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?

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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.

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