Balancing Without Containment: An American Strategy for Managing China

Ashley J. Tellis Report January 22, 2014
 
China is poised to become a major strategic rival to the United States.
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China is poised to become a major strategic rival to the United States. Whether or not Beijing intends to challenge Washington’s primacy, its economic boom and growing national ambitions make competition inevitable. And as China rises, American power will diminish in relative terms, threatening the foundations of the U.S.-backed global order that has engendered unprecedented prosperity worldwide. To avoid this costly outcome, Washington needs a novel strategy to balance China without containing it.

Key Themes

  • The loss of American primacy to China would pose unacceptable risks to the security and interests of the United States and its allies.
     
  • China’s power—unlike that of previous U.S. competitors—stems from Beijing’s deep integration in the U.S.-led global economy.  
  • The containment strategy that the United States used to great effect during the Cold War cannot succeed today. Cutting off ties with Beijing and urging China’s neighbors to do the same is politically, economically, and practically unthinkable.
     
  • Washington should balance Beijing’s growing capabilities by pursuing policies that simultaneously increase China’s stake in the existing global system and raise the costs of abusing its power.

Recommendations for U.S. Policymakers

Bolster Regional Actors. By increasing the national power of China’s neighbors, the United States can constrain Beijing’s behavior and limit its capacity for aggressiveness. This investment is in Washington’s best interest irrespective of whether it is repaid in kind because it will diminish China’s ability to misuse its growing strength and increase American geopolitical maneuverability in the Indo-Pacific. But the United States must be wary of Chinese tactics to subvert these efforts.

Selectively Deepen Globalization. The United States should make trade liberalization a top priority. Since comprehensive global liberalization remains a distant goal, Washington should work to quickly conclude key regional trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which promise increased relative gains to the United States and its allies vis-à-vis China.

Bolster U.S. Military Capabilities. To preserve its military superiority in the face of growing Chinese power, Washington should invest in improving U.S. power projection capabilities that will allow it to defeat challenges posed by China’s new strategic denial systems and regain U.S. freedom of action in the Indo-Pacific.

Reinvigorate the U.S. Economy. Revitalizing the domestic economy is imperative to sustaining American hegemony. To maintain its global economic dominance, the United States must emphasize labor force renewal, promote disruptive technological innovations, increase efficiency in production, and resolve the political squabbles that prevent Washington from fixing the country’s public finances.

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Comments (4)

 
 
  • Nikos
    "the foundations of the U.S.-backed global order that has engendered unprecedented prosperity worldwide"

    Here we can laugh...Most of the regions in the world were growing fast until, more or less 1990 (or 1980 more precisely), due to the presence of the USSR. The rivalry between the USA and the USSR in the bipolar world had made the world much more stable than in the next period of American hegemony (in line with Mearsheimer's claim). The (slower) growth and in many cases (in developing countries) the reversal of convergence has often been the result of the USA's actions. What about Libya, Iraq and so on? How much prosperity have the USA delivered to these countries? So please, stop the self-congratulations because this is not what you have offered the world and the world knows it. But that's how you have become "autistic" in global politics...

    And don't prescript free trade as the panacea for US growth and to handle China. It is not self-evident that trade leads to specific results, despite what economists (are paid to) say...
     
     
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  • Michael Howard, Dayton Alumni, daytonohiovolunteer
    Corporate greed and stupidity riding Republican political coat-tails has brought America to it's knees through outsourcing, union busting, Reaganomics, multiple Bush Wars, and breaking the laws of The United States Constitution as often as it suited the powers in charge. This picture is a product of Republican puzzle pieces.
     
     
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  • thmak
    By stating that "By increasing the national power of China’s neighbors, the United States can constrain Beijing’s behavior and limit its capacity for aggressiveness. ......it will diminish China’s ability to misuse its growing strength and increase American geopolitical maneuverability in the Indo-Pacific. But the United States must be wary of Chinese tactics to subvert these" , establishment trade blocks excluding China and maintaining an overkill military posture to China, You expose America's unfriendly aggressiveness and revised containment of China. That is not good for world peace. prosperity and stability and can lead to world destruction.
     
     
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  • John J. McCloy's ghost
    1 Recommend
     
    What I see happening is the US has tried to lock up control of energy assets globally knowing that control of them is vital. China may manufacture 70% of the world's goods and have a surplus and the largest army but as Japan and Germany found without the energy supplies conflicts are pre-determined. China is the largest oil importer while North America together is the largest oil producer. Some things I don't "get" like squabbling over the Ukraine now which could drive Russian oil to China. For me I can't understand why it was left to the real Generals, Patton, MacArthur, Lemay who would have "solved" this stuff in a matter of weeks at most. History but this quest is damn sloppy if you ask me and I wonder if China is going the same way as all the rest went in the end-Germany, Japan, British Empire, Romans, Alexander, ???   Chinese military spending is getting to 160 billion and more. If they are onboard the "program" seems like a waste unless......
     
     
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