A dangerous word

AEI’s Michael Auslin, weighing in on the feud over China’s denying US Navy ships access to Hong Kong at Contentions, argues that US credibility has suffered from a failure to respond to China’s behavior other than by sending the USS Kitty Hawk back to Japan via the Taiwan Straits.

He says, “A number of my Asia-wonk acquaintances in Washington have expressed their concern that Washington is sending a signal of weakness by making no response to the Chinese provocations (sailing the fleet back through the Taiwan Straits doesn’t quite cut it)—even canceling some meetings would have been seen as something.”

I would be more concerned if he was citing comments made by “our Asian allies” than by his “Asia-wonk acquaintances.”

“Credibility” is a dangerous word, a word that led the US to overextend itself during the cold war, with disastrous consequences. Are US allies in Asia really worried about the US not standing up to China’s unpredictable behavior over the past year? Do they really doubt that if China actually posed a threat to their security, the US would be unwilling to act? Do security treaties with Japan, Australia, and other countries in the region obligate the US to “stand up” to China, even if doing so might actually undermine the security of China’s neighbors by deepening the PLA’s paranoia and strengthening the hand of PLA elements in favor of more confrontational policies (not to mention potentially provoking China to retaliate in other fora)?

The emergence of China is one long, unpredictable, iterative game, and the US, as the prevailing maintainer of stability in East Asia, will not benefit from “defecting” and initiating a game of tit-for-tat that could go on for years. Indeed, as the leading power in the region, the US has an obligation to demonstrate forbearance, to refrain from retaliating against China’s bewildering violations of diplomatic and maritime custom and continuing to find ways of coaxing China to play a more constructive regional and global role. To do otherwise could hasten the decline of the US as a regional power and make the neighborhood more dangerous for US allies, a perverse consequence of actions purportedly taken in the interests of US alliances in Asia.

4 thoughts on “A dangerous word

  1. Andrew Oplas

    Agree with the point that the U.S. need not play tit for tat.Unfortunately, the United States is rapidly weakening in relative terms as the major regional power in Asia, and this has dark, sinister implications for the region. So magnanimity by the United States (the US has always been magnanimous with its power, by the way) does not mean that our power and influence in the region will not wane. It\’s simply a matter of manners and civility.The United States is a more sophisticated and civil power than China, but this no longer wins us allies.


  2. Anonymous

    I can\’t believe how this \”incident\” of diplomatic breach of protocol has been so overblown. Surely, when it comes to the visit of a warship in a Chinese port, we need to take into account some sensitivity bordering on unpredictability, especially considering the differences in naval power. Frankly, compared to the downing of the US spy plane in 2000(?), this new strain in relations between the two adversaries is a fairly minor thing.


  3. Bryce

    It\’s fairly widely recognised that Bush\’s belligerency, not \”America\’s constant magnanimity in its power\” (what a lovely national myth) that has taken the U.S. focus off of Asia.I agree with anonymous. This is hardly the Taiwan Straits crisis.


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