So how could – and should – China respond? Beijing certainly has a number of diplomatic, military and strategic tools at his disposal if it wishes to negate U.S. plans, and Beijing policymakers must be prepared for any flare-ups over Taiwan, the South China Sea or on trade issues.
A good start would be for China to rebuild goodwill with its neighbors by showing some flexibility over regional disputes. Above all, China would do well to consider a multilateral framework to resolve the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. With significant natural resources and fishing rights at stake, every nation in the region has an interest in resolving such issues peacefully. China would be much better served by rethinking its expansive claims and committing to a peaceful negotiated settlement to all outstanding issues. China could also strongly suggest, via diplomatic channels that extend beyond current measures in place, that claimant nations do more to explore the joint development of important natural resources in disputed areas. Some progress has been made here, but all claimants deserve to know how much potential wealth there is beneath the sea, and how much it would cost to develop such resources. A carefully crafted and clear strategy could win China key allies in the region.
One of the reasons many in the Asia-Pacific welcome the U.S. pivot is the ambiguity of Chinese intentions. Beyond the eloquent but often meaningless pronouncements of a “peaceful rise,” a lack of transparency, especially over the military, leaves diplomats in the region wondering about China’s real ambitions. China’s neighbors look at new weapons platforms such as aircraft carriers and anti-ship missiles and court the United States as a balancer to complement their own military capabilities. Beijing could ease tensions by boosting the exchange of military officers with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, and conducting joint military operations. Nothing creates a sense of stability and reassurance like transparency.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Attempts must also be made to reduce tensions with China’s largest regional competitor, India. Beijing could start by launching a serious diplomatic effort to engage India in resolving long standing border issues that have plagued relations for far too long. This may mean China taking the initiative with New Delhi. Progress has been maderecently, but with India seemingly moving to upgrade its military capabilities and considering eyeing closer relations with the United States, it’s in China’s own interests to show that New Delhi doesn’t need to turn to the U.S. for support. If this means downgrading its “all-weather friendship” with Pakistan, then so be it.
But China should also look outside the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific region to ensure the U.S. pivot doesn’t turn into encirclement. Robust support of Europe in its time of crisis would be a useful step, and while Chinese investment in places like Africa and Latin America is controversial, it is often far more complex than portrayed in the Western media.
So far, Chinese leaders have only paid lip service to assisting Europe. But how could China come to the EU’s aid? Fareed Zakaria has an interesting idea on this very issue. “The International Monetary Fund could go to the leading holders of such reserves – China, but also Japan, Brazil and Saudi Arabia – and ask for a $750 billion line of credit. The IMF would then extend that credit to the troubled EU economies, but insist on closely monitoring economic reforms, granting funds only as restructuring occurs,” he argues. “That credit line would more than cover the borrowing costs of both Italy and Spain for two years. The IMF terms would ensure that the two nations remained under pressure to reform and set up conditions for growth.”