Why a U.S.-China 'Grand Bargain' in Asia Would Fail
Image Credit: The White House (Flickr)

Why a U.S.-China 'Grand Bargain' in Asia Would Fail


Prominent Australian security thinker Hugh White has sounded the alarm over Asia’s strategic future with his provocative new book The China Choice.

Despite, or because of, its contentious recommendations, this work ought to inspire debate on the most critical question to the future of Indo-Pacific Asia and indeed all of global security. That is: how can the regional order incorporate a rising China and its interests without allow Beijing to become destabilizingly  dominant?

In often stark terms, Professor White outlines why the United States should share power with China to avoid rivalry, a new Cold War and potentially catastrophic conflict.

This experienced former senior defense official presents a taut warning about the dangers ahead if the United States does not radically reconsider its Asia policy in light of China’s rise.

Much of his diagnosis is hard to fault. Especially sharp is his dissection of America’s concept for taking on China in a so-called AirSea Battle which, weirdly, seems to wish away any risks of nuclear escalation.

And it is all to the good that White robustly questions the notion that diplomatic business as usual will be sufficient to accommodate China’s expanding interests and expectations.

Yet for all that, there remain troubling gaps in White’s recommendation – echoed this week by former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating – that U.S. allies and other third countries should urge America to set new limits on how and where it pushes back against China.

It is one thing to counsel Washington towards a supposedly new way of thinking in which it accepts clear limits to its interests and influence in Asia to help ensure peace. It is entirely another to nominate where the line should be drawn. This is the harder task, yet The China Choice is frustratingly guarded on this score.

At the heart of the book is an argument that the United States should partner with China in maintaining Asia’s stability through an exclusive ‘concert of powers’, and that this would include conceding to China a sphere of influence.

The dangerous alternative, says White, is that Washington will refuse to give up its quest to sustain military and strategic dominance in Asia, resulting in confrontation and quite possibly war. He fully agrees that U.S. pre-eminence long kept the peace, but says in effect that these days are over as China grows more confident in staring down American deterrence.

December 25, 2013 at 17:46

The author has been very lonely and isolated for quite a long time in his own institution due to his naive ,shortsighted assumption about Han Chinese mentality and ambition .Therefore, most of his suggestions and ideas have been dumped by previous Labor and current Liberal governments correspondently.
Thousands articles written by thousands authors around the world regarding China’ rise as a 2nd biggest economy and real military superpower in the last few years since it flexed its msucles in South China seas.But none has wondered why China becomes the world 2nd biggest economy ?
Most economists around the world know that China eocnomy is export-driven one and USA,Japan and EU consume around 70% of its total export ,and 46-50% of its export revenue belongs to FDI enterprises Thus, US has prepared well in advance to solve China problem economically rather than militarily.
That means there would NO real shot but creates an all Asia fierce arm race until there some bankrupt as USSR.Although China has been reforming its economy and diverting to domestic consumption driven base.However it wil success or not is a question in years to come.
Lets look back Cold War era when both USSR and China were not markets of US,EU , Japan and Korea products but all those economies also could survive easily and people also could live happily.
Regarding geostrategy, China now faces many more adversaries than USSR in the Cold War era.If US embraces the author’s damned moronic idea, Japan, India, Korea and even Russia would do their utmost best to keep US to stay cuz US obviously poses no threat to Indian, Japan Korea national integrities and to Russia in short term.
Besides, Japan, Indian ,Korea and Russia would not feel comfortable and peaceful if China accepted as big brother in N-S China seas due to 3000 years history of its Expansionism/Chauvinism.
recently Aussie media have lambasted Abbott government for its tough stand against China’s assertiveness and warned him of dire economic consequence.But Aussie exports to China contributes less than 10% Aussie GDP growth but China imports from Aussie what it most needs rather than luxury comsumer products while China exports to Aussie all rubbish products.

May 16, 2013 at 17:09

Nor can the US allow a threat to extend into and beyond the second island chain (i.e. pearl harbour – WWII)

September 28, 2012 at 14:36

Good comment, Mishmael. The US is a nation that subscribes to the policy of  'master-takes-all'. One German military commander not long ago (in reply to a question why US nukes were still present on German soil after the demise of the WP) said that it was the US which dictated policy and made the decisions, not the German government.

September 21, 2012 at 09:30

The idea of shared power between Beijing, New Delhi, Tokyo, and Washington is an intriguing one.  I think it is a better option than a unbridled arms race not only between these four nations but including much of the Pacific Rim and the Indian Ocean.
China however, cannot stand by and leave itself vulnerable to foreign powers as it learned that lesson in the nineteenth century (the Opium War etc…..).

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