In this article, former Nixon/Ford Secretary of State Henry Kissinger believes that all indications are that the US has nothing to fear from the policies of the government in China.
In an impressive survey of US-China relations and the emergence of the Pacific as the prevailing center of world power, he says that the US must patiently foster deeper relations with China. He dismisses policies military containment and certainly, preemptive war, on the part of the US.
By inference, Kissinger ascribes a lack of sophistication to those concerned about China's multifaceted threats to US and world security. But debating cartoon opponents doesn't make Kissinger's arguments any more impressive.
Of course, the US should not engage in a preemptive war against China, a suicidal expression of a stratagem that, many feel, is inconsistent with US principles and traditions anyway.
Kissinger also dismisses containment, associating that with a campaign of ideological fervor akin to that of the Cold War, an approach he says would only turn off useful national partners in the region. (He specifically mentions India.)
But Kissinger reveals an oddly unsubtle approach in setting up these straw men to knock down. There is no reason that a US policy of containment of China must necessarily mimic the containment policies pursued by the US toward the late Soviet Union.
Nor does a policy of containing China preclude being fully engaged with that country, as Kissinger recommends doing.
The US must be shrewd and realistic in its relations with China. The government there is still despotic and while it may have no desire to launch a military assault on us or on its Asian neighbors, it clearly has a policy aimed at dominion over the emerging international center of gravity.
It clearly is menacing Taiwan.
It clearly is establishing ties with terrorist states.
It clearly holds an alarming number of financial IOUs from the US.
As it rises economically, its absorption of larger amounts of scarce natural resources threatens us. (While at the same time, driving home the necessity for the US to develop alternative, renewable sources of energy.)
And, in spite of Kissinger's rather rosy view of things, China may as well decide that safety along its borders requires them to back North Korea as well as hedging that strange country's nuclear ambitions.
These are facts that cannot and should not be ignored by policymakers.
Kissinger makes some important points. But he here forgets an important principle for anyone wishing to pursue foreign policy realism. It was articulated by a President whose policies probably drove Kissinger nuts: Trust but verify. US policymakers should trust the Chinese insofar as they are able to verify that the Chinese government's deeds match their words.
The era in which we now live means that nations must be adept at two kinds of warfare or competition. In each of these spheres, the US needs to be aggressively defensive: economics and military. It is nation-states like China that pose the greatest threat to the US on the economic front. It is non-governmental terrorist groups that threaten us most militarily. China represents threats on both fronts: Not only are they aggressively building their military, they are also establishing ties with groups that are hostile to the US.
Subtlely and realism are Kissinger's stock in trade. He fails on both counts in this article, I feel.