Of course U.S. rebalancing is about China
July 20th, 2012
10:58 AM ET

Of course U.S. rebalancing is about China

By Justin Logan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Justin Logan is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and the author of a forthcoming policy study, “China, America, and the Pivot to Asia.”

Brad Glosserman has penned a provocative article arguing that America’s rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific isn’t about “fear of China.” Fear may be too strong a word, but the argument is still wrong. Of course it’s about China.

It’s telling that Glosserman’s article itself is all about China. For instance, he mentions Washington’s support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. But the recent friction hasn’t been between Vietnam and the Philippines. It isn’t Malaysia claiming almost all the territorial waters there. No, the current panic in the South China Sea is all about China.

Glosserman concedes that the “lead story” at the ASEAN Regional Forum this year was the tension between Washington and Beijing, and that this tension was so powerful that it prevented ASEAN members from issuing a joint declaration.

But the problem is deeper than that: with Washington insistent on putting itself at the center of Asian disputes involving China, smaller, weaker ASEAN members are playing China and Washington off one another, trying to see which side values their support more. As the Thai scholar Thitinan Pongsudhirak remarked, ASEAN members “don’t want China and the United States to be in complete agreement. These tensions and rivalries give them leverage and bargaining power.” Similarly, Japan and South Korea have just allowed historical squabbles to scuttle closer defense cooperation. The reason they can let this happen, as Stephen Walt observes, is because Uncle Sucker is willing to help foot the bill for those countries’ defense.

The only paragraph in the article that offers possible alternative explanations for why we’re “rebalancing” consists of abstractions. The real reasons, according to Glosserman, are Washington’s desire to “counter a narrative of U.S. decline in the Asia-Pacific” and its “determination to play its historical regional role.” But what might produce this narrative of U.S. decline, and who would care about such a narrative, absent China? And what is our historical regional role?

Our historical role has been to infantilize our partners so we get greater control over East Asian politics. And as John Mearsheimer points out, our track record is quite clear: we don’t tolerate peer competitors. We didn’t tolerate the Soviet Union, we didn’t tolerate a Third Force in Europe, and there’s little indication that we want to tolerate China.

The usual rejoinder here is that we aren’t containing China because we’re trading with it. It’s true that we’re trading, but our military policy is clearly designed to contain China. Consider: if China were much more powerful than America, and Chinese leaders were reveling in their self-styled role as the preeminent Western Hemisphere power, cultivating allies and naval basing agreements in Cuba and Venezuela, and arming what we viewed as Hawaiian separatists (Taiwan), even if they traded with us, we’d call that containment. I and others have worried about the contradictions of our “congagement” policy, but interdependence doesn’t mean there isn’t security competition happening, as the Great War showed clearly.

Despite protests to the contrary, we aren’t upgrading our relationships with Vietnam and the Philippines to deal with drug trafficking or piracy. We aren’t spending hundreds of billions on the platforms to back up our new “operational concept” AirSea Battle in order to better perform humanitarian relief. No, as the Chief of Naval Operations and Chief of Staff of the Air Force recently argued, AirSea Battle is needed because:

“Some rising powers that appear to be seeking regional hegemony hope to employ access denial strategies to isolate other regional actors from American military intervention, enabling them to more effectively intimidate and coerce neighboring states.”

Arguing that our Asia policy isn’t primarily about China is like arguing our Middle East policy isn’t primarily about oil and Israel. The danger of repeating over and over that our policy isn’t about China is that we may come to believe it ourselves, overlooking the important problems with the policy itself.

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Topics: Asia • China • Military • United States

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soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. chiefsiop

    China should respect her neighbors. Moderate your GREED China.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
    • Jonquil

      "They are little countries and we are big. That is a fact." – China

      July 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
      • Jonquil

        I am not chinese, I am muslim.
        We are taught from a very young age to insinuate ourselves everywhere in order to raise shyatt.
        We live for it!

        July 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
      • Maersk

        Is it also a fact that you are muslim and you love to zuck white kwoks, especially your uncle's limply kwok?

        July 20, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
      • Maersk

        This is the part of the act where I over do it against my muslim friends so that they can scream "islamaphobia" and then everyone comes running and say "live those poor muzzies alone, their religion is the religion of peace" and then we go and I sue the Jew and get lots of money and then I send the money to the mujahadeen.
        Good plan, no?

        July 20, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
      • Imran Abubakar


        July 21, 2012 at 12:43 am |
      • Saeed

        But we Muslims are faithful only to Islam. You you you told me that. Oh I get it we are fooling with Americans. Nutch nutch wink wink.

        July 21, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • Peter

      They did that for 20 years and they got no where with the territory disputes. Their patience is running out apparently

      July 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
      • Peter

        Nothing I have said makes any sense nor have I proposed or added anything to the discussion,
        I am the most interesting man in the world.

        July 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  2. Jonquil

    I guess this is where we need to let out a whiny "But THEY started it!" And it's true.

    If America is convincing herself of all the alternative reasons we would barter for influence in the region, then China has been naive in believing that we would continue rolling over and playing dead, while they systematically broke international trade laws (so trade exclusively benefitted them at everyone else's expense), trained a mass hacking army to steal trade secrets and compromise US military technology and demanded that we support their "America is evil and failing!" propaganda - directed at their people and potential investors - so the CCP could continue bilking their workers, in an effort to create a Chinese upper class of billionare emperors.

    We expected they would always act in their own, best interests - any country would be expected to do so. What has really been astonishing, is how their elites have ranted and raved, whenever The US wouldn't help them along in their agenda and publically support their anti-USA propaganda.

    Apparently, they'd really convinced themselves that we'd quietly go along with it. Maybe, they were even puffed-up on the wealth they'd stolen from their hard-working people. I don't know. It's like they condensed 100 years of exploit, boom, overheat markets and grow billionaires, while most of the country is still in abject poverty and can barely consume (must be that "superior" Communist Capitalism model), into less than a decade. What follows rapidly overheating markets? Well, we already know what follows that. But some people still believe in fairy tales.

    As reality sets-in (notice, bubbles ready to burst on the horizon) we're starting to hear their leadership say things, again, like: "China is still a developing country." Oh, really? Which means, they know something investors don't know. No wonder they're scurrying, trying to invest what they have left in swiping natural resources from more vulnerable populations.

    The USA has her ills and we hear about them from the inside and outside, everywhere and everyday. But you must admit; we do hear about them. When dealing with a closed society controlled by a Communist Regime, most "statements" must be taken with a grain of salt. I wish no ill will towards The Chinese, but I refuse to fall for their "you're declining and we own you" nonsense. It's propaganda (and dimmer Americans are falling for it). If it sounds and looks too good to be true, it probably is.

    It also doesn't take much pushback from The US, for China to change its tune.

    Remember when our military finally got serious about engaging in counterattacks against Chinese hackers, following a period of China blustering to The World, that they could infiltrate and control our systems (aggressive attacks that originated from them, attacks that WE didn't instigate)? No, can't remember it? Exactly.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Reply
    • Jonquil


      July 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • lilan

      I like your comments so much!!!

      July 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      If you check Chinese weibo and other social services, you'll hear about ills of China quite often. You just don't see much of it in their state media but doesn't mean Chinese don't know about them. Do better research

      July 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • Maersk

      Jonquil, you sound like a kwok head whose azz has been hacked and your virginity stolen by the Chinese.

      July 20, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Reply
      • Maersk

        Saeed, stop annoying the paying customers.

        July 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  3. Becki Haggard

    While I agree that the "pivot" certainly has eyes on China (the recently updated defense strategic guidance even mentions China by name), I think it is short-sighted to say the rebalancing is exclusively due to Chinese concerns.

    Every argument made about the importance of China in this article has definite merit, however, given that the region has been expanded to include India, I think the focus is at a higher level than this article is giving credit for. As we transition our focus away from (just) the Middle East, including India in the Pacific theater (again from the defense strategic guidance) allows for a pretty good peripheral look back at our interests in the area.

    Additionally, given that the Korean peninsula was on the verge of war only two years ago, I imagine that this is an area worthy of some of our attention as well.

    July 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  4. Nishant

    save the Tibet issue ,the Chinese have never been aggressors; rather they have borne the brunt.
    yes they do have some unsettled traditional border issues pending the Imperialist days.
    the Asian Century is lead by China and rightly so
    it is the Communism that the west is afraid;
    the economic mess it has created for itself and the growing unrest amongst a sizable population on disproportionate distribution of wealth.
    the base principles of equality of opportunity and resource distribution of the Communist/Socialist ideologue threatens the West
    and as usual the Arms industry needs feeders!!
    China is being made the demon which incidentally it is not
    the fifth of the world population is not seeking the fifth of the resources.
    let beyond!!!!

    July 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  5. 27yagoo

    The most effective way is to send SEAL and DRONES to the palace where the 9 dictators live, CCTV, and Airport, to liberate the slave-like Chinese people. All is well if the ends well. Then again God bless America!

    July 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply
    • Maersk

      You sound like a typical American kwok zucking kwok zucker who has zucked his uncle's kwok one time too many and swallowed one mouthful too much. The problem is that you don't even know you are full of it. You need to take a look in the in the mirror and see the kum dripping from your kwok zucking mouth.

      July 20, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Reply
    • Nada

      Say that again and you won't have your iPhone 5. Lol!

      July 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  6. 27yagoo

    Chinese Communist Party is a form of terrorism. Sooner rather than later, we must have a pre-emptive war against the most evil, most organised, most ferociously dangerous enemy of the world peace and the whole humanity. As long as the biggest dictator on earth is there, US and the world have no peace.

    July 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      Peace for US doesn't exist. If China is not there it'll dredge up some one else. If there actually is peace, America will collapse onto itself the way it is going right now

      July 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  7. Sid Harth

    I am glad that CNN, I don't like them at all, came up with a very logical argument.

    We cannot fight all foreign wars. We, refers to editorial "we." I mean America.

    Let China fight their own foreign wars. Let Saudi Arabia, do the same. America has given Saudis enough fire power. Let Israel fight their own foreign, Oops, paranoia.

    What is wrong with Uncle Sam?

    I ask politely/

    ...and I am Sid Harth@webworldismyoyster.com

    July 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply
    • Sid Harth

      Because I am the result of a brother/sister monkey match, I am an id*ot.
      The only card my imam gave me when I was sent to poison the world, is to try and separate everyone.
      Individually, we are not as strong as we are together. I know this full well but still I advocate for separation so that my muslim friends can have a better chance at hurting the civilized world like in 9/11.
      Furthermore, I have no idea what friendship means.

      July 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  8. Thinker23

    Sid Harth: Let Israel fight their own foreign, Oops, paranoia.

    Can you elaborate on this a bit? Are you saying that the Arab and non-Arab neighbors of Israel threatening and trying to destroy the Jewish State do not exist?

    July 20, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    The ASEAN will never be another EU. Too diverse is the culture, too deep is the mistrust and envy among its member states. The US might be far away, yet they deal more with Washington than with each other. It explains why they see the US as a "white knigt".
    In this election year, there has been a lot of lashing China on the stump. Both Obama and Romney try to distract the American public from economic issues. While Romney accused China of being inextricably linked to the recession in America, Obama tries to keep China's foreign enterprises at bay and shore up the military strength of various countries in Asia to defy China.

    July 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • Maersk

      Who the phuck told you that they see U.S. as "white knight"? Is it because your kwok zucking uncle says so? I always thought they see the U.S. as "white trash" who loves to go around the world and stir up troubles.

      July 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  10. Peter

    Nope, you are not Saeed.
    You cannot rehabilitate Saeed. Saeed is a moron and a typical muslim who has spewed the worst poison at everyone and specifically children.

    July 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  11. John Smith

    Uncle Sam should teach Mao Zedong a lesson!

    July 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Reply
    • Maersk

      Uncle Sam should zuck Mao Zedong's kwok because that's all he is capable of doing besides bull zhiting.

      July 20, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      Well, last time I checked, Uncle Sam got a kick in the face when he stuck his nose too close to Mao's border with North Korea.

      July 24, 2012 at 11:16 am | Reply
  12. zhuubaajie

    America's rebalancing is NOT about China primarily. China is just the convenient boogeyman, used to frighten the children into submitting willingly to America's urges.

    Y'see, there is a linkage between the Pacific Pivot (PP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The T in TPP stands for TRIBUTE. Yes, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Pacific Pivot. The main purpose of the military move is to kickstart TPP, to facilitate the American Empire's system for collecting trillions in tribute.

    The TPP has little to do with free trade, and it does not even focus on market access. It has everything to do with the PROHIBITION OF RESTRICTIONS ON CAPITAL FLOWS. Sovereign governments have no rights even to take emergency measures in a balance of payments emergency, once they become a TPP member.

    WHY is this tribute? DERIVATIVES. Check the records. In the last 10 years, every nation that allowed unchecked OTC derivatives trading had lost major money to the Anglo American banksters in "trading" in that $700 Trillion casino. WHY? Because it is a RIGGED GAME – the LIBOR rate rigging scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. Many facets of the "trade" is rigged, allowing the American banks to collect tens of trillions of dollars, as tribute for Empire. No other empire in human history has a tribute system as large or as far-flung. It is projected that within a decade, America can be collecting close to $5 Trillion a year just from derivatives – PURE PROFIT, without have to risk any natural resource depletion or environmental degradation.

    What better customers (victims) than banks and other financials in weak nations which governments survive only upon the pleasure of the military of Empire? The PP is to put the muscle behind that thumb, and weak nations under that thumb. Taking away capital control makes it so much easier for American banksters to have their ways.

    July 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Reply
    • Maersk

      Sweetie, you are going to have to rewrite the following sentence of yours because it's not very clear. I would think that you would want to cooperate since you bothered to write all that stuff. Anyway here it is:
      "China is just the convenient boogeyman, used to frighten the children into submitting willingly to America's urges."

      July 20, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  13. Peter

    Looking from the outside
    You're always looking in
    You think you fixed the problem
    'Til it comes right back again
    And life seems like a trap
    You're trying to get out
    You're searching for you cheese
    'Cause you feel like mighty mouse
    You're damned if you don't
    You're damned if you do
    You've seen all the signs
    But you haven't got a clue
    You are in for the ride of you life

    July 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Reply
  14. Jojo

    China is a Thief. After stealing all intellectual rights and job in the U.S. Now they want to claim the entire South China Sea and West Philippines Sea to control the Pacific Region and steal it resources. After oppressing Tibet and Xinxhua and its people now they're trying to oppress Philippines and Vietnam. Chinese is disregarding the law of U.N. and depriving the poverty nation of Vietnam and Philippines of their own resources. They block small Philippines fishing boat and destroy livelihood near scarborough. Uncle Sam can't do anything about it because he's bankrupt and it's too expensive to police the China Bully. I hope U.S. rise again to bring order in that Region.

    July 20, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Reply
    • zhuubaajie

      Uh, WHAT is theft? Taking without permission, correct?

      ALL major American tech and telecom companies cooperated fully with the American spying and military authorities in bugging foreign nations, and that has gone on ever since WW II (and never stopped). The more illustrious ones included camera in copying machines sold to the Russians. The American espionage program has a budget 100 times larger than that of the entire rest of the world combined, and the equipment used are decades more advanced and more widely deployed.

      ECHELON, CARNIVORE, MAGIC LANTERN, INFRAGARD, PROMIS, Stuxnet, the Flame worm. The list just goes on. Data collection, hacking, physically and maliciously destroying the equipment and networks of others, done on a scale 100 times larger than that of the rest of the world put together, and for much longer periods of time. There is no major fiber optic undersea cable anywhere that has NOT been hacked by Americans.

      In comparison, I'll bet you dollars to peanuts that the info taken by Americans without permission, is at least 1,000,000 TIMES (or one hundred million percent, if that's your drift) that taken by the Chinese since WW II ended.

      Yes, for the sake of world peace, indeed all such malicious acts should stop, and America should show real leadership, and take the lead in ceasing the dastardly acts. Do you see it happening any day soon?

      July 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Reply
      • Jojo

        China is a Nation of Thief...

        July 20, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Maersk

      China indeed is a thief. It loves to hack into Jojo's azz and steal his virginity. Since Jojo is not virgin any more, all he can do is bend over for his uncle at a big discount.

      July 21, 2012 at 12:09 am | Reply
    • Theend

      If that's the case, then they should have taken everything by now including all the islands by force. There should be a war to settle this dispute like Hawaii, Falklands, etc. Everybody settles this dispute by war. People are getting tired so start the battle to end this nonsense.

      July 21, 2012 at 1:06 am | Reply
      • ender


        July 21, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  15. Jojo

    Maersk is still a virgin because China kills all the daughters... He ask his fellow chinese to bend over so that he can have a tofu and a tea.... ha ha haha

    July 21, 2012 at 12:26 am | Reply
  16. Mombasa 69

    I wouldn't worry about a war with China, their Army, Navy and Air-force are incompetent, any war would just be a turkey shoot.

    July 21, 2012 at 6:38 am | Reply
    • zhuubaajie

      Uh-huh. Must be true, since 69 says so.

      Remember the Korean War? Turkey shoot.

      July 21, 2012 at 7:13 am | Reply
    • Mombasa 69

      I love to hunt and chase and kill and cut off head of Turkey.

      July 21, 2012 at 9:20 am | Reply
  17. Sowhat????

    Fighting cold wars and hot wars. Really does the US have nothing better to do? "Containing China" is cold war mentality, oh well guess the US would rather fund its military than anything constructive.

    July 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  18. ariel aranzaso

    “Some rising powers that appear to be seeking regional hegemony hope to employ access denial strategies to isolate other regional actors from American military intervention, enabling them to more effectively intimidate and coerce neighboring states.”
    That's just the truth, so help us America!

    July 21, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  19. Nada

    Fear of China is still about China. No argument.

    However, Thai scholar Thitinan Pongsudhirak posit that ASEAN members “don’t want China and the United States to be in complete agreement. These tensions and rivalries give them leverage and bargaining power” seems to trivialize the real geopolitical situation in the Far East. Pongsudhirak seeks to exculpate China's insatiable desire to seek new grounds to feed its growing economy.

    I agree with the author when he said "Our historical role has been to infantilize our partners so we get greater control over East Asian politics," because it's the real character of a true imperialist.

    July 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Reply
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    July 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  21. Aly-Khan Satchu @alykhansatchu

    Encircle, contain, Inflame the Periphery, whilst the Hard Power Advantage remains decisive and thats why the R2P, Syria Situation is a Red Line.
    Aly-Khan Satchu

    July 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
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    July 24, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  23. eagle eye

    Take a look at China... they are provoking harmony at South East Asian Nations, Mr. ban ki moon, what is your stand? "Open your EYES" before it's too late.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:33 am | Reply
    • Peace

      His mouth is full of Chinese ... noodles and Peking ... duck.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:30 am | Reply
  24. Ngoc nguyen

    China's massacre in Truong Sa Archipelago in 1988 (real footage and English script).
    Check out this video on YouTube

    July 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  25. Ngoc nguyen

    China's massacre in Spratly islands (real footage 1988).
    Check out this video on Youtube

    July 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply
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    March 18, 2014 at 4:45 am | Reply
  27. In Home Personal Training

    I love this line"Arguing that our Asia policy isn’t primarily about China is like arguing our Middle East policy isn’t primarily about oil and
    Israel." So true.

    April 17, 2014 at 7:42 am | Reply

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