Shocking as it might seem to those who think China is a “responsible partner” on the world stage and can enjoy a “special relationship” with the United States it intends to keep on hacking, stealing secrets and increasing its military dominance in Asia.
China’s President Xi Jinping doesn’t give a fig about President Obama’s pretty-please to stop cyber-terrorism, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board observes:
Mr. Obama deserves credit for elevating cyber war to the top of the U.S.-China relationship, but Chinese leaders will stonewall until they see there is some cost to their stealing. The U.S. needs better cyber defenses, private and public, but it also needs a better offense.
This may mean sanctions against Chinese firms and individuals that benefit from cyber theft, as well as against military officials who practice it. But even those steps probably won’t matter unless the Chinese begin to see that their own military and business assets are vulnerable to cyber-attack. Arms control won’t stop China’s cyber theft. The fear of counter cyber warfare might.
But the president is cutting our Navy, sounding apologetic about our own anti-terrorism programs and inviting China to join in military exercises. (Why not simply pass out thumb drives so they can help themselves to classified information?) The thought never crossed the president’s mind, I guess, that doing the opposite might generate a modicum of respect for the United States.
Critics of the administration say the long-promised “pivot” to Asia hasn’t really occurred. J. Dana Stuster writes:
Even the administration’s modest successes have suffered setbacks. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel showed off the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom in Singapore in an effort to showcase the increased U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asian waters. But that came after the ship was stranded in port when its propulsion system gave out on its maiden deployment. Then there’s the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia — when the first 180 Marines arrived in Darwin in April 2012, they were supposed to be followed by more than 2,000 more. That might never happen, though, as Australian enthusiasm for the project has waned. Despite plans for 2,500 U.S. Marines to be stationed in Australia by 2017, Australia is still evaluating the effects of a force less than half that size.
Taiwanese academic Song Yann-huei, a research fellow at the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica, was in Washington last week for a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and told me that Taiwan and other countries in the region have concerns about the U.S. military cuts while China becomes more aggressive. That coincides with the observations of American scholars looking at the entire region.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Asia-Pacific Strategy Working group last week observed that ” there is concern throughout Asia that America’s fiscal crisis and likely defense cuts, as well as the ongoing crises in the Middle East and North Africa, will forestall U.S. efforts to play a greater role in the region.” Part of the problem, these China experts say, is the need the growth in economic ties and free trade relationships, broaden multi-lateral security discussions and develop new U.S. basing agreements. It is not possible, they argue, to do this on the cheap, calling for reversal of sequester cuts and commitment of resources to secure an American defense presence in the region:
China’s military modernization program — now two decades old — has increasingly complicated the exercise of American military dominance in East Asia. This erosion in the balance of power puts at risk American security guarantees and, in turn, the peace and stability of the region. . . .
The President’s initiatives to realign U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific, including a rotational presence in Australia, will reassure our partners that the United States will remain in the region despite emergent anti-access threats. However, rotational forces are not enough to keep the peace in Asia. “On station” forces are still critical. It is essential that we maintain and harden our presence in such front-line countries as South Korea and Japan, even as strike and expeditionary forces are distributed throughout the region.
As Professor Song put it, the U.S should be “rebalancing re-balance,” meaning that economic, diplomatic, a free trade agreement and other non-military ties need to be promoted as well as stronger relationships forged between and among countries in the region, other than mainland China.
Evan Moore, senior policy analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative concurs: “Far too many in America’s business, academic and political communities insist on an engagement-centered approach to Beijing, and often reflexively reject any measure that could antagonize it. However, the truth is that China has not genuinely moderated its rhetoric and actions after decades of persistent American effort to persuade its leadership to liberalize.”
Unfortunately, the promised pivot is likely to be delayed or watered down once again, both by the array of Obama’s domestic scandals and by the sequester that will lock in place going forward for the next decade. Most important, until Obama stops going to China hat-in-hand asking its leaders to see things our way (e.g. stop cyberterrorism) we will get nowhere. We would do better to broaden and deepen our alliances with other powers in the region and devote resources to security needs there, so as to signal to China we intend to defend our democratic allies and insist that it lives up to international norms.