The Coming Conflict with America

Chinese soldiers on parade outside the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China, 2006. Jason Lee / Reuters


For a quarter-century -- indeed, almost since Richard Nixon signed the Shanghai Communique in 1972 -- a comforting, even heart-warming notion has prevailed among many policymakers and experts on American policy toward the People's Republic of China. They believe that China will inevitably become more like the West -- non-ideological, pragmatic, materialistic, and progressively freer in its culture and politics. According to them, China is militarily weak and unthreatening; while Beijing tends toward rhetorical excess, its actual behavior has been far more cautious, aimed at the overriding goals of economic growth and regional stability.

While this vision of China, and especially its diplomatic and economic behavior, was largely true until the middle to late 1980s, it is now obsolete, as it ignores many Chinese statements and actions that suggest the country is emerging as a great power rival of the United States in the Pacific. True, China is more open and internationally engaged than at any time since the communist revolution of 1949. Nevertheless, since the late 1980s Beijing's leaders, especially those who have taken over national policy in the wake of Deng Xiaoping's enfeeblement, have set goals that are contrary to American interests. Driven by nationalist sentiment, a yearning to redeem the humiliations of the past, and the simple urge for international power, China is seeking to replace the United States as the dominant power in Asia.

Since the late 1980s, Beijing has come to see the United States not as a strategic partner but as the chief obstacle to its own strategic ambitions. It has, therefore, worked to reduce American influence in Asia, to prevent Japan and the United States from creating a "contain China" front, to build up a military with force projection capability, and to expand its presence in the South China and East China Seas so that it controls the region's essential sea-lanes. China's sheer size and inherent strength, its conception of itself as a center of global civilization, and its eagerness to redeem

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