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Chinas Periphery:

Implications for U.S. Policy and Interests


By Michael Green
Michael Green is an associate professor of international relations at Georgetown
University. He is also a senior adviser and holds the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies. He previously served as special assistant to the president for
national security affairs and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council
(NSC). This article is a slightly edited version of the Keynote Address he delivered at a
conference on Contested Terrain: Chinas Periphery and International Relations in Asia
The event was sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Reserve Officers
Association in Washington, D.C. on November 4, 2011.

Abstract: The major, middle and small powers on Chinas periphery are often portrayed as

passive objects of great power competition between the United States and China, but in fact the
foreign policy strategies of these states plays a significant role in shaping Sino-U.S. relations and the
overall order in Asia. Before examining the actors on Chinas periphery in this important FPRI
conference, therefore, it is worth starting at the macro-level of international relations in Asia within
which they operate.

n recent years scholars and policy planners have asserted three possible
scenarios for the future of Asian regional order. The first, which was common
in the mid-1990s but has largely disappeared, is the idea of enduring U.S.
unipolarity. For Asia, the high water mark of this brief post-Cold War unipolar
moment was the 97-98 financial crisis, when the Clinton administration and the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) tried to impose the so-called Washington
Standard of strict market-based conditionality on the emergency economic
stabilization packages to Indonesia, Thailand and Korea. In response, leading
officials and scholars within Japan, China, Korea and the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) began challenging the universality of Western economic
principles and posited a competing development model based on Asian values.

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Instructively for Beijing today, ASEAN reached out to Tokyo and Beijing to impose
an influence cost on the United States, something we now see member states doing
to China as Beijing overplays its hand. The blowback from the clash over economic
ideology in the 97-98 financial crisis continues to this day, manifest in the Chiang
Mai Initiative, the ASEAN Plus Three free trade talks, and other regional forums
that were deliberately conceived as a counterbalance to U.S. economic ideological
hegemony. Fifteen years later, of course, the dynamic within the region is very
different, and while the regional reaction to a sudden shift in the distribution of
power after the Cold War was instructive, few expect a return of American
unipolarity, even if it was only a matter of perceptions in the first place.
The second model for regional order, which became increasingly attractive
with the sudden rise of Chinese power at the beginning of the 21st Century, is a
return to the Sinocentric systemor a modern version of the tributary state system based
on 21st Century interdependence. This theory was popularized in 2002 by Zheng
Bijian, the former chair of the China Reform Forum and advisor to both Jiang
Zemin and Hu Jintao. Zheng argued that Chinas future rise would naturally be
peaceful, since most of the regions historical development occurred under benign
Chinese hegemony until the collapse of the Qing Empire and the spread of Western
imperialism in the 19th Century. Jiang Zemin was attracted to Zhengs peaceful
rise theory, but Hu Jintao and his advisors found even that thesis too threatening
for a nation seeking to minimize counterbalancing by neighbors, and Hu chose
instead to champion an apolitical peaceful development theory instead.1
American scholars, including David Kang at the University of California at San
Diego, have picked up on the Zheng thesis and recast it in Western social science
terms, arguing that contemporary trade and investment patterns in Asia reinforce
the regions rapid move to a Sino-centric model (though Kang in a second book has
tempered somewhat his initial predictions).2 As an ideational framing of Chinas
role in Asia, this theory has great merit for Beijing, asserting as it does that Asians
have a cultural predisposition to collective peaceful coexistence based on a
Westphalian concept of sovereignty, material development, and a rejection of neoliberal norms or political convergence around open societies.
The problem with the Sino-centric model is that not all peripheral states
around China view the tributary state model as benign or even relevant. It is
striking that the adherents to the Sino-centric model are all in China or the West,
and not in Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia or India. There are several reasons why
modern nation states in the twenty-first century would not be as amenable to this
model as were princes, kingdoms and Sultanates 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. First,
while there is a trade-based Sinocentrism to current Asian development, it is not delinked from the global economy. In contrast to the largely autarkic system of
1Zheng

Bijian, Chinas Peaceful Rise to Great Power Status, Foreign Affairs, Oct./Nov. 2005.
Kang, China Rising: Peace, Power and Order in East Asia. New York: Columbia University Press,
2007; Kang, East Asia before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute. New York: Columbia University
Press, 2011.
2David

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regional trade in periods of historic Chinese hegemony, todays China is only at the
center of final assembly and manufacturing in large production networks that are
dependent on overwhelmingly global financial flows, technology inputs and
markets.
Moreover, China today is surrounded not by princes, emperors and
sultanates, but by nation states, many of them democratic, that do not accept the
Chinese political or economic model as superior in civilizational terms. Indeed, in
polling of Asian elites done by CSIS in 2008 and 2009, there was a clear disposition
outside of China to view open democratic societies and rule of law as the key to
regional success in the coming decade and not the authoritarian development model
of the so-called Beijing consensus.3 In addition, while Beijings official version of
Chinese history presents a clash primarily between the West and East and mutually
beneficial tributary status with the region, the official versions in Vietnam, Korea
and elsewhere emphasize patriotic resistance against hundreds of punitive attacks
and invasions from China. Finally, in contrast to earlier periods of Chinese
hegemony, other states on Chinas periphery have options to counterbalance
Chinas rise; beginning with the United States, but also including increased external
balancing among themselves, for example between India and Japan.
A third model for regional order that accepts neither American nor Chinese
hegemony is the proposal for a bipolar concert of power between Beijing and
Washington. Versions of this model have been advanced by Fred Bergsten and
former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who have described a potential G2 to manage the global economy, and in proposals by Zbigniew Brzezinski and
others for a Fourth Communique that would resolve outstanding Sino-U.S. issues
related to Taiwan and other areas of confrontation. 4 Certainly, U.S. foreign policy
strategy towards Asia since 1972 has had a consistent element of seeking some
degree of concert with China. Those periods of concert were most pronounced
when Soviet power was the greatest focus, particularly in the presidencies of Richard
Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Beginning in the mid-1990s, particularly
with the April 1996 U.S.-Japan Security Declaration, the U.S. foreign policy strategy
also began including a strong element of hedging and balancing vis--vis a rising
China as well. This has been fairly consistent through the presidencies of Clinton,
Bush and Obama (though all three presidencies waxed and waned on balance-ofpower approaches at various points). China, of course, has also begun hedging and
counterbalancing against the United States, particularly through asymmetrical
3Bates

Gill, Michael Green, Kiyoto Tsuji and William Watts, Strategic Views of Asian Regionalism: Survey
Results and Analysis (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feb. 2009):
4Fred Bergsten, The United States and the World Economy: Economic Foreign Policy for the Next Decade.
Institute for International Economics, 2005; Bergsten, Twos Company, Foreign Affairs,
September/October 2009; Robert B. Zoellick and Justin Yifu Lin, Recovery: A Job for the U.S. and
China, Washington Post, March 6, 2009 ;Zbigniew Brzezinski, How to Stay Friends with China, New
York Times, Jan. 2, 2011.

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capabilities focused on missiles, anti-access and area denial (A2AD) and


diplomatically.
However, it is difficult to see how Beijing or Washington could achieve a
sustainable G-2 or concert of power in Asia. For one thing, Beijing does not want
the responsibilities for restructuring and rebalancing implied in the Bergsten and
Zoellick G-2 thesis. Moreover, the United States has had an historic mission of
maintaining a favorable balance-of-power in the region. Indeed, that was the
primary structural reason behind the beginning of cooperation with China in the
1970s. A bipolar concert of power in the current environment would be met with
great dismay by the maritime powers around China, particularly Japan, India and
Australia, and would by definition be seen as retreat from traditional American
security commitments that touch directly on those powers interests. Rather than
stabilizing regional order, a bipolar accommodation of China would immediately set
in motion hedging by U.S. regional allies and partners that would likely bring any
government in Washington back to the previous approach. Concerts do not work
in regions of increasing strategic importance.
If uni-polarity, Sino-centrism, or a bipolar concert all seem unlikely in the
coming decade or two, what then is the most likely scenario for order in Asia?
Ironically, it may be multi-polarity. Not the kind of multi-polarity that Beijing called
for a decade ago, in which Europe and other regions of the globe would constrain
American power as China spoke for Asia; but instead a multi-polarity within Asia, in
which the United States remains pre-eminent but China closes the gap, and middle
and smaller states align and maneuver to affect an equilibrium that avoids any one
of the three scenarios described above. For now, that means reinforcing American
staying power, just as it meant counterbalancing American uni-polarity in the late
1990s. In other words, the powers on Chinas periphery matter in terms of agency.
Rather than pawns in a great power game between Washington and China, they are
in fact shaping the regional order and Chinese and U.S. behavior through their own
actions and alignment.
The United States, China and the Peripheral States in a Multi-polar Asia
In fact, some of the most far thinking U.S. strategic thinkers about
American strategy in Asia embraced a form of multi-polarity. Alfred Thayer Mahan,
in a series of essays he published in 1900, entitled The Problem of Asia, argued
for a concert of power among the maritime statesthe United States, the United
Kingdom and Japan, in order to counter hegemonic threats from the continental
Eurasian heartland.5 While he adjusted his thinking somewhat when Japan defeated
Russia in 1905, he nevertheless continued viewing Americas fundamental interests
as lying in the maritime sphere, and therefore saw Japan as the critical U.S. partner
in the Pacific. In the early months after Pearl Harbor, Yale international relations
5Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Problem of Asia: Its Effect on International Politics (original 1900). New
Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003 edition.

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professor Nicholas Spykman shocked audiences by echoing Mahans judgment and


asserting that American grand strategy after the war would have to focus on using
the maritime sphere, including alignment with Japan, to contain hegemonic threats
from the Eurasian heartland. Spykman warned that after decolonization, the United
States would be perpetually adjusting to counter-balance rising powers within Asia:
today Japan but perhaps tomorrow China. Heretical at the time, Americans soldiers
were fighting for survival on Bataan and Corregidor, Spykmans arguments later
resonated in the early postwar environment with the architects of Cold War alliances
like John Foster Dulles. Spykman was in a sense derivative of both Halford
Mackinder and Alfred Thayer Mahan. He accepted Mackinders Heartland Theory,
but rejected Mahans idea of freedom of navigation and sea lines of communication,
focusing on what he called the Rimland. This meant making sure the United
States had strong relationships with key powers on the maritime rim around
continental Asia. While some of his writing is anachronistic; elements are amazingly
prescient with respect to how the United States might be forced to work with the
Rimland in managing a rising China.6
Spykman was anticipating what became the strategies of containment in
Asia, but it is important to draw the clear distinction today between balance of
power strategy and containment strategy, since from Beijings perspective all of U.S.
alignment with the peripheral states is criticized as containment. Indeed, embracing
the rise of India, seeking strategic partnership with Indonesia, revitalizing the U.S.
alliance with Japan, would all constitute containment strategy, except for one
important factor: we all trade more with China than we do with each other. A
strategy of containment would not be consistent with President Obamas
explanation in January 2011 that the United States has a stake in the success of
China.7 We do. Absolute Chinese power is not the issue; it is the nature of Chinese
power or the consequences of Chinese weaknessthat matters to the United
States and the international community. Strategies focused on shaping Chinese
behavior by maintaining a favorable balance of power and influence are
indispensable. And they are different from containment as we thought of it during
the Cold War.
I recall times in the National Security Council when I would be lectured
about our China policy by European friends who wanted the administrations
approval for lifting the European Union (EU) Arms Embargo on China. We were
opposed to lifting the embargo because we did not want to give the impression to
Beijing that growing trade ties would soften the international communitys
opposition to the use of force against Taiwan, something simultaneously being
6On

Spykmans vision, see The Geography of Peace (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944).
Conference of President Barak Obama and President Hu Jintao of the Peoples Republic of
China,
The
White
House,
Jan.
19,
2011
(http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-pressoffice/2011/01/19/press-conference-president-obama-and-president-hu-peoples-republic-china).,

7Press

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debated in Beijing under the 2005 anti-secession law, which was designed to obligate
the Chinese leadership to use force to stop independence of the island. Jacques
Chirac and Gerhard Schroder found China a useful foil against the Bush
administration in the context of Iraq, and the French and Germans also had their
eye on ingratiating themselves with Chinese leaders to help increase exports to
China at the expense of Boeing and U.S. exporters. After being lectured on our
outdated containment strategy, I would ask my European visitors who they
thought Chinas seventh largest trading partner was at the time. Italy, Spain,
France, they would quickly conjecture. In fact, I would reply, having laid the
ambush, It is Wal-Mart.
In short, no nation understands economic
interdependence with China better than the United States, nor the futility of an
absolute zero-sum containment strategy like that pursued vis--vis the Soviet Union
during the Cold War. Fortunately, our European friends chose not to lift the EU
arms embargo, and today the United States and Europe are much closer to having a
common view on China. The EU decision also played a small but important role in
setting Beijings expectations about how the status quo powers viewed the use of
force or coercion by a rising China.
We are not containing China, but we are trying to shape Chinese behavior
and hedge against uncertainty. And the bottom line is that to do that, we have to
get Asia right. Getting Asia Right was the title of the last Armitage-Nye Report,
published by CSIS in 2007 by a group working under the guidance of former
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Harvard Kennedy School
Dean and Assistant Secretary of Defense Joe Nye.8 The basic concept, perhaps
derivative of the maritime strategic thinking of Mahan or Spykman, was that we
have to set the context for U.S.-China relations with our broader strategy towards
Asia as a whole. My four-year old son just started playing soccer. When the coach
blows the whistle, the kids all run after the ball or wander into the woods looking
for frogs. You dont win soccer games that way. So too, American policy has to be
disciplined and not rushing all our resources and policy initiatives to fixing U.S.China relations in the absence of a clear strategy for the region as a whole.
There is little doubt that across Asia there is now a greater appetite for
American engagement and presence, in large part because China overplayed its hand
so much in 2009-2010. On the Korean peninsula, Beijing was passive in response
to North Koreas sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan and through that
passivity responsible for Pyongyangs subsequent escalation and shelling of
Yeongpyeon Island, which killed South Korean civilians. Beijing then responded to
Japans decision to arrest a Chinese trawler captain who deliberately rammed a
Japanese Coast Guard cutter near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands with a
mercantilist embargo of rare earth metals and other exports to Japan, simultaneously
arresting two innocent Japanese businessmen on charges of espionage to gain
leverage. In the South China Sea Chinese maritime vessels rammed, cut-off and
8Richard Armitage, Joseph Nye, et. al., The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Getting Asia Right through 2020.
Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feb, 2007.

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harassed vessels from Vietnam and the Philippines around contested islands and the
Chinese Foreign Minister bullied the Singaporean and other foreign ministers over
the incident. China also blocked Indian Asia Development Bank loans for projects
in the Arunachal Pradesh province claimed by China, but situated well within the
operative Indian border, while expanding infrastructure development for ports in
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma and elsewhere along the so-called string of pearls in
the Indian Ocean.
Much as the United States suffered setbacks in the wake of the 1997-98
financial crisis, Beijing is now reaping the rewards for its unilateralism, but in ways
that pull the United States in to Asia, rather than limiting Chinas engagement. The
Japanese government, after briefly flirting with moving closer to Beijing to counter
U.S. influence under the loopy and hapless first Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)
government of Yukio Hatoyama, has now moved the U.S.-Japan alliance squarely
back to the center of its Asia strategy. ASEAN has as well, welcoming President
Obama to his first East Asia Summit in November 2011, while the Philippines,
Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam expand security ties with the United States. South
Korea has expanded Naval and Marine Corps exercises with the United States in the
West Sea, and Australia is ready to accept a new U.S. Marine Corps base near
Darwin. To be sure, Chinas missteps have created opportunities for expanded
engagement, captured in Secretary of State Hillary Clintons description of a U.S.
pivot to Asia.9
Getting Asia Right: Strategic Considerations
As we look at Chinas troubled relations with its periphery, however, we
need to recognize there is fluidity to the action and alignments of the third parties
we and Beijing seek to engage. Each state also has different historical and
geographic grievances and ties to China. U.S. strategy will have to take into account
these considerations and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to the region.
First, we will need to consider the ideational setting that is, the varying
norms and ideals that motivate the states on Chinas periphery. We can be certain
that they do not seek a Sino-centric model based on the Beijing-consensus. But
what do these states seek? The Chicago Council on Global Affairs did polling two
years ago on soft power in Asia. It was a very sophisticated well-designed poll,
measuring how countries within Asia viewed the powerful states culture, political
systems, and education systems. The Chicago Council hired the noted China expert
David Shambaugh to advise the project, expecting, no doubt, that China would

9Hillary

Clinton, Americas Pacific Century, Foreign Policy, 2011.

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come out of the survey with the greatest soft power.10 In fact, however, the United
States came in first; Japan, second; and China, third. In our CSIS polling of strategic
elites in the region in 2008-2009 we asked, What norms should form the East Asia
community if, or as, it forms over the coming decade? The first answer across the
region was confidence building. Second was economic cooperation. Third was
good governance. Fourth was human rights. And fifth was free and fair
elections. Since India, Indonesia, and South Korea were among those polled, these
democratic norms enjoyed a lot of support. But when questions broached
noninterference in internal affairs, suddenly team democracy broke up a little bit.
Post-colonial developing states like India, Indonesia and Thailand were strong
advocates of democracy, but came closer to Chinese respondents in identifying
non-interference in internal affairs as an important regional principle. So the
ideational and soft power maps of Asia are complex, with a general and encouraging
trend towards embracing universal norms of democracy, good governance and rule
of law, but residual North-South fissures as well. U.S. strategy with the peripheral
states around China will have to encourage the universal norms without triggering a
backlash (as we did in 97-98) by overplaying interference in internal affairs vis--vis
proud and somewhat insecure post-colonial states.
Second, the United States will have to consider the relevance and utility of
the regions explosion of multilateral summits, forums, meetings and quasiinstitutions. The administrations participation in its first East Asia Summit in Bali
in November 2011 plays well in the region, but now comes the hard part. Will the
President attend the East Asia summit in Cambodia in 2012 or Burma in 2014,
given the challenges those countries will have producing a summit that can compete
with the other electoral and foreign policy pressures on the American presidency?
As Woody Allen once said about life, so it is with Asian diplomacy: just showing up
is 9/10ths of success. The White House will also want to utilize the gathering of somany leaders for the more interesting and productive mini-laterals one can organize
on the margins of the symbolic and ritualistic big meeting. Given the limited output
(but important symbolism) of broad and inclusive forums like the East Asia
Summit, the United States will also need to invest in tri-lateral agreements among
the U.S.-Japan-Australia, U.S.-Japan-Korea, or U.S.-Japan-India that help strengthen
coordination among like-minded states in the region. China will also play this game,
with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the China-Japan-Korea summits,
Sino-Russian military exercises, or the Sino-Indian-Chinese foreign ministerial.
Given the multi-pronged diplomacy of all the players in the region, this process will
not necessarily break into two competing blocks and may ultimately create a
virtuous competition for influence like competitive trade liberalization theory that
could help build towards broader regional transparency and cooperation. In any

10Christopher Whitney and David Shambaugh, Soft Power Survey 2008: Multinational Survey of Public
Opinion, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 2008 (http://www.scribd.com/doc/54931751/ChicagoCouncil-Soft-Power-Report-Final-6-11-08).

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case, these mini-laterals will continue to be an important dimension of U.S. regional


strategy.
Third, when thinking about U.S. strategy in relation to Chinas periphery, is
important to recognize that every state within Asia, particularly East Asia, is going to
seek its own optimal strategic equilibrium. Now for Japan, the right strategic
equilibrium involves a substantial commitment on the part of the United States. .
This is largely true for South Korea as well. For South Vietnam the right strategic
equilibrium involves less of a US commitment, and this is true for Singapore and
Malaysia, as well. In other words, the United States must be careful not to overstay
or overplay its welcome and to discern where that welcome is a tactical reaction to
recent Chinese hubris and where it represents more fundamental strategic
trajectories.
The Vietnamese are the ultimate structural realists in Southeast Asia. They
will embrace The United States and then drop us as soon as they feel that they have
reestablished the right strategic equilibrium with China. In 2005, the National
Security Council (NSC) attempted to get Phan Van Khai, the Vietnamese Prime
Minister, to Washington for the first Summit meeting in Washington between a
Vietnamese Prime Minister and an American president. However, Vietnam was
then on the watch list for religious freedom concerns, having closed house churches
in the Central Highlands, arrested priests, and shuttered parochial schools. Hanoi
wanted this Summit because they were worried about China. And frankly, the
United States wanted this Summit because we desired to expand the multi-polar
connections we had in Asia. So I was sent to Hanoi actually the Vietnamese
Foreign Ministry asked me to go in order to break the logjam and clear the way
for a successful visit to Washington by the Prime Minister.
In my pocket I had a rough draft agreement on religious freedom we had
worked out within the administration, but I expected it to be a tough sell. I could
not have been more wrong. Within 24 hours my counterparts announced they were
ready to release dissident priests, reopen house churches in the Central Highlands,
and tolerate more parochial education. When I returned home and went into the
Oval Office to brief President Bush on the trip, he said, So youre telling me that at
the end of the day our Vietnamese friends are more afraid of the Chinese than they
are of God? I thought he had it about right. The Prime Minister and the President
had an excellent summit, and then Hanoi moved to resolve some issues with Beijing
with the American card well in hand. The next year there was some backsliding on
the religious freedom issues and the bilateral agenda started to slow down. Having
re-established the strategic equilibrium, Hanoi went back to business as usual. I am
bullish about longer-term U.S.-Vietnam relations, including on the strategic side, but
we have to recognize that Hanoi will adjust the temperature with us to fit the
strategic problems they have with Beijing.
Another parable was our relationship with South Korea during the same
time period. Under President Roh Moo-hyun the U.S.-Korea relationship wasas

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Mark Twain once said of Richard Wagners musicnot as bad as it sounds. The
fact is that despite Roh Moo-hyuns deliberate effort to portray himself domestically
as countering President Bush and the United States, South Korea nevertheless sent
the third largest contingent to Iraq, signed the most significant free trade agreement
in Asia in modern history with the United States, and agreed to a major realignment
of U.S forces in South Korea at a time when Japan remained mired in the
contentious debate over Futenma in Okinawa. Yet we overplayed our hand with
South Korea vis--vis China, misreading the domestic politics with consequences
for our strategic influence.
Specifically, the Pentagon was seeking more long-term predictability in our
military presence in Asia, and pressed Seoul to agree to strategic flexibility,
meaning that the United States would have an ironclad guarantee that we could use
our forces on the Korean peninsula for contingencies off the peninsula. This
implied for the South Koreans that the U.S.-ROK alliance might be implicated in a
contingency involving Taiwan. Rohs Blue House leaked the private conversations
and boasted to the press that they would reject the U.S. request for strategic
flexibility. The administration backed off and put the issue on the back-burner.
Beijing, meanwhile, pocketed the appearance of South Korean divergence
from the United States and began pressing the Roh government to also cease
participating in U.S.-Japan-Korea trilaterals and instead join a new China-ROKDPRK trilateral. The South Koreans agreed to the first Chinese request (until Lee
Myung-bak became president), but rebuffed the second. Neverthless, the strategic
damage was done and I suspect it reinforced Beijings confidence that Chinese
influence over both North and South Korea would steadily expand at the expense
of the United States. With the tough South Korean reaction to Chinese handling of
the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks, Beijing has been disabused of that premise.
Still, the episode illustrated how important it is for us to understand the bottom line
vis--vis China for even our close treaty allies on the periphery.
To begin with, we might structure our thinking about the peripheral
states around China in five categories. First would be our treaty allies, particularly
the big three allies, Japan: South Korea and Australia. All three now have trading
relationships with China that surpass their trade numbers with the United States.
Yet at the same time, because of Chinese rising military power and uncertain
intentions, they have increasing security dependence on the United States. Hugh
White, Professor of Strategic Studies in Australia National University, argues that
this dichotomy between security and economic dependence is untenable.11
However, strategic doctrine in Japan, South Korea and Australia is all trending
towards closing integration with the United States across various spectrums of
warfare and public opinion polls in all three treaty allies demonstrate a marked
positive trend in views towards the United States and negative views towards China:
reflecting among other things the importance of common values among allies.
11See,

for example, Hugh White, Power Shift: Australias Future between Washington and Beijing,
Quarterly Essay (Australia), 2010.

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Nevertheless, as the case of strategic flexibility with South Korea demonstrates,


these democracies have tipping points at which the wrong kind of ask from the
United States in security terms can become counterproductive. It is also worth
noting that the structure of these three economies creates different experiences with
a rising China. Australias west is booming as natural resources are sent to distant
China at great profit. Japan and South Korea, in contrast, struggle to fend off
Chinese intellectual property rights violations and other mercantilist threats to their
manufacturing base, even as they seek to make money in the growing Chinese
economy.
Our other two treaty allies, Thailand and the Philippines, are in a somewhat
different subcategory, reflecting the actual text of the U.S. commitment in our
mutual security treaties and the lower level of bilateral defense and intelligence
cooperation. Under President Benigno Aquino, the Philippines are seeking greater
security commitments, defense equipment, and U.S. presence in reaction against
aggressive Chinese operational and diplomatic moves to lay claim to contested
waters not fifty miles off the coast of the Philippine archipelago. Thailand, in
contrast, has no serious territorial conflicts with China, stronger ethnic ties with
China, and mixedif not negative viewsof the United States in the wake of U.S.
handling of Thailands 2006 coup (after which Washington managed to anger all
sides by not moving fast enough to condemn or welcome the coup). Thailand also
has an historic strategic culture of accommodation, not without merit considering
that the Kingdom of Siam withstood European imperialism while the rest of
Southeast Asia easily fell prey to the British, Dutch and French as the Qing Empire
collapsed.
A second category for strategic consideration would be the rising
democratic statesIndia and Indonesia, principal among them. As I mentioned,
these states generally see alignment with the United States as useful for their rise.
They do not see China as enabling their rise strategically, but the Chinese economy
has helpful to their development. On North-South or global issues such as climate
change or behavior in the World Trade Organization (WTO), they are more likely to
align with China than with us. India and Indonesia also have different strategic
cultures, as the Obama administration found when it was unable to transform
U.S.-Indonesia strategic relations the way the Bush administration had with India.
India has an older Hindu-centric view of the subcontinent and Curzonian
inheritance of the great game from Britains erstwhile viceroy Lord George
Curzon that animates grand strategy in Delhi. Indonesia did not exist as a unit in
international relations before the Dutch, and the Javanese strategic culture tends to
be less expansive in its vision of the geostrategic chess board than Indias. As a
result, India is more self-consciously engaging in counterbalancing strategies against
China (particularly with the United States, Japan and ASEAN), but both New Delhi
and Jakarta see themselves as the proud centers of gravity of their respective sub-

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regions on Chinas periphery and will broker little Chinese influence in their natural
strategic areas of influence.
A third category comprises transitional non-democratic statesespecially
countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Cambodia. Here the Beijing
Consensus has more resonance, and the United States has more of a challenge. On
the other hand, China is cautious about its relations with these states and Laos,
Cambodia and others are starting to push back a bit.
A fourth category would include the failing authoritarian statesNorth
Korea and Burma. Here you have an interesting counterbalancing against China as
well. The difference is that Burma might reform its political system in order to
cultivate the West, develop the economy and maintain a favorable balance vis--vis
China. North Korea, on the other hand, shows little prospect of reform or opening,
choosing instead to use its unpredictability and weakness as leverage to extract
concessions from a China that fears collapse as much as nuclear weapons. In the
end, North Korea (and its old Goguryeo Kingdom) and the Burmese have a
millennia of history fighting China. The Burmese are ethnically and genetically
related to the Mongolsit is in their DNA to resist Chinese hegemony. We will see
whether the threat of Chinese hegemony is sufficient to spur Burma to open and
reform. Perhaps Pakistan belongs in this fourth category as well. It is not an
authoritarian state on the order of Burma, let alone North Korea. But Pakistan is an
ally of China and a troublesome one at that. For Beijing, Pakistan offers a
counterbalance against India and a chance to check American influence on the
western flank. But Pakistans dangerous co-dependence on the Taliban and
extremism threatens Chinas interests as well.
The final category would be the ethnic groupings that extend from Chinas
territory into neighboring states. The two that are most important are the Tibetans
and the Uighurs. The United States has an interest in not backing off on our
support for the legitimate aspirations of the Tibetan people in particular. Certainly,
it is disheartening that the Dalai Lama was forced to delay his meeting with
President Obama. The Joint U.S.-China Summit Statement in Beijing in 2009
sought to reassure China that Washington would respect Chinese core interests in
Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. This was a huge mistake, suggesting that the United
States is willing to cut a deal on our long-standing commitment to human rights
democracy in these countries in pursuit of other interests with China.
Taiwan fits in this category, as well, in some ways. The United States has a
strategic interest in the success of democracy on Taiwan, and that means ensuring
through the Taiwan Relations Act and our historic friendship with the people of
Taiwan that they are not coerced into unification against their will or on terms they
would not accept as a fully free people. Frankly, that means that unification would
be unimaginable for the majority of people on Taiwan absent democratization in
China, and so we should respect and support their views. The United States does
not support unilateral independence of Taiwan, Tibet or Xinjiang. We stand by the
One China policy and respect for Chinas territorial integrity. Yet, in managing the

368 | Orbis

Chinas Periphery

overall rise of China, the United States has an abiding interest in being consistent in
support for democratic norms and protection of human rights in these areas. How
China treats the weaker peoples and smaller states within its borders or on its
periphery will be a key indicator of how Chinese power will influence the rest of us
in future.
Conclusion
To get China right, the United States must get Asia right. And to get Asia
right, we must develop a more nuanced and sophisticated appreciation of how
countries on Chinas peripheryfrom Mongolia to Japan and Korea, and on
through ASEAN and the subcontinentview their strategic relationship with
China, the United States and the other powers in the region. We have played this
game wrong at times, demanding security commitments that push former allies
towards Beijing or thinking we have commitments only to find they get tossed out
when the seasons change or the Chinese come to town. In the past we have
neglected key powers like India or Indonesia or forgotten the centrality of our
closest allies like Japan. With the pivot to Asia, we risk creating the faade of unity
and prompting Chinese counterbalancing without following through to ensure we
are fully invested in all the relationships we trumpet for the long-haul. We also
should expect that Beijing will continue to view growing U.S. relations around her
periphery as somehow threatening or zero-sum. We should not accept that charge,
but should take further steps to engage Beijing in a candid assessment of our
respective approaches to regional strategy and relations with the neighbors, perhaps
expanding the areas where we find common interests and merits in working
together. U.S. Diplomat Kurt Campbell and Chinas Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs Cui Tiankai have started just this sort of Asia-Pacific dialogue to look for
ways we can cooperate in the periphery around China. That is a good move because
we have a complex policy that combines elements of both concert and
balance of power.

Summer 2012 | 369