Chas Freeman, who served as Richard Nixon's interpreter in his breakthrough 1972 visit to China, says the real danger from China is that it might just decide to become another United States.
Some might say that America’s problem with China boils down to a well-founded fear of China becoming more like us. Does the world have room for another country that is strong at arms, but a bit weak in the head?
Might a powerful China seek to exempt itself from international norms or show indifference to the views of other countries? Might it develop a bloated military budget like ours, and a similar preference for applying coercion rather than diplomacy to those who annoy it?
Could China develop some sort of ideology it will seek to impose on others as Americans once sought to impose our religious faith and now seek to impose democracy?
Can the world afford another country that has itself convinced that bombing foreigners is both an act of humanitarian assistance and the surest path to peaceful coexistence with them? Some Americans seem to fear it might.
Those who are nostalgic about the Cold War and eager to reenact it look forward to China mirroring us to become a true “peer competitor.”
Just think! A China that modeled itself on America would justify sustaining the United States’ bloated military budget. U.S. defense firms and their hordes of Washington lobbyists and supporters in Congress would love it. Such a China would cure our current “enemy deprivation syndrome,” and return us to the welcome simplicities of some sort of bipolar struggle for global dominance.
For the leprechauns of the military-industrial complex, such a China is the pot of gold at the end of the Congressional rainbow. A “pivot” toward East Asia could give us the high-tech enemy we need to justify the continuation of Cold War-style weapons systems that have proven irrelevant in combating rag-tag terrorists in the Middle East.
So the best bet in Beijing – like the worst fear of the military-industrial complex in Washington D.C. – is that America’s “Pivot” will turn out to be just another blast of boastful babble from the Beltway bubble’s bureaucrats and their bloviating bosses.
Of course, the People’s Liberation Army can’t be sure about that, so it will prepare for the worst. What this means is that China’s ability to fend us off will improve – even if our ability to bludgeon it into submission doesn’t.
Freeman contends that America's militaristic pivot to Asia and its aggressive geopolitical maneuvers to isolate China are, at best, counterproductive.
For the United States to meet the economic challenge of a rising, competitive Asia, we need policies that leverage Asian prosperity to the benefit of our own, not higher defense budgets.
If we try to divide Asia to suit our geopolitical convenience instead of accepting, accommodating and buttressing its new balances of power, we will end by dividing Asia from ourselves.
That would undercut both our own prosperity and America’s global and regional influence. It would also necessitate an even higher level of defense spending than the unaffordable one we now have.