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The National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002 We welcome the emergence of a strong peaceful and prosperous China. The democratic development of China is crucial to that future. Yet a quarter of a century after beginning the process of shedding the worst features of a communist legacy, Chinese leaders have not yet made the next series of fundamental choices about the character of their state.1

The above statement represents the sort of ‘puff’ that comes out of both governments in this bilateral relationship. Very rarely are the leaders direct, and the underlying sources of tension remain, even as transient issues pass by. The US-China relationship faces some significant hurdles in the coming years. In the aftermath of 11 September 2001 we have witnessed a brief warming in the US-China relationship that is not likely to last and has most probably already past its peak due to the fact that many of America’s actions have in fact resulted in a detriment to China’s strategic position. There are major areas of tension including the status of Taiwan and US weapons sales to the island, Human rights and religious freedom, Weapons of Mass destruction, the proliferation of these technologies and the related issue of Missile Defence and Theatre Missile Defence (TMD), China’s perception of Geo-political encirclement by the United States, the impact of Chinese Nationalism, China’s integration into the world economy and the perceived challenges by the US of the international ‘status quo’. All of these central and other related issues provide little cause for optimism, though there have been some positive developments. This essay argues that in the short to medium term, US-China relations are unlikely to improve and could quite possibly worsen, as China perceives it’s strategic position deteriorate. Suspicion on both sides will drive this perception, though a new generation of Chinese leaders may be disposed to more pragmatic policies. This is not to say that an effort is not required on behalf of the US to more thoroughly engage China. Controlling Taiwanese independence will be crucial to Asia’s stability. September 11 The apparent warming of the US-China relationship since 11 September 2001 is now considered unlikely to last. After 9/11 China was quick to give its support to resolutions condemning the attacks.2 Beijing also put pressure on Pakistan to persuade
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The White House, The National Security Strategy of The United States of America, September 2002, pp. 27 2 Foot R., “Bush, China and Human Rights”, Survival, Summer 2003, pp. 167

2 it to support the US action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.3 And, “though critical of the US war against Iraq, did not stand out in the way that France and Russia did.”4 Since the end of the Cold War, the US and China have lacked a common goal, or common enemy. During the cold war the US and China were able to overlook the stark differences between the two countries and join together in opposition to the Soviet Union. US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke made the following optimistic assessment, “We should not ignore the unique opportunity offered by the fact that China and the United States once again share a common strategic concern- terrorism- on which a revitalised relationship can be based.”5 But many analysts are now arguing that this common interest is unlikely to spur ongoing cooperation. Aaron Friedberg stated that:
There is not the kind of galvanising energy that existed two or three decades ago, nothing of sufficient strength sweep away outstanding differences and to cause a fundamental reordering of strategic priorities.6

He contends that enthusiastic backing for a broad and sustained global war on terror is extremely unlikely and the global war on terror is likely to run counter to China’s concrete interests. The continuing US presence in Central Asia as well as the strengthening of the US’s alliances in the Pacific is likely to worry China. President Jiang expressed concern that the US was attempting to “establish a foothold in China’s southwest backyard.”7 Russia also drifted closer to the United States post 9/11 and the Bush administration has transformed its relationship with Pakistan who is a longstanding ally of Beijing.8 A further bitter pill for China is that in return for its cooperation, and at times silence, the US “has shown no inclination to soften its positions on human rights, proliferation, missile defence or arms sales to Taiwan.” 9 Adam Ward offered this assessment:

3 4

Ibid, pp. 167 Ibid, pp. 178 5 Friedberg A., “11 September and the Future of Sino-American Relations”, Survival, Spring 2002, pp. 32 6 Ibid pp. 34 7 Ibid pp. 41 8 Ward A., “China and America: Trouble Ahead?” Survival, Autumn 2003, pp. 40 9 Friedberg A., “11 September and the Future of Sino-American Relations”, Survival, Spring 2002, pp. 44

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Beijing could not avoid the impression that this brittle achievement provided little compensation for developments, which it felt bound to regard as amounting to a deterioration in China’s strategic environment.10

We are unlikely to see any further benefits to the US-China relationship arising out of cooperation between the two nations in the fight against terrorism. Beijing has seen little real benefit and the main issues of contention still underlie the relationship. Taiwan Taiwan remains the most likely flash point in relations between the US and China. “Given China's credible forty-five-year commitment to use force in retaliation against Taiwan independence, such a declaration would likely lead to war.” 11 This is not to say though that China is headed directly for military confrontation with the island. The 95/96 confrontation between the US and China was an interesting episode. China and the United States had differing objectives, but Robert Ross argues that both the United States and China achieved these objectives.
China aimed to coerce Taiwan into abandoning its effort to redefine the "one China" principle and Taiwan's status in international politics… and signal to the United States and Taiwan the tremendous risks inherent in their policies…[the] United States was pressed into using force to deter prospective challenges to its interests and to maintain its reputation for loyalty to its security partners.12

The 95/96 crisis resulted in a return to the ‘status quo’ that existed prior to the crisis. It is argued that President Clinton’s decision to issue a visa to Lee Then-hui “did not reflect considered analysis of US interests” but rather acquiescence to Congressional pressure.13 This reflects the extent of the influence held by the Taiwan lobby in the US congress. This lobby seems to have gained the upper hand in recent US policy over Taiwan. Soon after coming to power, George W. Bush stated that the US would do “whatever it took to defend Taiwan”.14 Pro-independence Taiwanese could interpret
10 11

Ward A., “China and America: Trouble Ahead?” Survival, Autumn 2003, pp. 40 Ross R., “The 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Confrontation: Coercion, Credibility, and the Use of Force”, International Relations, Fall 2000. 12 Ibid 13 Ross R., “The 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Confrontation: Coercion, Credibility, and the Use of Force”, International Relations, Fall 2000. 14 Xian L., “Washington’s Misguided China Policy”, Survival, Autumn 2001, pp 10

4 this as a ‘blank cheque’ while the statement itself undermines Washington’s policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ enunciated by Clinton’s ‘three noes’ speech in China. The Bush administration has argued for a policy of ‘strategic clarity’ but has failed to state what this means. L. Xiang argued that, “a realistic policy of strategic clarity for Washington would be to announce that it will not be responsible for Taiwan’s defence if the island declares independence.”15 There is reason to believe that some powerful players in China ascribe to a non-military, longer-term resolution to the Taiwan problem. The theory suggests that through economic cooperation Taiwan will become increasingly dependent on the Chinese economy, “deterrence will prevent independence in the short term, and diplomacy will help maintain stability over the long term” by which time Taiwan will be integrated back into mainland China.16 As Condoleeza Rice put it, “that policy requires that neither side challenge the status quo”17, and that is something that is not guaranteed. Human Rights Human rights and religious freedom remain another area of significant contention between the United States and China. From the time diplomatic relations were established in 1979, continuing into the mid 1980s, the US only gave patchy attention to China’s human rights record.18 Post 1989 and in part due to the establishment of a number of bodies to monitor the human rights situation in China, human rights now receive significant attention in the US-China relationship. Even during the honeymoon period enjoyed after the September 11 attacks, Bush warned the Chinese president that the struggle against terrorism should not be used “as an excuse to persecute minorities”, later adding that “ethnic minorities must know that their rights will be safe guarded.”19 Despite this, the United States has demonstrated a number of times that it is not prepared to pursue punitive economic policy in order to achieve concrete gains in the area of human rights. Economic sanctions “were seen as likely to impose sacrifices on the sanctioning country, especially when adopted against a country as large and as potentially rich and influential as China.”20 This was
15 16

Ibid, pp. 21 Ross R., “The 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Confrontation: Coercion, Credibility, and the Use of Force”, International Relations, Fall 2000. 17 Rice C., “Promoting the National Interest”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000, pp. 56 18 Foot R., “Bush, China and Human Rights”, Survival, Summer 2003, pp. 173. 19 Foot R., “Bush, China and Human Rights”, Survival, Summer 2003, pp. 173. 20 Ibid, pp. 174.

5 demonstrated after the 1989 Tiannamen Square massacre. The 1994 attempt by the Clinton administration to link China’s MFN trading status to human rights improvements was also ineffectual. But China has made concessions in signing the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political rights in 1997 and 98 respectively. The 2000 US-China Relations Act states the United State’s commitment to:
monitor China’s compliance with international human rights standards, encourage the development of the rule of law, establish and maintain a list of victims of human rights abuses, and promote bilateral cooperation.21

The Bush administration has been keen to push the issue of Human rights and especially religious freedom, due in part to the fact that the president is a practising and apparently devout Christian. Colin Powell has stated, “They don’t meet any standards that we have with respect to individual freedom or human rights.”22 While progress has been and will continue to be made on the issue of human rights, Rosemary Foot has observed that “while Beijing and Washington have common interests, only the sharing of values will lead to a true and lasting partnership.”23 WMD, NMD & TMD Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) technologies and their means of delivery by China is a source of concern for the United States, especially since the beginning of its Global War on Terror. US diplomats have been quoted as saying that “Beijing needed to ‘see the new kind of world we’re all in’ and to respond accordingly by living up to its prior agreements to restrict transfers of deadly technology.”24 In November 2000 Beijing was caught red handed in violation of its agreement to suspend further transfers of missile technology to Iran and Pakistan. It has been observed that “to openly oppose the US in its righteous anger would have been extremely dangerous.”25 It is likely that China will now take great pains to adhere to its commitments on this issue, or at least to not get caught out. This leads in
21 22

Ibid, pp. 174. Friedberg A., “11 September and the Future of Sino-American Relations”, Survival, Spring 2002, pp. 37 23 Foot R., “Bush, China and Human Rights”, Survival, Summer 2003, pp. 182. 24 Friedberg A., “11 September and the Future of Sino-American Relations”, Survival, Spring 2002, pp. 38. 25 Ibid, pp. 35

6 to the adjacent issue of National Missile Defence (NMD) and Theatre Missile Defence (TMD).
Chinese observers expressed the view that the use of commercial airliner as weapons of mass destruction demonstrated the futility of building expensive high-tech defences against ballistic missiles… the real enemy is international terrorism and not any particular country.26

The December 2001 announcement by the United States of its intent to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and its subsequent withdrawal must be deeply troubling to China. An effective NMD system has a number of implications. Firstly, even a limited NMD would be capable of intercepting all of the PRC’s current ICBM force.27 This would prompt China to attempt to acquire sufficient capabilities to overcome any NMD shield that the US might be able to construct. This would effectively begin a new arms race. Secondly, “US missile defence plans are telling the Chinese that nuclear deterrence is outdated and the United States has the right to make itself invulnerable at the expense of other countries security.”28 The deployment of a TMD shield around Taiwan might prompt pre-emptive action on Beijing’s behalf to protect its interest in the island. China’s current coercive trump card over Taiwan is its significant SRBM force located on the Taiwan Strait. A TMD would remove this. Finally, the deployment of TMD in the Asia pacific might result in an introverted, suspicious and aggressive China, constantly concerned about geo-political encirclement. Geo-Political Encirclement China has for a long time perceived the US’s network of alliances in the Pacific as designed to ‘contain’ and encircle China, in preparation for an eventual conflict. In particular, China is very wary of Japan and its Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States. “Moves toward increased military cooperation between Washington and Tokyo are viewed with suspicion in Beijing.”29 As mentioned previously, the results of China’s cooperation with the United States in its War on Terror have been
26 27

Ibid, pp. 38. Friedberg A., “The Struggle for Mastery in Asia”, Commentary, November 2000. 28 Ibid 29 Friedberg A., “11 September and the Future of Sino-American Relations”, Survival, Spring 2002, pp. 42.

7 detrimental to its security interests. American presence in Central Asia and the Middle East is troubling, and its construction of a new relationship with Pakistan, strengthening of ties with Russia and the bolstering of alliances in the Pacific have led Chinese strategists to believe “that the United States might be attempting to encircle the PRC, building positions of strength along its land frontiers as well as off its coasts.”30 The countering perception in the US is that China seeks to displace the United States as the preponderant power in Asia.31 This has led to the use of the term ‘Strategic competitor’ by the Bush administration, in contrast to the Clinton administration’s preference for the term ‘Strategic Partner’. David Shambaugh observes that, “China is certainly not comfortable with the current American dominated regional security architecture”32 and that “the two nations hard nationalsecurity interests increasingly rub up against each other in the Asia-Pacific region”.33 US Challenges to the ‘Status quo’ Moving forward, China is likely to have problems with America’s challenging of the current order of international relations. China had apparently seen the benefits of the current international system. In the late 1970s, China was a member of a handful of multilateral organisations; by the late 1980s China was a member of over 700.34 As L. Xiang has described it:
As China goes multilateral in its foreign relations, America turns unilateral. As China tries to avoid making enemies, the world’s strongest power makes one out of China… The Kosovo war…indicates to China that the foundation of the Westphalia system – the supremacy of national sovereignty – is about to be superseded by humanitarian intervention.35

President Hu Jintao’s recent attendance of the G8 summit in 2003, which it had previously described as a ‘rich man’s club’, seems to reinforce this point.36 Previously, the Gulf War and NATO action in Yugoslavia have seen China relegated
30 31

Ibid, pp. 40. Ward A., “China and America: Trouble Ahead?” Survival, Autumn 2003, pp. 3 32 Shambaugh S., “Sino-American Strategic relations: From partners to Competitors”, Survival, Spring 2000, pp. 99. 33 Ibid pp.100. 34 Berger T., “Set for Stability? Prospects for conflict and cooperation in East Asia.”, Review of International Studies, July 2000. 35 Xian L., “Washington’s Misguided China Policy”, Survival, Autumn 2001, pp. 11 36 Ward A., “China and America: Trouble Ahead?” Survival, Autumn 2003, pp. 36.

8 to the sidelines37 and in the aftermath of September 11 the US has attempted to redefine the Westphalian notion of state sovereignty, where international order cannot rest on “the inviolability of the state boundaries, but depends as well on building an individual’s own feeling of being secure.”38 It is likely that further unilateral actions taken by America in pursuit of its Global War on Terror would make China exceptionally uncomfortable, especially if they continue to undermine the notion of sovereign inviolability. Engagement Continuing engagement both politically, economically and militarily will be the keys to fostering an amicable relationship between America and China. The current Bush administration’s approach to dealing with China is deeply rooted in realist and neoconservative ideology. Condoleeza Rice wrote:
The challenges of China and North Korea require coordination and cooperation with Japan and South Korea. The signals that we send to our real partners are important. Never again should an American president go to Beijing for nine days and refuse to stop in Tokyo or Seoul.39

Rice reflects the Bush administrations approach toward China as a ‘strategic competitor’. Mutual suspicion on both sides will mean that the relationship will be a difficult one to maintain, and prevent the US and China becoming outright adversaries. Economic engagement with China is an important facet. China has now become a member of WTO, and its strict membership requirements will foster new levels of transparency and openness. James Miles observed that “political and economic change in China [is] giving rise to greater pluralism and therefore, increasing opportunities for the public to express nationalist feelings.”40 But there is a tendency to believe that China will automatically become more amenable and sympathetic to Western values or policies. At the same time, isolating China would fuel nationalism and heighten the risk of confrontation between the two nations.41 Military engagement is also important. “Given the mutual suspicion with which the
37 38

Miles J., “Chinese Nationalism, US Policy and Asian Security”, Survival, Winter 2000-01, pp. 54. Foot R., “Bush, China and Human Rights”, Survival, Summer 2003, pp. 172 39 Rice C., “Promoting the National Interest”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000, pp. 54 40 Miles J., “Chinese Nationalism, US Policy and Asian Security”, Survival, Winter 2000-01, pp. 52. 41 Ibid, pp. 66

9 Chinese and US militaries view each other, it is crucially important that they foster a high degree of regularised interaction.”42 It is also possible that the ‘4th Generation’ of Chinese leaders will follow a more pragmatic course in their relations with the rest of the world. Conclusion Much of the discourse relating to China assumes that China will continue upon its present course of economic growth and military modernisation to fulfil its destiny as a great power that will eventually rival the United States. This is by no means assured. China has many hurdles to overcome and its stunning pace of economic growth cannot continue indefinitely. But in assuming that this will be the case, it is useful to analyse how the US and China will deal with each other. It will require a lot of work on both sides of the Pacific to maintain a positive and constructive relationship between China and America. “An increasing number of politicians, military officers, civilian experts and media pundits in both countries perceive the other as their nations principal national-security threat.”43 This cannot be allowed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. China seems to be practising a form of “pragmatic nationalism – resentful of US power, yet accepting China’s reliance on the US for its economic development.”44 The US on the other hand sees China as an ambitious and upcoming nation, of whom it is deeply suspicious of its intentions in the Pacific. Under the current administration these suspicions form part of its policy toward China. Condoleeza Rice, encapsulates what the future course of US-China relations might look like, at least from the American perspective:
It is important to promote China’s internal transition through economic interaction while containing Chinese power and security ambitions. Cooperation should be pursued, but we should never be afraid to confront Beijing when our interests collide.45

42 43

Ward A., “China and America: Trouble Ahead?” Survival, Autumn 2003, pp. 44. Shambaugh D., “China or America: Which is the Revisionist Power?”, Survival, Autumn 2001, pp. 113. 44 Miles J., “Chinese Nationalism, US Policy and Asian Security”, Survival, Winter 2000-01, pp. 55. 45 Rice C., “Promoting the National Interest”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000, pp. 57.

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