times, the Chinese are not known for their homogeneity, and a neutral course by Washington and altruistic Americans is wisest.
The United States rang up a total trade deficit of nearly $170 billion in 1998. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky asserts that "the deficit tends to reflect the falloff of U.S. exports rather than any surge of imports, which is explained by recessionary conditions in 40 percent of the world economy." Many economists expect that the situation may get worse before it gets better. Japan’s economy has been slow to recover and the full impact of Asia’s financial virus on China’s economy may still be ahead. There has been considerable attention given recently to the fact that America’s trade deficit with China was nearly $57 billion in 1998—a full third of the total. Some American lawmakers argue that China’s increasing trade surplus with the U.S. is "no longer politically sustainable." Others counter that Americans are little concerned by the trade balance as long as they can buy relatively inexpensive Chinese imports. In either case, trade with Beijing is likely to get caught up in the swirl of issues currently complicating U.S.-China relations.
For its part, China argues that American trade statistics are inaccurate and that U.S. double counting inflates the total. Beijing also asserts that America’s refusal to sell certain high-technology goods and services exacerbates the trade imbalance. Adding to the problem is China’s deep concern about near-term economic growth and its ability to convert or close unprofitable state-owned enterprises without making unemployment worse than it already is.
Despite the Administration’s inability, or unwillingness, to strike a deal during Premier Zhu Rongji’s April 1999 visit to the U.S., the best course remains the completion of negotiations for China’s accession into the World Trade Organization on mutually acceptable terms—terms that do not fundamentally undermine China’s economy by demanding change too rapidly, and also set a firm, realistic timeline for meeting the organization’s standards. It would be helpful too if the two sides agreed on a formula for measuring trade levels. Finally, both sides should seek to isolate trade issues, which are likely to become increasingly important in the months and years ahead, from other aspects of the relationship. America’s economic boom may last; it may not. If it does not, trade issues will be even more contentious than they are now. The U.S. is already quarreling with the EU over bananas. America, too, still has its own protectionist urges, demonstrated recently by House legislation limiting steel imports, despite the fact that this violates U.S. commitments under the WTO. Less well publicized than China’s trade surplus, Japan had a $64 billion trade advantage in 1998. There is every reason to expect that trade issues with allies, long-standing friends, and other countries will form the backdrop of 21st Century international affairs. Recalling the strain that Japan’s trade surplus placed on its security relationship with the U.S. in the 1980s, there are sound reasons for limiting the spillover of economic competition into other facets of bilateral and multilateral ties.
The U.S. and China share a profound interest in peace and stability. Nevertheless, differences in strategic goals and outcomes, as well as national values, will strain bilateral relations for the foreseeable future. There is, however, no reason to assume that these differences will necessarily lead to armed conflict. Both sides will have to find ways to pursue their own and accommodate the other’s vital national interests without compromising their core objectives and values. In the course of working through these differences, both sides will also have to find ways to reassure the other about their long-term intentions. The creation of a bilateral security council would make a potentially significant contribution to this end by laying the security foundation on which other issues can be addressed. This security council could also provide the bridge between strategic cooperation and bilateral military relations that support both sides’ security goals.
In the context of the first two parts of this paper, this section assesses how U.S. military relations can best advance America’s vital, enduring strategic interests in Asia.
Past as Prologue?
Since 1989, U.S.-China military relations have been particularly susceptible to friction in other aspects of the overall relationship. Ruptured by the Tiananmen incident, military ties were not restored, in part, until 1994, when Pyongyang’s suspected nuclear weapons program demanded Chinese cooperation in finding a diplomatic solution to that crisis. Soon after, the 1995-96 confrontation in the Taiwan Strait sent U.S.-China military relations to their lowest point since 1989.
The chill did not last long. "New CINCPAC Admiral Joseph Preuher paid an important visit to China in September …and new momentum was added in December with the long-postponed visit to the United States by Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian." Since that time, military ties have proceeded generally in the same framework established in 1995 by then Secretary of Defense William Perry and his Assistant Secretary for International Security, Dr. Joseph Nye. This framework consisted of four broad areas of military engagement with China—high-level visits, functional exchanges, routine military activities and confidence building measures, and participation in multinational security forums. Despite a flurry of activity over the past two years, however, the U.S. military relationship with China remains relatively shallow and has not returned even to its 1988-level of cooperation. This is due, in part, to the current debate on China policy between and inside the Administration, Congress, and the media, which has fostered excessive sensitivity in the Department of Defense (DoD) over military contacts with China. No doubt, a similar behind-the-scenes debate in Beijing has slowed the growth of bilateral military ties.
Currently, America’s military engagement with China is conducted within the parameters of both a three-point set of guidelines and a list of items explaining the "rationale" for military contact with Beijing. These guidelines include a stipulation for "rough reciprocity" in the relationship, deterrence, and a prohibition against any lethal assistance to the Chinese military. Deterrence includes U.S. efforts to show openly its military might to reinforce for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) the potential dangers of any miscalculation or misunderstanding that might lead to armed conflict. The two other guidelines constrain Sino-U.S. military relations without prescribing goals or alternatives. Indeed, the prohibition against lethal assistance to China is often broadened to preclude any help that might "enhance" Beijing’s military capabilities, particularly power projection capabilities. This is further broadened by some critics of U.S.-China military relations who, for example, choose to interpret a functional exchange on military medicine as "enhancing China’s military capability."
The "rationale" for engaging China militarily, laid out in 1995, is also largely intact today. We engage the PLA in order to:
Many would acknowledge, even if only grudgingly, that lasting security in the Asia-Pacific region is not possible without China’s constructive participation. Consensus breaks down, however, on where the line between engagement and prudent "hedging" (as in "hedging a bet") should be drawn. Hedging is necessitated by uncertainty in U.S.-China relations, and this level of uncertainty varies widely. Clearly, in any debate over national security, the sensible position is to err on the side of security itself. It should also be clear from the earlier parts of this paper, however, that we are uniquely positioned to deal with China from a position of strength, and that this relative strength should play a key part in any strategic or operational risk assessment regarding military relations with China. With much to gain in the long-term, we can and should take prudent, acceptable risks in our military interaction with Beijing. The key is building a strong, bipartisan commitment that responsible, broad, deep military engagement with the PLA contributes to, not detracts from, America’s security. This consensus should withstand ups and downs in other aspects of the relationship.
We have a window of opportunity in our military relationship with Beijing; an opportunity to engage a China that is neither a friend nor a foe. We should move forward, step by step, with recalibrated, realistic expectations. Like political and economic interests, Sino-U.S. military interests will converge on some issues and diverge on others. Experience tells us, clearly, which issues are which. Nevertheless, China’s requirement for peace to achieve its long-term development goals is powerful incentive for Beijing to continue, for the foreseeable future, to manage differences in the relationship and keep them below the threshold of armed conflict.
While military relations cannot be the leading aspect of overall bilateral ties with China, given the high and lows in other facets of the relationship, a strong argument can be made that military relations with China should at least be stabilized. Political, economic, and other issues with China will wax and wane, but security is constant. Thus, a strong bipartisan consensus should seek to shield military relations with China from difficulties in other aspects of the relationship, so that U.S.-China military ties become a key, constant, and stabilizing force in the overall relationship. In this context, stable military relations are precisely what is needed to create reassurance and prevent misunderstanding that might lead to armed conflict.
In sum, the overarching purpose in U.S.-China military relations should be to support a strategic shift from a posture of mutual deterrence to one of mutual reassurance. Given the omnipresent uncertainty on each side about the intentions of the other, only clear actions, away from political rhetoric and media sound bites, will erode distrust and hedging on both sides and begin to overcome this uncertainty. America is well-postured to take the first steps, even if they are only modest ones. We should not allow past to be prologue.
China’s Perspective of Military Relations with the U.S.
While we cannot be certain about what China wants from its military relationship with the U.S., we can advance some informed judgments. First, the clearest statements about China’s military relations with other countries are contained in its first Defense White Paper, published in July 1998. This document highlights the importance to Beijing of "military diplomacy" and the principles on which military relations should be built, emphasizes "mutual respect and benefit," and extols the "omni-directional and multi-level forms" of its military contacts with more than 100 countries abroad. The document also expresses clearly China’s "enthusiasm for expanding military relations with the United States and other Western countries in Europe." The paper further lists several areas of possible cooperation with other armed forces, including "technological exchanges in specialized fields, scientific research, academic studies, military education, armed forces administration, culture, sports, and medical work."
Based on specific requests for information and visits, American defense officials and officers who deal with China daily have a clearer view of what Beijing does and does not want from its military relationship with the U.S. One attempt at capturing what China does want from the U.S. military might include:
Although improvements have been made, like China’s groundbreaking 1998 Defense White Paper, the PLA’s perceived lack of transparency and reciprocity continue to be major impediments to improved U.S.-China military relations, as well as a source of debate, distrust, and significant frustration within America’s military. This may be due, in part at least, to the different frames of reference and expectations of the two militaries. Anecdotally, during PLA visits to the U.S., "type-A" Americans want to show the PLA as much as possible, in part to demonstrate U.S. military openness, as well as ensure that the Chinese appreciate U.S. military capabilities. For their part, many PLA visitors want to "enjoy" their trip to the U.S. and are less "business-minded" than their American hosts. In short, we treat the PLA like we would want to be treated on military visits to China. At the same time, as discussed, DoD is under significant political pressure not to "enhance" the PLA’s capabilities in any way, so many Chinese requests for information and access are denied.
On the other side of the coin, our military delegations to China are "all business" and expect the same openness and transparency the PLA gets in the U.S. The PLA’s resistance to increased transparency is likely based on several factors, including genuine "embarrassment" over their backwardness in most military capabilities, genuine secrecy regarding those areas in which their capabilities are improving, continuing uncertainty over U.S. intentions, and China’s traditional proclivity toward concealment. These are the barriers that, in time, must be overcome. The challenges in doing so do not reside in Beijing alone.
America’s Perspective of Military Relations with China
As much as any other single factor, the political debate in Washington over China affects the U.S. military’s policies of engagement with the PLA. While, in principle, this should precisely be the case, when the political debate loses strategic balance, it becomes potentially harmful to America’s vital security interests. As we have seen recently, the fallout from this debate has been increased sensitivity among military policy formulators and implementers alike. Policymakers have been forced to justify repeatedly the rationale for America’s engagement with the PLA. Quite naturally, without political support, many involved with China become risk-averse, decisionmaking authority is held at unnecessarily high levels, initiative is stifled, and the very practical aspect of funding for specific programs is restricted. And, while not a new development, the Pacific Command Commander-in-Chief’s (CINCPAC) authority in formulating military policy for China is constrained by the Pentagon. The view of Asia from Honolulu can be quite different than the view from Washington and, understandably, tension in policy formulation and implementation can result.
Meanwhile, in headquarters in Washington and the Pacific, the debate over how best to open up the PLA continues. To be sure, most of the participants in this debate have only America’s best interests in mind, and draw, as Ambassador Lilley suggested, different conclusions from similar sets of facts. Nevertheless, views on reciprocity, for example, range from "one-for-one" to "rough" reciprocity, the latter being the former CINCPAC’s approach—for which he was publicly criticized by some members of Congress. It remains to be seen where the new CINCPAC, who has recently made his first trip to China, will draw the line. Meanwhile, consensus also does not necessarily exist within the Services themselves. As is often the case, it appears that a particular Service’s "China policy" and willingness to interact with the PLA is, to a large extent, a function of its senior leaders’ interest, experience, and their own cost-benefit analysis.
Currently, the U.S. Army, which has in the past played an important role in military relations with China, is trying to "regularize" its relationship with the PLA. Functional exchanges are being pursued in the areas of military law, military history, training, and professional development. Funding for these programs is often limited. The U.S. Navy, in a very positive development, concluded last year a Military Maritime Consultation Agreement with China and, in addition to an ongoing two-way program of ship visits, preserves its access to Hong Kong ports. Progress for the U.S. Air Force is still hindered by China’s memory of problems with and the acrimonious 1990 termination of a program to modernize Chinese jets. The U.S. Marine Corps, sensitive to American political perceptions of assisting a Chinese power projection force, is only now beginning to formulate an engagement strategy for China.
In short, significant impediments remain in both Beijing and Washington to formulating and implementing a coherent, sustained security relationship that supports both sides’ long-term strategic interests in Asia and the world. Despite these obstacles, there is a strong desire among many in DoD to work toward deepening military relations with China. While the going promises to be tough and frustrating, potential long-term benefits make the effort worthwhile. The remaining paragraphs of this paper contain recommendations for advancing U.S. military interests with China.
Measures to Improve and Stabilize Military Relations with China
Intellectual change precedes physical change.
-- General Gordon Sullivan, USA (Ret)
The most important contribution to Sino-American military relations would be a strong, bipartisan consensus across the government that recognizes the importance of stabilizing and sustaining military ties with the PLA. An objective debate to that end is necessary, but may not be possible right now, given the several critical national security issues competing for high-level attention and the current domestic political climate. If such a debate between policymakers and lawmakers is not possible for the foreseeable future, a bipartisan, multi-discipline Independent Commission should be formed to assess specifically all aspects of U.S.-China security relations and propose policies that would best advance our vital national interests in Asia. There is the risk of politicization in convening such a body, but Sino-U.S. relations should not be allowed to languish through the year 2000 election and the seating of a new Administration.
In the meantime, as the 1998 Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific points out, it is imperative that China and the U.S work to narrow the divide between their strategic perceptions and build a long-term relationship on that foundation. If we consider China an enemy, our options are limited. But, if we do not, as General Sullivan suggests above, new opportunities are possible. A refined engagement strategy with the PLA would build on the one currently in place by taking the following steps:
Shift from "Hedging" to "Vigilant Engagement." Interestingly, drawing on the earlier discussion, "hedging" is the term used to articulate the caution with which the U.S. approaches China, given uncertainty over China’s long-term intentions. Hedging, though, is an ambiguous, negative term. It suggests that the U.S. is in a reactive posture. Perhaps "vigilance" would be a more apt term. It suggests a more proactive posture and is closer to the role America’s military plays in the country’s national security—vigilantly guarding U.S. national interests. Returning to the "betting" analogy, military leaders often make a distinction between a "gamble" and a "risk." Gamble is something the American military does not tolerate, as this suggests recklessness without considering consequences. Risk, on the other hand, is something inherent to all military operations. As such, leaders are required to consider and manage risks. We cannot gamble in our military relationship with China, but assuming some well-considered risk is natural and may be prudent.
A mental and policy shift to "vigilant engagement" with China’s military would be useful. It might reassure critics that the U.S. military will not irresponsibly interact with the PLA. Second, and equally important, it would bring America’s uncertainty about China into the open. Currently, the term "hedging" is rarely, if ever, used in conversations with Chinese. Rather, it is used in hushed tones by military planners contemplating worst-case scenarios. By shifting to vigilant engagement with the PLA, it would openly acknowledge Americans’ uncertainty—fostered by China’s actions, opaqueness, and, sometimes, words. It would convey clearly to the PLA, without arrogance, that American engagement flows from a position of strength, is professional, and is uncompromising of its objectives. Most important, it would contribute to a strategic shift from deterrence to reassurance.
Take Full Advantage of a U.S-China Standing Security Council. To realize the full potential of a U.S.-China Standing Security Council, four specific outcomes should be pursued. First, the Council should be the bridge between strategic engagement and bilateral military relations, ensuring that the two are mutually supportive. Second, the Council would help define "constructive strategic partnership" and codify the principles that would guide security engagement. Third, on the basis of such an agreement, specific security issues could be addressed and a clearer framework for substantive security cooperation could be the result. And finally, a review and restructuring of U.S. organizations presently charged with formulating and implementing security policy would be undertaken.
Currently top officials both in DoD and China’s leading military body, the Central Military Commission (CMC), have a variety of means for communicating with one another. These range from annual Defense Consultative Talks to attachés in each capital. None of these means is designed and resourced to provide a forum for continuous, real-time dialogue on policy and operational matters related to strategic and security issues. The Standing Security Council would perform this function as a direct extension of both DoD and the CMC. Ideally, the Council would have a mandate based on a textual agreement similar to the one suggested above. In the interim, however, it might derive its authority as an extension of the annual, high-level Defense Consultative Talks that already exist. In either case, the Council would comprehensively pursue America and China’s most vital strategic challenges in Asia—the issues discussed earlier in this paper—and seek to identify specifically how bilateral military ties can contribute to overall issue management. One key measure of effectiveness of U.S. military engagement with China should be its contribution to managing these specific security problems.
Negotiations to establish a Standing Security Council and the principles on which it should operate likely would be difficult and protracted. China’s willingness to participate in such an arrangement likely would be affected by the unresolved Taiwan issue, as well as the quality of overall bilateral ties. Beijing would have to be convinced of the benefit of such negotiations and, ultimately, participation in a Standing Security Council. As discussed earlier, however, the process of moving toward these goals is, itself, important. Substance would likely follow closely behind mutually established principles and processes. A Security Council would also provide both sides a forum for airing differences in strategic outlooks that might contribute to better understanding between the two sides and, in turn, narrow the gaps in strategic perspective. It would also provide a forum for American and Chinese officers to get to know one another on a professional and personal level which might contribute to the first generation of officers in the next millennium who better trust one another.
Any American effort to enter in negotiations of this type with China would also have to be carefully coordinated with any and all countries that might perceive their own interests to be affected. In concert with U.S. efforts that have and will be taken to strengthen its alliances and other relationships, however, this should be a broadly welcomed initiative. A U.S.-China Standing Security Council could contribute significantly to advancing U.S. vital interests in Asia and, indeed, around the world. It might have humble beginnings, but its potential is vast.
Finally, this approach to security cooperation with Beijing would compel a review of who formulates U.S. security policy for China and how it is implemented. Currently, these processes are less than optimally functional, both in the Interagency domain and within DoD. Moreover, part of the friction in U.S.-China relations is due to organizational asymmetries on both sides. For example, arms control and technology transfer issues are generally the purview of more than one organization in a government, and getting the right parties talking to one another is difficult. The bilateral security council would assist in resolving these issues by functioning as a window into the Interagency processes on both sides.
A broad organizational review should also include a resource review, for both personnel and funding, that would lead to better and more consistent support for U.S. military diplomacy. Critical Track II organizations such as the Pacific Command’s Asia-Pacific Center for Strategic Studies, and others suggested in this paper, should also be adequately, consistently resourced.
The organizational and resource challenges in U.S.-China relations reflect much broader, DoD-wide issues. In short, what has been accomplished with the Pentagon’s Defense Reform Initiative should be replicated on the "operational" side of the Defense Department—a Defense Operations Initiative. Such a review would also help ensure that DoD is most effectively matching ways and means to its 21st century ends. The recently convened National Security Study Group is likely to touch on some of these issues and may provide a mandate for reform. Ideally, this body’s work would address, in the context of overall DoD operations, the nuances of policy formulation and implementation specifically for U.S.-China relations. China-specific and broader national security assessments should not be done independent of one another. The Security Study Group’s report is not due until 2001. Understandably, for a variety of reasons, well-considered, well-coordinated change is slow. The need for increased effectiveness in the way we manage China policy is, nevertheless, pressing.
The broad framework of U.S.-China security relations—high-level visits, functional exchanges, routine military activities and confidence building measures, and participation in multinational security forums—should, when possible, be tied directly to the strategic issues discussed in this paper. Therefore, in addition to the recommendations already made, a few additional initiatives would further strengthen the connection between America’s strategic goals and military engagement with China.
Sustain cross-Strait reassurance activities. This volatile area may be even more so in the next few years. As such, the U.S. should intensify and sustain its dialogue with Beijing and Taipei on cross-Strait security issues. A real-time mechanism to resolve misunderstandings or misperceptions between the sides should be established. In addition, there has been increasing discussion recently about China-Taiwan confidence building measures. While near-term prospects for real progress in this area are mixed, the U.S. should continue to work quietly to encourage both sides to undertake such a dialogue, official or otherwise. Neither getting caught between the two sides nor trying to produce specific formulas for resolving cross-Strait issues is in America’s interest, but advocating a closer, sustained dialogue between the two is.
Strengthen and sustain a U.S.-China-Japan security dialogue forum. In addition to encouraging better bilateral security relations and confidence building measures between Beijing and Tokyo, a trilateral Track II forum is useful in addressing a wide variety of regional and global issues of common concern. Such a dialogue might also have the added benefit of reducing doubt on the part of both China and Japan that closer U.S. relations with one might come at the expense of the other. In particular, long-term issues about the evolution of the balance of power in East Asia would be appropriate for this forum.
Initiate a South Asia Cooperative Dialogue (SACD). This unofficial forum would provide a unique opportunity for South Asia’s actors to discuss candidly a variety of key topics, including defense transparency, threat assessment, confidence building measures, and nuclear weapons safety, security, and command and control. While this informal initiative is not connected to the establishment of a South Asia Early Warning Center, its benefits could extend to that organization.
Initiate a Central Asia Cooperative Dialogue (CACD). Given the growing importance of this region, such a forum might alert its parties to problems before they arise. Given the complexity of the region, this forum would also be useful as simply one more check that European, Central, and Pacific Command policies and operations are fully synchronized.
Lift or waive sanctions remaining from the Tiananmen era. Not only do these sanctions symbolize continuing U.S. distrust of Beijing, they also circumscribe bilateral defense cooperation. Removing these sanctions would be a meaningful step toward reassuring China of America’s long-term intent and would pave the way for deeper U.S.-China military ties. For example, China should be allowed to buy spare parts for the 24 UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopters it purchased from the U.S. in the 1980s. Responsible technology cooperation in non-threatening areas, including military, would serve well U.S. long-term interests with Beijing. China’s access to selected American defensive military equipment and technologies would be a powerful incentive for it to adhere to internationally acceptable standards of behavior in a variety of areas.
Begin work immediately with the PLA on Y2K issues. The U.S. is already months into a similar effort with Moscow. Computer-generated uncertainty between America and China is not beneficial for either country. Interestingly, many of the challenges America faces in its security relations with Russia and China are remarkably similar. With Moscow, we are trying to engage a former enemy, while with China we are trying to keep from creating one. Despite the similarity of these challenges, however, our policy approach to each has been quite different. For example, we have offered to establish early warning systems with Russia, are deeply involved in cooperating on Y2K issues, and have offered to consult Moscow on missile defense issues. None of these initiatives has yet been proposed to Beijing.
Extend Professional Military Education opportunities to PLA officers. Even on a roughly reciprocal basis, the potential benefit of these programs is unquantifiably full. The rich environment provided by the presence of foreign officers at American military schools is as valuable for U.S. officers as it is for the foreign officers themselves. As such, an exception should be sought by DoD to waive the residual Tiananmen sanction that proscribes these programs.
None of the recommendations above would compromise U.S. security. Each would, however, work toward overcoming U.S.-China uncertainty and contribute to achieving America’s strategic goals in Asia. Some steps are modest, others more bold—and we are uniquely positioned to take them. The window of opportunity is open for a shift in strategy from deterrence to reassurance. Meantime, by sustaining our own capabilities-based readiness, we ensure that our ability to deter any potential hostile state does not fade.
On the threshold of the new millennium, both America and China are facing enormous, though largely different, domestic and international challenges. Their one common challenge is to preserve peace, security, and stability in Asia and around the world. Nevertheless, the two countries are like men on a steep, muddy slope. Working together, the two might make it to the top and out of danger. But, struggling against one another they both risk a fall. Despite the current challenges in bilateral ties, many Chinese say that they are generally optimistic about long-term U.S.-China relations. Although I share this view, I am often hard-pressed to find a firm basis for that optimism. Beijing and Washington have much work to do in the coming months and years, a great deal of it fairly urgent. It would be better for both sides, and for the world, if they did as much of that work together as possible. Experience suggests that China may never be the friend we would hope it to be. At the same time, any threat that China might pose to the United States in the future is not preordained. We must learn to work with China one generation at a time.