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How China and the United States Can Learn to Get Along

Doug Bandow





Great Britain long reigned as the globe’s greatest maritime power, determined to maintain a navy as strong as those of its next two competitors combined. The policy succeeded against such competitors as France and Spain.

However, by the end of the 19th century, Britain’s industrial revolution had run its course and two emerging powers ended London’s economic primacy. After violently breaking away from its colonial master, the United States overspread the North American continent and expanded beyond. Recently united Germany pressed to make up for lost time and achieve its place “in the sun.” Britain could not contain them as well as its traditional European rivals.

London chose to accommodate the United States and confront Germany. The result of the first was a somewhat fractious partnership that evolved into an enduring alliance. The result of the second was two world wars before the global order was settled.

Washington faces a similar choice in dealing with the People’s Republic of China. There are many differences in circumstances, of course, but there is one overriding similarity: the globe’s dominant force, accustomed to premier status, faces a serious challenge from a new power mixing rapid economic growth, nationalistic exuberance, and powerful grievances. Irrespective of America’s wishes, the status quo will not hold. Washington has been attempting a policy sometimes called “congagement,” mixing containment and engagement. As territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific sharpen, however, the United States increasingly faces a choice between accommodation and confrontation.

Into this imbroglio steps Lyle Goldstein, a professor at the National War College. He performs two critical tasks in his new book, Meeting China Halfway. First, he acknowledges the legitimacy of the PRC’s desire for a greater international role. Second, he offers a strategy of cooperation for the two nations, which includes recognizing natural but much-reviled “spheres of influence.”

In challenging Washington’s growing hawkish consensus, he looks past the stark black-and-white contest presented by many U.S. policy makers and commentators. Goldstein advocates recognizing a larger Chinese role, a judgment “premised not only on the realities of the evolving global and regional balances of power but also on a reasonably positive outlook with respect to Chinese intentions. It is important to recall that China has no military bases abroad; nor has it resorted to a large-scale use of force for more than three decades.”

That could change, of course, but most likely would do so if Washington refuses to yield its dominating position. The young American republic pushed aside Great Britain, France, and Spain to dominate the North American continent. It should surprise no one if the PRC tried to do the same to the United States in East Asia.


The article’s full-text is available on the website of The National Interest

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