• ‘Inevitable that China is going to be a dominant power in this region’


    No alternative to an understanding between Beijing and Washington

    Time and again, the rise of a great power—by disturbing the balance of forces—has set off a conflict with the dominant state.

    If China’s peaceful rise is to continue, there must be some accommodation between Beijing and Washington.

    The two are looking for a new “great power relationship” because—in our time—there is no alternative to live-and-let-live between them.

    As the University of Chicago geo-politician John Mearsheimer notes, “Nuclear weapons are a powerful force for peace.”

    American leaders concede that China’s weight on the global balance will rise. “It is inevitable that China is going to be a dominant power in this region, just by sheer size,” President Obama said repeatedly during his East Asian tour of the closest US allies—Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines—in May.

    What will American recognition of China as a great power mean?

    Principally, it will mean Washington’s acknowledging the legitimacy of Beijing’s security, territorial and economic interests in the China Sea and in the first group of islands enclosing our great inland sea.

    But, as always, the devil is in the details; and agreeing on these particulars will take a lot of slogging by the Asia-Pacific powers.

    China’s place in the sun
    We can assume China will become stronger, proportionate to the United States, during this next decade or so. (The Americans themselves expect China to be a superpower by 2025.) Chinese individual incomes are at best still only one-eighth those of Americans.

    What is certain is that, as China’s wealth and power grow, Beijing will demand more and more forcefully some dismantling in the containing wall the United States and its allies have built along its borders.

    There has in fact been some give on that issue, as the power balance has shifted with time.

    China has recovered Hong Kong and Macao—Britain and Portugal having become too weak to defend them. And already China’s growing capabilities—coupled with rising anti-Americanism in host-countries—are forcing the US to withdraw the bulk of its ground troops from South Korea and Okinawa to its Guam strongpoint.

    Already the West Pacific island is the most commanding platform in the world for projecting US sea-and-air power.

    Dispelling strategic mistrust
    Can China win without fighting, as the classical strategist Sun Tzu counsels?
    “Supreme excellence [lies]in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

    Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping are working to prevent any confrontation. They have agreed on an unprecedented series of “no-neckties” summits—in Xi’s formulation, “to build strategic reassurance; reach an understanding on each other’s core interests; and agree on spheres of influence.”

    Extended and regular conversations between the two heads of state are backstopped by a “Strategic and Economic Dialogue” participated in by Cabinet-level officials that meets twice a year.

    That there is no ideological cleavage between the two powers—as there was between the US and the Soviet Union—should help.

    The long-term task American and Chinese statesmen have set themselves is to dispel their mutual “strategic mistrust”—their long-term suspicions about each other’s ultimate goals.

    In January 2011, Hu Jintao and Obama had affirmed their objectives jointly: “The United States welcomes a strong, prosperous and successful China that plays a greater role in world affairs; and China welcomes the United States as an Asian-Pacific nation that contributes to peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

    Future of Taiwan
    The future of Taiwan will be a prime Obama-Xi topic. Unification is part of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” that Beijing seeks.

    For the US, the costs of allying with the island—once its “unsinkable aircraft carrier” only 100 miles from China’s heartland—will soon outweigh the benefits of propping it up.

    Significantly, Beijing and Taipei are now talking officially—most recently in Nanjing, the republican capital. A variety of the “one country, two systems” formula being tried out in Hong Kong seems the best arrangement.

    A multilateral world
    The on-going transition of the regional system from hegemony to a multilateral balance is a delicate and dangerous period.

    But the new balance gives East Asia’s “middle powers” the diplomatic weight and flexibility to join the great powers in creating—and maintaining—regional stability.

    For second-tier states like the Philippines and its Asean partners, the highest imperative would be to preserve the strategic balance, and not to be drawn irrevocably into any single great power’s “sphere of influence.”|

    President Xi would bluntly assign the weaker Asian states to either China’s or America’s political and security orbit.

    But “Finlandization” in East Asia could be violent and difficult. Historically, the Vietnamese and Koreans have forged the steel in their spirit on the anvil of Chinese overlordship. Meanwhile the China Sea has been a moat protecting the integrity of the archipelagic states.

    Japan will want a key role in the new power balance. It is no secret that Tokyo can
    turn nuclear at will. Its ruling conservatives are stimulating a nationalist resurgence, rebuilding its military and offering military aid to its neighbors liberally.

    The Cabinet has just “reinterpreted” the 1947 “no war” constitution to allow Japan’s military to help defend its allies—even if Japan is not the object of the attack.

    Still number one    
    Can America stay the course in East Asia and the West Pacific?

    As the Chinese themselves say, today’s world has “many powers—but only one superpower.” The United States is still Number One in both “hard” and “soft” power.

    A culture that fosters immigration, innovation and entrepreneurship keeps America uniquely vigorous—even in the face of Asian drive.

    The task before China and the US is to enhance their cooperation and coordination in regional affairs—to reach a grand bargain that enables them both to live peacefully—and in mutual respect with one another.

    Part 1 of this two-part analysis by J. T. Gatbonton appeared on Friday July 4, 2014.


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    1. Gloria M. Kuizon on

      Salamat, Mr. Gatbonton for your two-part analysis. May our foreign policy makers and people learn from this.
      For a realistic view of China, Filipinos shoyld realilze this. The dictatorship being imposed on the Chinese people now is no longer that same as that of Mao Zedong, Liu Chiao Shi, Chou Enlai, Lin Piao, etc. who were still communist ideologues. Although the name of the absolute political power is still Communist Party of China, the politburo and the Central Committee that commands everything and forms the government, no longer follow Mao, Marx and Lenin/ They are now mainly just a bunch of nationalists and patriotic Chinese leaders who are in control of a powerful nationwide organization. The local communists here,and their camp followers in the many organizations under the National Democratic Front are no longer loyal to the People’s Republic of China. The Pinoy rebs are still mostly Maoist communists, yes. But they are no longer friends of the Chinese Communist Party.
      The Beijing Chinese government’s friends and allies in the Philippines are not the National Democratic Front but opportunistic Filipinos whose hope for a better life is a job in Chinese cities. Another group of allies are big businessmen who have invested in China. Chinese Filipino billionaires have more investments in China than Chinese state corporations have invested in the Philippines.

    2. You are all wrong. USA will not get involved directly with China
      come what may. As the saying goes David will survive against
      Goliath and that will come as no one should take advantage of
      anybody who they thing they can bully all the time.

      China might have all the weapons, the biggest population in this
      planet. But if they can not solved the pollution within their own
      backyard including the air they breath I am 100% sure it will create
      a big impact to most of their people and its economy.
      And that will bring them down completely.

      Never abused Mother Nature as it will hunt you forever

      Reply to Snokey Boy: But the USA is already directly involved with China. THe US borrowws money from China by selling US bonds and other financial assets. China is the No. 1 CREDITOR, loan giver to the US.

    3. Most Filipinos were expecting that US would depend the Philippines against Chinese aggression…but this article shows that US and China have their own agenda…hopefully this peaceful talks between them would stop Chinese aggression on West Philippine Sea because if not, it would be inevitable for the US to betray us…

      • Funny that you should mention betray Vic
        Because that is exactly what happened to the U.S back in 1991 when it was ordered to leave the Philippines by the end of 1992.And all this mess with China started to occur back in 1993..Amazing..And Chinese are treated far better than Americans there.After all who is running the sex trade industry and the cam houses there?.Certainly not Americans.

    4. Claro Apolinar on

      Mr. Gatbonton has again accurately reviewed the situation in our region and the basic realities that must govern our thinking about the rise of China as a superpower and the prospect of the US staying on as the No. 1 world power and No. 1 power in Asia.

      We must devise a foreign policy that will allow us to continue raising the capability of our armed forces to make it very costly for any foe to harm us. At the same time we must organize ourselves, as often suggested in Manila Times editorials, to have solid economic, cultural and social, and people-to-people relations with both China and the United States. In fact, the PNoy administration should deeply consider and implement The Manila Times articles by Rene Bas suggesting that we Filipinos should create and advance ways to make our country and our people the venue and main participants in pojects and events that will be a joint venture of China, the US and the Philippines. That way we can be involved from the start in the inevitable joining together of Superpower US, Superpower China in Asia-Pacific and world leadership. Meanwhile, we should also nurse our partnership with Japan.

    5. It will be a big surprise if the freedom loving democratic country will yield to Communism. I guess when you’re broke you will sacrifice anything. Even your soul.

    6. Respect between the U.S. and the communist corporation known as China?
      I can hardly wait to read the second article of this anti American piece.

    7. Pete Gabriel on

      There is no doubt that China will eventually have parity with the US. The Philippines need to have a strategy on how to go about this new world order without offending too much the either side. We need smart and strong leaders that will have the interest of the nation. Right now we have leaders that specializes in ripping off the people. If this politician’s will put their collective will and talent to work towards improving and enriching our country, and have one common goal that all Pilipinos will benefit and everybody will be on board, that no one will be left behind. Maybe we will survive this. So in my humble opinion we need to start thinking our strategy, now!