Assad Raza is an Active Component U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer with deployment experience throughout the Middle East. He holds a M.A. in Diplomacy with a concentration in International Conflict Management from Norwich University, and is a graduate of The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation Command and General Staff Officer Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. He can be found on Twitter @assadraza12. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessing a U.S. Policy of Détente with China
Date Originally Written: December 23, 2019.
Date Originally Published: January 27, 2020.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes a policy of Détente, easing tension, with China would benefit the U.S. to avoid a military confrontation and increase economic opportunities between major powers.
Summary: Any U.S. confrontation with China, which is the world’s second-largest economy and an emerging major power, would impact the global economy. The U.S. and its allies and partners cannot sever ties with China due to economic interdependencies. For these reasons, a policy of Détente with China that balances cooperation and deterrence to avoid a military confrontation would not only benefit the U.S. but the entire world.
Text: In 1971 the United States set the conditions to integrate China into the international community. That year U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Beijing twice, and the United States voted for China’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Now, 48 years later, U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo is saying that “China is the greatest threat the U.S. faces.” As an emerging major power, China’s foreign policy and competitive economy can threaten U.S. interests in the long-term.
To secure U.S. interests, a U.S. policy of Détente would ease U.S. tensions with China thus avoiding a military confrontation that could expand on a global scale. According to author Fareed Zakaria, “The U.S. risks squandering the hard-won gains from four decades of engagement with China, encouraging Beijing to adopt confrontational policies of its own, and leading the world’s two largest economies into a treacherous conflict of unknown scale and scope that will inevitably cause decades of instability and insecurity.” In a globalized world, the U.S. and several allies are economically interdependent, and any confrontation with China would have a drastic effect on the global economy. For this reason, improved U.S. relations with China would increase economic opportunities and reduce the risk of confrontation.
China is the second-largest economy and the largest trading partner in the world. As a result of this, any confrontation, either economically or militarily, will drastically impact the entire world. China’s recent economic decline and current U.S. trade disputes demonstrate China’s impact on the global economy. For example, Japan, China’s second-largest trading partner, blames China’s economic downturn for its first global trade deficit (1.2 trillion yen) since 2015. Understanding China’s economic ties will likely drive U.S. policy development towards China. A China policy taking into account economic cooperation in areas of mutual interest will reduce the risk of a global market crash.
Beyond economic concerns, a U.S. policy towards China could include an arms agreement to limit a potential arms race and identify areas of cooperative research between the two countries. A good example is the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) that was part of the 1972 Nixon-Kissinger strategy of Détente with the Soviet Union. Although negotiations over various strategic delivery systems (nuclear) continued through several administrations, this treaty did establish the necessary groundwork to prevent an accidental escalation of a nuclear war. A similar model to SALT with China would avoid the risk of confrontation and promote peace between major powers. A treaty between both countries does not imply that deterrence is not an option to manage any military ambitions China may have, for example, with Taiwan and the South China Sea.
In addition to economic and arms concerns, a policy of cooperation in technology and space with China would benefit the U.S. diplomatically and economically. During the Cold War, the U.S. pursued cooperative space research with the former Soviet Union. Although tensions at the time limited the extent of the cooperation, Russia’s technological contributions, pre- and post-Cold War, did benefit with establishing the International Space Station. Additionally, cooperation in space also promoted U.S. foreign policy objectives in areas such as nonproliferation and arms control with Russia. Involving China in selected areas of cooperation in technology and space can ease tensions and increase diplomatic engagements in areas of mutual interests for both countries. Moreover, this space involvement can provide opportunities for the U.S. to engage with China on their nuclear program as they continue to build out their military capabilities.
The U.S. cannot sever ties with China due to the economic interdependence between China, the U.S., and its allies and partners. Additionally, several U.S. based companies want access to the growing market in China. According to the Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), William Reinsch, “With 1.2 billion people, you can’t be a multinational company or a global company without some kind of presence there one way or the other.” Hence, U.S. companies would benefit from a U.S. policy that eases tension and increases economic ties with China. However, the topic of human rights abuses, censorship, and mass surveillance in China will continue to be debated between U.S. businesses, the U.S. government, and China.
China’s domestic behavior and foreign policy do threaten the liberal international order, for example, with human rights. However, severing ties with China would empower them to continue those repressive behaviors and influence other developing countries to follow suit. A U.S. policy that increases relations with China can provide the necessary leverage in the future to reinforce their commitment to human rights and promote peace within their borders.
For the U.S., a multi-faceted policy of Détente, compared to severing ties with from China, would better benefit the nation in the long-term. According to the chief economist at Enodo Economics, Diana Choyleva, severing ties with from China “…would mean cost-push inflation, it would mean the slowing down of innovation and technological progress, it would mean that each economy trying to solve the issues of increased inequality will find it that much harder to do so.” For this reason, a policy of Détente with China that balances cooperation and deterrence to avoid a military confrontation would not only benefit the U.S. but the entire world.
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