Friday 6 June 2003

Constrain, not contain, China (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat
MANIPAL, India, June 6 (UPI) -- Second of two parts
The Clinton administration tried to recruit Communist China as a strategic ally that would help Washington defend U.S. interests, but that strategy failed because China's long-term interests are significantly different from those of the United States.
China seeks the strategic withdrawal of the United States from Asia, and sees itself as the replacement.
It would like to ensure that an Asian Common Market get formed that would give member-countries -- principally itself -- preference over countries outside the bloc.
An Asian Common Market that included the Middle East, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and South Asia would isolate Japan, suck in South Korea, and in the view of the planners in Beijing, ensure Chinese prosperity at a time of increased tensions with Washington.
Today, throughout Asia with the exception of Japan and, until recently India, China has been conducting a quiet but persistent diplomacy designed to wean the countries of the region away from their "dependence" on the United States.
This has been only partially successful in the ASEAN region of Southeast Asia, as most of the countries belonging to this group are wary of the giant nearby, seeing it afar as a safer option, at least in private.

However,the "anti-hegemony" rhetoric of Chinese diplomats has been having an increasing response in the Middle East, where significant elements of the professional and ruling elites are looking to ways of reducing their exposure in Western financial markets, and are seeking to diversify into other regions, of which China is presenting itself as the most attractive alternative.
Had President Bill Clinton been eligible by law to win four or eight more years in office, the likelihood is high that by 2008 -- when the Olympic Games will be held in Beijing -- China would have smoothly supplanted the Untied States as the principal influence in Asia.
Under President George W. Bush, policy towards China has oscillated from a diluted form of containment to a diluted version of Clintonite strategic engagement -- or to what has been termed by some as "constructive engagement."
However, none of these fluctuations have affected the basic direction of Chinese policy. Indeed, there are signs that Beijing may see in Iran the ideal country to replicate its North Korea/Pakistan strategy of creating nuclear and missile capabilities artificially in unstable, potentially aggressive neighbors in order to divert the attention of the United States to these problem states and away from China.
Is a policy of U.S. containment of China called for? Should George Kennan's mid-1940s formulations get dusted off and re-used, this time on the People's Republic of China?
There is little doubt that such a policy would severely retard economic growth in China and bring much closer the day when the Chinese Communist Party's rule will collapse. However, the problem is that the resultant instability would affect South Korea and the ASEAN countries, which -- except for Myanmar -- are outside the Chinese bloc, at least for now. In the case of the Soviet Union, America's policy of containment affected only the Eastern bloc countries, creating disaffection in them against Moscow.
Rather than contain China, what is instead needed is a policy that would constrain her. This strategy would keep open almost all the present trade flows, cutting off only high-technology items. It would, however, impose mandatory sanctions with significant economic bite were China to continue a policy of transferring nuclear or missile technology to any country.
Rather than seek to police what by its nature is difficult to detect until too late, a system of international restrictions on cross-border missile and nuclear technology needs to be put in place by a coalition headed by the United States, with China and Russia as the principal objects of attention.
Unless such restrictions get imposed and implemented now, the chances are that the next decade will witness a sharp increase in the number of nuclear-capable states, with attendant risks to international stability.
A country cannot be prevented from internally developing such capability, but all countries need to be stopped from transferring such technologies and systems.
Apart from a cross-border, nonproliferation net, another element in a policy of constrainment would be the creation of an alliance network that would guarantee the borders of each of its members and associates, including Taiwan.
At present, the question mark over the future of that island is affecting its growth and generating waves of instability across Asia. The protection of the borders of Taiwan by a U.S.-led security system would not be directed against China unless that country were to attack Taiwan. Were an alliance structure in place ensuring a robust response to any such attack, such hostilities would have a much lower chance of materializing.
No nation can be given a free ride, not even giant China. Each needs to be constrained from activity that would imperil global security, even while given the freedom to trade and create prosperity for its citizens. Rather than constructive engagement, rather than containment, what is needed for China is a policy of constrainment: the active discouragement of those of its policies that are harmful to international order, combined with encouragement for policies that are beneficial. At present, only the carrots exist, not the sticks. They must be created too.
-- M. D. Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India

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