16 July 2012

Mutually Assured Destruction or Dependence? U.S. and Chinese Perspectives on China’s Military Development

Andrew S. Erickson, “Mutually Assured Destruction or Dependence? U.S. and Chinese Perspectives on China’s Military Development,” in Timothy B. Weston and Lionel M. Jensen, eds., China In and Beyond the Headlines, 3rd edition (Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 87-111.

The National Intelligence Council is the U.S. intelligence community’s center for midterm and long-term strategic projections, producing Global Briefings every four years between election and inauguration day. The most recent of these highlights China’s rise as a great power with increasing influence on the global system. It indicates that while the United States retains its overall positioning in the world, has lost leverage in relative terms

“China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy [including the EU] and will be a leading military power.    It also could be the largest importer of natural resources and the biggest polluter. Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength—even in the military realm—will decline and US leverage will become more constrained.”

This analysis raises several key policy questions: What will U.S. policy be? What will China’s be? What challenges and concerns will influence their evolving military relationship in the security realm? Will “mutually assured dependence” prevail over “mutually assured destruction”? These questions animate the chapter that follows, one that explores the mutual fears and concerns of the United States and China over each other’s military objectives and capabilities, as well as the prospects for their mitigation and even abatement. …

The United States and China are critically placed to shape the emerging international order. Yet their differences in national identity, culture, political system, and interests—which manifest themselves most dangerously regarding several key territorial and geopolitical areas vis-à-vis East Asia—threaten to bring them into crisis and conflict. This remains true even as the two nations develop unprecedented mutual economic dependence and shared interests in a secure, prosperous global system.

Regardless of its exact parameters, building and sustaining a significant level of mutual trust and strategic cooperation will require substantial effort and patience. Washington and Beijing will have to live with considerable ambiguity, and should expect occasional setbacks. For the foreseeable future, there will be significant differences in their military capabilities, political systems, and national interests. To guard against the threat of conflict as China, the rising power, gains on the United States, the dominant power today and for the foreseeable future, both sides will likely find it necessary to “hedge”—not only rhetorically, but also economically, politically, and even militarily.

Just as Chinese officials, analysts, and media sources charge constantly that many in Washington promote a “China threat theory,” many in Beijing likewise promote a “U.S. threat theory,” construing ulterior motives from virtually any U.S. action. Analysts and planners in the United States need to look at the big picture, which strongly suggests, arguably with some notable exceptions, an overall Chinese desire and need to cooperate with, rather than to challenge, the United States. And the renewed U.S. focus on humanitarian operations should be seen by Chinese for what it is, an opportunity for mutually beneficial cooperation and improved relations. Ongoing deployment of Chinese naval vessels to defend against piracy in the Gulf of Aden suggests the capability and intention to focus increasingly on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Such factors may support mission convergence and increase strategic space for Sino-U.S. maritime cooperation, although exploiting opportunities will require sailing into strong headwinds and taking the waves as they come. Perhaps in this way “mutually assured dependence” will prevail over tendencies toward “mutually assured destruction.”


From the Publisher:

In the third volume of this popular series, leading experts provide fascinating and unexpected insights into critical issues of culture, economy, politics, and society in today’s China. This world, outside the reach of state control and either misunderstood or unreported in Western media, gains clarity and dimension from the fresh insights of a prominent group of activists, investigative journalists, lawyers, scholars, and travelers, who share a common interest in lessening the profound information gap between China and the rest of the world. In sixteen new essays, they address such key topics as civil society, consumerism, environmental adversity, ethnic tension, the Internet, legal reform, new media and social networking, nationalist tourism, sex and popular culture, as well the costs of urban gigantism to portray the complexity of life in contemporary Chin—and how, increasingly, it speaks to the everyday experience of the United States.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: China, the United States, and Convulsive Cooperation 
Lionel M. Jensen and Timothy B. Weston
Part I: In the Headlines
Chapter 1: Jousting with Monsters: Journalists in a Rapidly Changing China 
David Bandurski
Chapter 2: Youth Culture in China: Idols, Sex, and the Internet 
Jonathan S. Noble
Chapter 3: Dismantling the Socialist Welfare State: The Rise of Civil Society in China 
Jessica C. Teets
Chapter 4: Mutually Assured Destruction or Dependence? U.S. and Chinese Perspectives on China’s Military Development 
Andrew S. Erickson
Chapter 5: China’s Environmental Tipping Point 
Alex L. Wang
Chapter 6: China’s Historic Urbanization: Explosive and Challenging 
Timothy B. Weston
Chapter 7: The Worlds of China’s Intellectuals 
Timothy Cheek
Chapter 8: Why Does China Fear the Internet? 
Susan D. Blum
Part II: Beyond the Headlines
Chapter 9: Producing Exemplary Consumers: Tourism and Leisure Culture in China’s Nation-Building Project 
Travis Klingberg and Tim Oakes
Chapter 10: Professionals and Populists: The Paradoxes of China’s Legal Reforms 
Benjamin L. Liebman
Chapter 11: The Decriminalization and Depathologization of Homosexuality in China 
Wenqing Kang
Chapter 12: The Evolution of Chinese Authoritarianism: Lessons from the “Arab Spring” 
Orion A. Lewis
Chapter 13: Culture Industry, Power, and the Spectacle of China’s “Confucius Institutes” 
Lionel M. Jensen
Chapter 14: Tensions and Violence in China’s Minority Regions 
Katherine Palmer Kaup
Chapter 15: An Unharmonious Society: Foreign Reporting in China 
Gady Epstein
Afterword: What Future for Human Rights Dialogues? 
John Kamm



“Getting a fix on Chinese cultural and political shifts has never seemed more urgent. So the appearance of this collection of wide-ranging, informative, and fluidly written essays is not just something to welcome but something to celebrate. I can’t wait to bring the book into a classroom and take it for a spin with my students.”
(Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know)

“The essays in this book pull off the fine balancing act of giving an ideal introduction to contemporary China while also delving in depth into the most important issues at play today.”

(Edward Wong, New York Times China correspondent)


About the Editors:

Dr. Timothy B. Weston is associate professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Dr. Lionel M. Jensen is associate professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Notre Dame.