|U.S. - CHINA RELATIONS|
April 16, 1997
Does China's leadership have a grand strategy to dominate Asia in the coming years and view the U.S. as a long term enemy? A background report is followed by experts debating if the U.S. and China will eventually face off.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Joining us now is one of the authors of the Coming Conflicts with China, Ross Munro. He's a former journalist for both the Toronto Globe and Mail and Time magazine in Asia. And A. Doak Barnett, the China scholar who's an emeritus professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and also an emeritus fellow at Washington's Brookings Institution. His most recent book on China is titled China's Far West: Four Decades of Change. Welcome. Mr. Munro, tell me, your book is certainly controversial. Why do you say that there's a conflict coming between China and the United States?
ROSS MUNRO, Author, The Coming Conflict with China: Well, Chinese the leadership views the United States as the enemy. They view us as our--as their long-term adversary. They have a grand strategy which is unfolding gradually but surely. It may take decades, but their grand strategy is to dominate Asia. And that puts the United States and China on a collision course, because the United States has had a single foreign policy towards Asia for more than a hundred years, and that has been to oppose the domination of Asia by any single power.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Professor Barnett, enemy, a collision course, what do you think?
A. DOAK BARNETT, China Scholar: No. I'm great admirer of Ross's previous writings on Asia, but it seems to me that he exaggerates the capabilities in the foreseeable future of China; that he misreads, I think, the primary objective. I don't think China wants to be "the" dominant power in Asia. I think it wants to be a major power among major powers. And I that think this sort of gives us a sense of thought that I think leads to policies on our part that are undesirable and will tend to work in the direction of conflict. But I don't think conflict is inevitable.
ROSS MUNRO: Well, I think it certainly is. You know, throughout history when a rising power meets a reigning superpower, there is always conflict. The one exception that we know of in human history is when the United States replaced Britain as the primary power in the world. And, again, I want to stress, it's not the United States treating China as the enemy. It's the Chinese leadership in their statements and in their actions, and in the official Chinese media day after day, month after month, they're identifying us as the enemy. We don't have to respond in kind. What our book says is we must be wary of China; we must take some common sense steps to deal with this adversary that could be a potential enemy someday.
CHARLES KRAUSE: When you say and when you write that they are trying--that China wants to become the dominant power in Asia, what exactly is it from a practical standpoint, does that mean, and especially to the United States?
ROSS MUNRO: Well, they told me. I visited Chinese think tanks. I talked with Chinese strategic thinkers last summer, and they told me what they want. They want to take over Taiwan. They want Japan restricted to an even smaller military force than it has today, and they want U.S. troops eventually to leave Asia. And that's a definition of an Asia dominated by China. And they think that their intentions from their point of view are very benign, but it still amounts to Chinese domination. We're not saying it's going to happen tomorrow. We're saying we should take some modest steps, such as develop and strengthen our relationship with our democratic ally in Asia, which is Japan.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Professor.
A. DOAK BARNETT: Yeah. Again, I have to say, Ross, and I fundamentally agree--disagree with this--I do not see--I mean, I go to China regularly, as you do, but I haven't come out with the same impressions you do. I would say that the Chinese since the start of the reform era in the late 70's under Deng Xiaoping, have had a very different policy from that under Mao. And I would say it has put high priority on their economic relations to support the growth of China. And they have been very successful at this. They've tried to have what they call a stable situation in the area because it's also necessary from their economic interest.
They are gradually building up, very gradually in my assessments, their military power because they have felt inferior to all the major powers and still are. I don't add this up to being a policy that's aiming at any dominance in Asia. I think they're realistic enough to know that that is not a feasible objective, and I don't think it is their objective. In regards to the two thing you mentioned--Japan and Taiwan--I think it is quite true that they still have very great concerns about Japan and about the U.S.-Japan relationship. But I don't think that is a litmus test as to whether they're trying to get dominance in Asia. I think they fear a sort of alliance between Japan and the United States directed against China. Now, actually your book comes out with something advocating that, saying Japan and the U.S. ought to have a containment policy.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And you think that is a bad idea.
A. DOAK BARNETT: I think that's a very bad idea.
ROSS MUNRO: We don't call for containment. Containment is a--it is a slogan used by the Chinese to condemn anything that Japan and the United States may do to further their interest. We're talking about a stronger strategic relationship which would counter-balance rising Chinese power. We're not going to contain China in Burma or in Central Asia. That would be a fool's errand. China is going to be a great and powerful country in Asia. There's nothing wrong with that.
The problem is how do Japan and the United States respond to that? And the best international system that history shows us is balance of power. Japan and the United States can balance Chinese power. We can have stability in Asia. That's why we call it "The Coming Conflict," not "Coming War," because we think war is avoidable.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But at the same time in your book you make quite a point of saying that many of the official estimates of military spending in China and their intentions are fundamentally flawed from your perspective, from your reading of the situation there. The professor suggested that he thinks there's been a moderate military build-up. Your book suggests otherwise. What do you think?
ROSS MUNRO: Well, I don't think it's moderate. I think it's far more--in fact, every military analyst agrees that it's far more than China needs for its defense. You know, China found itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the most secure position it had been in in 200 years, not a single external enemy that it had to worry about, and its response, because it had the economic wealth to do so, was to launch what is now the world's most rapid and largest military build-up, and that is for power projection; it's not for defense. It is to exert power over its neighbors.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And that is their objective, in your view?
ROSS MUNRO: You're darned right.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Professor.
A. DOAK BARNETT: I hate to say no, again, Ross, but you know, I think if you take--incidentally, you say all analysts who know something about military say what you say. That's not at all true. I know a great many analysts in CIA and the Defense Department in think tanks who work on it, and many of them you know. I would say many of them would agree with the view I've just given; that it's a gradual and inevitable--sort of a gradual development of modernized--and this should be expected for a country like this. Now at the present time, you know, people have pointed to the purchase of the F-27's.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Of Russian fighter bombs.
A. DOAK BARNETT: And the fact is we have recently sold more F-16's to Taiwan than China has bought new weapons from Russia. So the Chinese are playing catch-up, and there's no doubt they have increased their military budget, and this is going to go on for quite a while until they get a modern force.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Let me ask you a broad question that I think is at the heart of this debate, and that is, do you believe there has been this belief that if China modernizes, if this economy grows, it could become a modern state, that it will become a more moderate and more democratic state as well, do you see that happening? Do you expect that to happen?
A. DOAK BARNETT: Personally I do, and Ross does not. This is one of the fundamental differences we have. And I would say if you just look at what has happened to Chinese society in the years since--in the 80's, in the first part of the 90's--I think this is a society that's going through a real transformation. And I do not accept that this is inevitably going to be a rising power that's going to be an aggressive threat to the rest of the world. You know, I don't think you can make a simple comparison between China and let's say Russia or Japan or Germany. They're different. These all have imperial aims, expansionist aims of a kind of that I don't believe that the present regime is--
ROSS MUNRO: You're saying that China is the first rising power in history, the first power to, to acquire economic and military strength that is not going to seek to maximize its influence?
A. DOAK BARNETT: Maximize influence is not the same as trying to get dominance.
ROSS MUNRO: But we're not just talking about that. We're talking about its actions in the South China Sea. We're talking about its invasion rehearsal against Taiwan just one year ago. This specific power that you talk about as not an aggressive power, President Clinton, himself, had to send two aircraft carrier task forces into the waters near Taiwan just to cool off China only one year ago.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Well, I'm afraid we are running out of time, but I want thank you, gentlemen, both for joining us.