Criticism is out, cooperation is in; and none dare call it appeasement ... for now.
The United States is softening its approach to Rising China, deliberately avoiding criticism of Beijing in the hope of encouraging it to moderate its economic and foreign policies--and the conduct of its Stalinist vassal, North Korea, and Islamist ally, Iran. The US would also like to put some space between China and its new friend and former Communist rival, Russia, which, flush with petrodollars, is fast emerging as the world's third center, or pole, of power and influence.
The policy shift is manifesting itself in a less confrontational style and tone and a series of planned initiatives reminiscent of a controversial Cold War policy--detente--which aimed to moderate Soviet behavior.
At the risk of oversimplification, it could be said that whereas detente with Moscow was designed to ease tensions and ultimately bring about an end to the costly and protracted Cold War, detente with Beijing is intended to prevent the start of a new Cold War. There are major historical differences between the times and policies; but there is also at least one common concept on the part of US policymakers--the idea, championed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that it is possible to both collaborate and compete with an actual or potential adversary, and that treating a rival power as a geostrategic phenomenon, rather than an ideological foe, facilitates this goal.
Borrowing a page or two from Kissinger's playbook, the Bush administration's new strategy seeks to influence China into becoming a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system, in US diplomatic parlance, by increasing its involvement in important institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, while developing new bilateral mechanisms and structures for dealing in a cooperative way with contentious issues, including trade and energy, and shared concerns, such as pollution.
China's "energy diplomacy" has resulted in a disturbing deepening of ties with Iran and Venezuela as well as some of the world's most notoriously corrupt and anti-democratic regimes, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The change in administration policy--which could be altered again should China continue to disappoint Washington by failing to persuade its rogue allies to change their belligerent behavior--represents a victory for the US State and Treasury departments over Defense, whose chief, Donald Rumsfeld, has been an outspoken critic of China's opaque military modernization and buildup.
The shift may also reflect the departure and diminished influence of neoconservative foreign policy hawks, including some aging baby boomers who began their political careers, ironically, as critics of Kissinger and detente.
Conservative critics of the new approach can be expected to revive anti-detente arguments of the past--the main one being that the policy, though clearly compelling in many respects, simply did not work and instead prolonged the Cold War by effectively strengthening the Soviet regime and delaying its crackup.
Friends and supporters of Kissinger--who was also instrumental in changing US policy toward China through his secret diplomacy and visits there ahead of the historic trip to Beijing by President Richard Nixon--have at times argued that the super-diplomat partly pushed detente with the Soviet Union because he had concluded that US leverage over its superpower adversary was far more limited than conventional wisdom claimed.
It seems that the Bush administration has come to a similar conclusion concerning China.
technorati tags: China
technorati tags: US-China Relations