Henry A. Kissinger
Conflict Is a Choice, Not a Necessity
Since then, the two governments have set about implementing the stated objectives. Top American and Chinese officials have exchanged visits and institutionalized their exchanges on major strategic and economic issues. Military-to-military contacts have been restarted, opening an important channel of communication. And at the unofficial level, so-called track-two groups have explored possible evolutions of the U.S.-Chinese relationship.
Yet as cooperation has increased, so has controversy. Significant groups in both countries claim that a contest for supremacy between
The mutual recriminations emerge from distinct yet parallel analyses in each country. Some American strategic thinkers argue that Chinese policy pursues two long-term objectives: displacing
No Chinese government officials have proclaimed such a strategy as
U.S. strategic concerns are magnified by ideological predispositions to battle with the entire nondemocratic world. Authoritarian regimes, some argue, are inherently brittle, impelled to rally domestic support by nationalist and expansionist rhetoric and practice. In these theories -- versions of which are embraced in segments of both the American left and the American right -- tension and conflict with
On the Chinese side, the confrontational interpretations follow an inverse logic. They see
THE PAST NEED NOT BE PROLOGUE
Is there, then, a point in the quest for a cooperative U.S.-Chinese relationship and in policies designed to achieve it? To be sure, the rise of powers has historically often led to conflict with established countries. But conditions have changed. It is doubtful that the leaders who went so blithely into a world war in 1914 would have done so had they known what the world would be like at its end. Contemporary leaders can have no such illusions. A major war between developed nuclear countries must bring casualties and upheavals impossible to relate to calculable objectives. Preemption is all but excluded, especially for a pluralistic democracy such as
The blueprints for containment drawn from Cold War strategies used by both sides against an expansionist
DEALING WITH THE NEW CHINA
Another reason for Chinese restraint in at least the medium term is the domestic adaptation the country faces. The gap in Chinese society between the largely developed coastal regions and the undeveloped western regions has made Hu's objective of a "harmonious society" both compelling and elusive. Cultural changes compound the challenge. The next decades will witness, for the first time, the full impact of one-child families on adult Chinese society. This is bound to modify cultural patterns in a society in which large families have traditionally taken care of the aged and the handicapped. When four grandparents compete for the attention of one child and invest him with the aspirations heretofore spread across many offspring, a new pattern of insistent achievement and vast, perhaps unfulfillable, expectations may arise.
All these developments will further complicate the challenges of
These social and political transformations are bound to be followed with interest and hope in
What this situation calls for is not an abandonment of American values but a distinction between the realizable and the absolute. The U.S.-Chinese relationship should not be considered as a zero-sum game, nor can the emergence of a prosperous and powerful
A cooperative approach challenges preconceptions on both sides.
The simplest approach to strategy is to insist on overwhelming potential adversaries with superior resources and materiel. But in the contemporary world, this is only rarely feasible.
Other Asian countries will insist on their prerogatives to develop their capacities for their own national reasons, not as part of a contest between outside powers. They will not willingly consign themselves to a revived tributary order. Nor do they regard themselves as elements in an American containment policy or an American project to alter
Can the fear of hegemony and the nightmare of military encirclement be reconciled? Is it possible to find a space in which both sides can achieve their ultimate objectives without militarizing their strategies? For great nations with global capabilities and divergent, even partly conflicting aspirations, what is the margin between conflict and abdication?
For nearly two generations, American strategy relied on local regional defense by American ground forces -- largely to avoid the catastrophic consequences of a general nuclear war. In recent decades, congressional and public opinion have impelled an end to such commitments in
Just as Chinese influence in surrounding countries may spur fears of dominance, so efforts to pursue traditional American national interests can be perceived as a form of military encirclement. Both sides must understand the nuances by which apparently traditional and apparently reasonable courses can evoke the deepest worries of the other. They should seek together to define the sphere in which their peaceful competition is circumscribed. If that is managed wisely, both military confrontation and domination can be avoided; if not, escalating tension is inevitable. It is the task of diplomacy to discover this space, to expand it if possible, and to prevent the relationship from being overwhelmed by tactical and domestic imperatives.
COMMUNITY OR CONFLICT
The current world order was built largely without Chinese participation, and hence
Crisis management will not be enough to sustain a relationship so global and beset by so many differing pressures within and between both countries, which is why I have argued for the concept of a
Some tentative steps in that direction have already been undertaken. For example,
Obama has invited
Important domestic political considerations are involved for all parties. But if
The key decision facing both
THE RISKS OF RHETORIC
As they pursue this process, both sides need to recognize the impact of rhetoric on perceptions and calculations. American leaders occasionally launch broadsides against
The American debate, on both sides of the political divide, often describes
On the Chinese side, proclamations at the governmental and the informal level that
The rise of
Both sides should be open to conceiving of each other's activities as a normal part of international life and not in themselves as a cause for alarm. The inevitable tendency to impinge on each other should not be equated with a conscious drive to contain or dominate, so long as both can maintain the distinction and calibrate their actions accordingly.
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