In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert D. Kaplan, contributes an interesting piece on China's rise, arguing that its geography will make it both a land and sea power. He of course is right, but then again this is by no means anything spectacularly new and it is hardly an impressive analysis. His piece, however, gets more problematic where Kaplan draws conclusions from his reading of Chinese policies. Characterising China as an 'über-realist power', he argues that China primarily aims to deny the U.S. navy easy entry into the Western pacific and that against the rising profile of Chinese naval power, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia are bound to counterbalance China's rise (The guys at "War is Boring" follow this very closely):
"This is why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's rejection of balance-of-power politics as a relic of the past is either disingenuous or misguided. There is an arms race going on in Asia, and the United State will have to face this reality when it substantially reduces its forces in Afghanistan and Iraq."
So far, so good. So, what is his basic idea to counter that? Well, withdrawal of major U.S. military assets to the Oceanic islands, like Guam, creating basically a not-so-much-over-the-horizon force and increase aid to allied states in the region:
"Strengthening the U.S. air and sea presence in Oceania would be a compromise approach between resisting a Greater China at all cost and assenting to a future in which the Chinese navy policed the first island chain."
Which is where problems really begin, U.S. allies won't respond well to the U.S. giving in to an as of yet merely theoretical Chinese naval presence. Such a strategy would seriously undermine U.S. credibility, but more than that: Kaplan himself argues that China is not preparing for eventual war with the United States. Beijing, in his reasoning, simply wants to increase its military posture in order to avoid a confrontation, hence the 'über-realist power'. So, why in the world, should the U.S. cave when it isn't even being seriously challenged with eventual war? More importantly, however, such a strategy would seriously harm U.S. interests. Chinese-U.S. relations are in relatively healthy shape, though they have suffered a bit since Obama took office in the White House. But Obama's predecessor had left him a good legacy and improved relations with all Asian countries, including the People's Republic. Obama should continue this policy, not least because it has worked remarkebly well under George W. Bush.