In diplomacy, the rhetoric of good intentions often becomes burdensome, especially when the desired outcomes are opposite. Such is the case with Washington’s Asia Pivot strategy.
If Washington isn’t comfortable with a more powerful China demanding a greater say over Asian security issues, making China wealthier by trading with it doesn’t make much sense. By the same token, if Washington supports the robust trading relationship that helps narrow the relative power gapbetween the two countries, why contain it, especially considering that the trading makes the containing costlier?
When I have raised these concerns with U.S. policy officials, they brush off the reasoning as crude and simplistic, but they have little response beyond that. A normal formulation is that America welcomes a “strong, responsible, and prosperous” China that plays a “constructive role” in world politics. “Responsible” and “constructive” go undefined in these responses, however, negating much of their value. Would a responsible China demand control over its sea lines of communication? Would it be constructive for China to continually escalate its demands on Taiwan for reunification?
Or to put it differently, does Washington wish to grade China on these matters the way it would grade itself? Was the Iraq war responsible? Are America’s dozens of formal treaty allies constructive? If so, would Chinese alliances with say, Cuba and Venezuela also be constructive? Double standards and fuzzy thinking are at the center of the pivot.