05 November 2014

Lead-Up to Beijing APEC Summit: The National Interest Hosts Great Debate on U.S.-China Strategic Relations

The National Interest demonstrates once again why it is one of the go-to forums for serious policy analysts. I’m always proud to publish there, and it’s a very enjoyable experience. Here’s why: instead of stipulating slick, superficial posts, the editors encourage in-depth analysis and serious debates. They even allow for occasional Chinese characters, which is extremely rare for such a mass-audience platform.

Below is one exchange that is particularly worth reading. Personally, I think that Chase, Heath, and Ratner make the more persuasive case, but Goldstein has performed a significant service by bringing Chinese-language sources to popular attention (as part of a three-part series) and raising serious issues that cannot be ignored. Read both pieces and decide for yourself!


Michael S. Chase, Timothy R. Heath, and Ely Ratner, “Engagement and Assurance: Debating the U.S.-Chinese Relationship,” The National Interest, 5 November 2014.

In “How China Sees America’s Moves in Asia,” Professor Lyle Goldstein highlights the disturbing conclusion of a recent essay by three Chinese analysts: China is under siege, pinned down by a U.S. strategy of “containment” that aims to encircle their country and undermine its security interests.

Professor Goldstein is right to point out that concerns about U.S. “containment” are pervasive in Chinese foreign policy and national-security assessments, and that this is a fear the United States cannot ignore as it strengthens its focus on Asia. Professor Goldstein’s article is also an important reminder that to be successful, a strategy of deterrence requires a corresponding message of assurance. Security-studies scholars and military strategists have long recognized that deterrence and assurance are two sides of the same coin, and that some level of assurance is required to encourage a potential adversary to exercise restraint.

Yet we disagree in important ways with three aspects of Professor Goldstein’s argument. First, his assessment gives far too much weight to a single assessment published in a relatively minor Chinese journal, one that appears to go well beyond more mainstream discussions among PLA and foreign-policy specialists about the challenges associated with what many in China view as U.S. “containment.”

Second, his article obscures the most dangerous dynamics in Asia by overstating the destabilizing nature of U.S. policy and ignoring the region-wide and deleterious effects of Chinese assertiveness.

And third, he mischaracterizes U.S. policy by assuming that differences on maritime disputes are dominating America’s agenda with China and crowding out political bandwidth and will to cooperate on issues of common concern.

We address these issues in turn. …


Lyle J. Goldstein, How China Sees America’s Moves in Asia: Worse Than Containment,” The National Interest, 29 October 2014.

Editor’s Note: The following is part three of a new occasional series named “Dragon Eye” which seeks insight and analysis from Chinese writings on world affairs. Part one of the series, “What Does China Really Think About the Ukraine Crisis?” can be found here. Part two of the series, “The World’s Most Dangerous Rivalry: China and Japan” can be found here.

As President Obama prepares to embark once more on a trip to the Middle Kingdom, it will be worthwhile to reflect on the condition of this all-important bilateral relationship. Specialists and senior diplomats are fond of discussing the tremendous breadth of U.S.-Chinese interactions, most of which are not in the military sphere and are generally positive. This is, needless to say, the most massive trading relationship on the globe, after all. Then, there are American NBA teams playing exhibition games in China and getting plenty of attention from an adoring Chinese fan base. Less glamorous, but likely of much greater significance is the very extensive set of scientific collaborations that has been initiated in the domain of green energy.

And yet, we should all be amply disturbed by the obviously unstable military competition now coming into full view in U.S.-Chinese relations. It’s all well and good to describe the relations as having cooperative and competitive dynamics—akin to a couple of scrappy boys on the playground, right? Wrong. As these two “chums” are playing the “game” of geopolitics, one of them could easily brandish a switch-blade with untold consequences for international security. As the Ukraine crisis starkly revealed earlier this year, international politics is not a playground. …