Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry

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Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry by Lyle J. Goldstein. Georgetown University Press, 2015, 389 pp.

Author Lyle Goldstein, an associate professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute, US Naval War College, proposes a cooperative path for US-China relations that would rectify the growing rivalry and distrust that currently exists between the two global powers. He asserts that his strategy of concrete proposals would lead not only to a better geopolitical and security environment but also to an enhanced global economic setting benefiting all countries. In doing so, he details a collection of parallel, bilateral cooperative, spiraled pathways across the political, economic, military, and informational domains that build trust through give-and-take collaboration. In this way, one cooperative act of appeasement begets a corresponding equal act by the other party, leading to a sequencing of other acts of good faith by both parties that result in amenable agreements. The author’s proposals are rooted in his studies at Beijing Normal University, his career as a Chinese academic/scholar, and the scholarship of highly regarded Chinese writers. He also draws on international relations theory and Chinese history in dealing with the West.

In setting the stage, he begins with the historical bad blood between the US and China. Beginning in the 1840s, US dealings with China were primarily private commercial interests seen as exploitive in nature. They later evolved into American missionary and military ventures seeking to Christianize China and ensure pathways for trade. Epitomizing China’s historical resentment of the US is a display in China’s National Museum. It shows a US Marine sitting on the Chinese emperor’s throne in the Forbidden City at the end of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The US became the symbol of the Western conquest of China as well as other perceived violations of Chinese sovereignty. Chinese history illustrates a long pattern of Western invasion into China and no Chinese invasion into the West. Throughout the twentieth century, irritation grew over such issues as China’s political and economic philosophy, rightful government, sovereignty of Taiwan, involvement in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, human rights, and trade policies.

With this backdrop, the author believes that the US must take the lead in creating the appropriate environment for US-China cooperation and initiate the first interchange toward progress. Goldstein begins by tackling the US-China-Taiwan issue. Here he first applies his cooperative spiral, the framework he carries forward throughout the remainder of the book.

He proposes that the US remove any remaining geopolitical policy and military footprint it has associated with the recognition and defense of Taiwan and agree to a legitimate One-China policy allowing self-governance of Taiwan within a China confederation. This arrangement is similar to that of Hong Kong. He maps out the necessary steps to do so, with emphasis on China’s demilitarization of offense capabilities focused on seizing Taiwan and Taiwan’s military defense capabilities focused on repelling a Chinese attack.

Next, Goldstein addresses the growth of China’s economy since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, the growing interdependence of the US and Chinese economies, and the emergence of numerous trade- and economic- related national security issues that have evolved as a result. He states that a cooperative way ahead must include the US reducing regulations on Chinese ownership of US businesses and transferring advanced technology to China. For its part, China needs to encourage investment into the US, enforce intellectual property rights law, and promote corporate transparency.

 Goldstein then highlights that China’s economic growth has come at a great cost to the environment. China’s overreliance on fossil fuels and generally poor environmental regulations have taken their toll. These factors coupled with the environmental damage the US has caused over the years, particularly through fossil fuel consumption, now make global warming a serious problem that the US and China must take the international lead on to resolve. The author further suggests that the US should sell natural gas to China and provide “advanced exploration and fracking technology.”

 Goldstein proposes that the US embrace China’s South-South Pivot in promoting economic development throughout places such as Africa and Latin America. Doing so would address some of the many economic challenges of developing countries along with the strategic encirclement dilemma that, in China’s view, the US is imposing on it. The US and China should also partner in economic development initiatives. He suggests that the US advocate for a Chinese president of the World Bank and shut down its Africa military command and that China be more transparent regarding its foreign aid practices to developing countries.

Regarding other global interplay, Goldstein offers specific recommendations. In the Middle East, the US should drop sanctions on Iran, renounce its advocacy for Iranian regime change, and reduce its military presence in the region. China should pressure Iran to recognize Israel, coax it to stop arming Hezbollah, and provide naval patrols in the Strait of Hormuz. In dealing with the conundrum on the Korean Peninsula, Goldstein recommends US withdrawal of troops from South Korea, China committal of troops to North Korea, and China leading the control of nuclear nonproliferation in North Korea and the verification of its nuclear disarmament. In fostering better China-US-Japan relations, the author advocates the US reducing its military presence in Okinawa and the three nations participating in summits together to address their economic and geopolitical issues. China should not use rare earth minerals as political leverage against Japan. The Japanese prime minister should visit Nanjing, China, and initiate negotiations on war reparations. Also, China should endorse Japan for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Moreover, the US and China need to circumvent the growing Sino-Indian rivalry and endorse India for a permanent seat on the UNSC. The author sees the need for a sizable reduction in US and China military presence in the East Asian region. He further notes the necessity to de-escalate military interplay pitting East Asian alliances led by either the US or China and to work toward collective cooperation for the greater geopolitical and economic good.

Among his many other assessments, the author believes that ultimately China’s growing power is forcing the US and other advanced countries to make strategic adjustments and political accommodations with China. As such, the US should not seek to spoil the strategic environment for China’s peaceful rise. The US needs to afford Beijing a sphere of regional influence. China’s military build-up is largely a result of its historical paranoia over invasion, and its security concerns should be significantly accommodated. He believes that US appeasement will yield a greater degree of positive bilateral cooperation across a whole array of global issues.

From a Chinese perspective, this is a well-crafted, comprehensive, and thought-provoking book on China-US relations. Its research rigor and detailed analysis is noteworthy and compelling. Nevertheless, from an objective reader viewpoint, a notable void exists: there is an absence of a more telling US position. The author does make it clear that he primarily relies on Chinese opinion. However, this approach undermines many of the insights and recommendations he presents as the way ahead for the US to meet China halfway. The reader may also be left with the opinion that the burden of better relations between the two powers rests solely on the shoulders of the US. After all, powerful Western countries like the US caused China’s so-called hundred years of shame. China does not see itself as the antagonist in China-US relations; rather, the US is a self-promoting bully. Therefore, in good faith, it should initiate the first concession in addressing every state-to-state issue and build toward a peaceful and respectful relationship with China. This is a notable assertion of the book. Another possible challenge for the reader is that many of the recommendations the author makes in his cooperative spiraling pathways require tangible actions primarily by the US, whereas China is often simply asked to do such things as “promote, review, encourage, and negotiate.” Finally, many of his ideas appear rich in idealism but poor in the likelihood of ever gaining any traction.

Goldstein’s astute observations are accompanied by a hierarchy of complex, at times original, and somewhat controversial recommendations. In all, the book is a worthy read for Asia strategists and US government officials, Indo-China military professionals, and academics seeking a detailed US-China relations perspective seen through a Chinese lens.

David A. Anderson
US Army Command and General Staff College



"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."