The debate over how the United States should respond to the rise of China is usually based on the premise that a power transition is taking place. But Christensen characterizes this idea as at least premature and probably flat wrong. He draws from his academic research and policy experience as a deputy assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush to present an exceptionally clear and subtle analysis of the evolving U.S.-Chinese relationship. Although China is “nowhere near a peer competitor,” its “reactive assertiveness” presents a real risk of conflict, which has to be countered by a strong U.S. presence in Asia. This presence, however, must be balanced by assurances, expressed more in actions than in words, that the United States does not threaten Chinese security. Christensen gives examples from recent administrations of some moves that succeeded in walking this fine line and others that failed. He argues that an even more difficult challenge is to get China to bear its share of the costs in managing global problems such as climate change and nuclear proliferation. Beijing is likely to cooperate on such issues not in response to moral preaching but when it sees direct benefits from doing so. Washington should not panic about the rise of China, but it needs a steady and nuanced strategy to shape Chinese behavior.
Goldstein’s contrasting counsel is not to deter China but to yield to its interests step by step. He spells out, in more detail than anyone else has yet, a series of concessions that both sides could make on various issues in order to generate what he calls a “cooperation cycle.” His proposals for the early stages are intriguing. But they culminate in major shifts of a kind that mainstream strategists in both countries would, he acknowledges, view as appeasement. For example, the United States would pressure Taipei to negotiate with Beijing, promote joint Chinese-Japanese administration of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, and reduce its military deployments not only in Asia but elsewhere as well. China would renounce the use of force against Taiwan, pressure both North Korea and Iran to denuclearize, and limit the development of antiship ballistic missiles and submarine forces that threaten U.S. forces in the Pacific. The vision of a more peaceful world is attractive. But it is hard to imagine how such a strategy could be sustained over several administrations in either country or obtain the support of either country’s allies.