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Email of the day: Managing China's strategic growth

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COMMENTS

22 March 2008 10:35

Takeo Iwata writes (my response follows):

Navy Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the US Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a high Chinese official had told him during his visit to China last May that China envisions the future naval security role in the Asia Pacific will be co-managed by the US and China. The East side from Hawaii would be managed by the US; the west side would be controlled by China.

I am wondering how Australian scholars interpret this news? I know that Australia is reluctant to choose between the US or China, as often Mr Hugh White argues. But as China develops its economy, military and influences, things may not allow Australia (and Japan) to take easy compromise options. It is good time for Australia (and Japan) to start to seriously think about how they will manage Asia Pacific before it's too late to stop Chinese influence in the region.

This report (American Forces Press Service account of Keating's testimony is here) is a fascinating insight into Chinese thinking, and into the potential for China and America to develop different and incompatible visions of the Asian security order over coming years. One must always be careful not to read too much into the comments of any single individual, of course, and I doubt that many Chinese strategists are so ambitious or optimistic as to believe that China could take over from the US in the Western Pacific for a very long time. But the comments as reported do reflect what I believe to be a very widespread Chinese expectation that, as China’s power grows, it will be given a more equal role with the US in managing regional affairs. That's an idea which I believe many US policymakers still find hard to accept, or even to comprehend. There are thus seeds for real difficulties in US-China relations in future.

All of us – the US, China, Japan, Australia and all the other countries of Asia – have an immense interest in seeing these differences resolved amicably and peacefully. But that can only be done if all the major powers – including Japan – can come together and agree on a vision of how power will be managed in Asia in future. If not, then as you suggest, countries like Australia and Japan will find themselves unable to avoid choosing sides.

But I do not think it is a good idea to think in terms of stopping Chinese influence in the region.  As a very strong power, I do not think that China can effectively be stopped from exercising major influence in Asia, and any attempt to do that would result in strategic tension and perhaps even war. We need, rather, to look at ways to accommodate China’s growing power in ways that also meet other countries’ needs for peace and security. Like many others, I have looked to the Concert of Powers in Europe in the Nineteenth Century as a model for how this might look. That model must include an active US role in the western Pacific, not as the dominating power but as an active member with others of a Concert of Asia for the Asian Century.

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