Pete Souza

World News


Why America’s Containment of China is Wrongheaded

Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, once argued, “The principle that human nature, in its psychological aspects, is nothing more than a product of history and given social relations removes all barriers to coercion and manipulation by the powerful.” He and Frantz Fanon, the renowned political philosopher, and Marxist, recognized that the current global order is marked by both the remnants of despotic imperialism and neocolonialism. Among today’s most consequential actions of power is Washington’s misguided strategy of containing China.

The United States is now asserting an offensive realist stance in its foreign policy, aimed at countering China’s legitimate emergence as a rival superpower. This approach materializes in various forms, such as the establishment of new military bases around China’s periphery, and the AUKUS trilateral defense pact. With 750 overseas military bases, 313 of which are located in East Asia, America’s “island chain” perimeter around China is evident.

The U.S., leveraging its former colonial influence, recently secured an agreement with the Philippines to use four northern military bases. This deal expands access to the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, further demonstrating America’s far-reaching control over the country’s foreign and trade policies, a relationship fortified by a 1951 treaty promising military protection.

Talks of a new NATO office in Japan and the country’s remilitarization also signal a departure from established norms, including Japan’s constitutional dedication to purely defensive forces. By 2027, Japan’s defense budget is set to grow by 65%, from $40 billion to $66 billion.

Furthermore, the inception of AUKUS endows the United States and the United Kingdom with increased influence over Australia’s security while encroaching on China’s territorial sovereignty. These actions are radically provocative, surpassing any previous U.S. policy towards China since the Korean War. This particular conflict marked a shift from traditional colonialism to post-WWII neocolonialism, sowed by ideological clashes and an arbitrary border division by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Its legacy continues to shape international relations today.

Theoretically, Washington’s approach toward Beijing aligns with John Mearsheimer’s concept of offensive realism, defined by maximizing your own security at the expense of others. Washington’s military expansion in the region reveals an entrenched anxiety about America’s future and a perceived necessity to suppress China’s ascent.

This perception, embedded within the realist school of thought, is fundamentally Hobbesian, depicting China as a self-interested and systemic threat. Some scholars describe U.S. policy towards China as a ‘containment’ strategy that might lead to a new Cold War or military conflict. This apprehension stems from Western demands for China to comply with international norms, free market capitalism, and liberal democracy.

Historically, foreign policies seeking to manipulate and destabilize China are well-documented, with the Opium Wars being a notorious example. The U.S. and other Western powers have strategically aligned security interests to preserve their hegemony, leading to a renewal of aggressive containment and a neocolonial push for China to adopt U.S.-styled governance.

The way forward requires both China and the United States to abandon nationalistic and militaristic stances in favor of a de-escalatory approach. China’s reaction, which includes increased military activities around Taiwan, and contested claims in the South China Sea, illustrates the growing distrust towards Western intentions, rooted in its ‘century of humiliation.’ Despite recent escalations, there are still elements of cooperation between the two powers.

Most notably, several recent visits by top U.S. officials have signaled a possible thaw. Reflecting on these meetings, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed optimism, while the U.S. acknowledged “candid, substantive, and constructive discussions.” Though it might be primarily rhetorical, this shift in tone is significant in an age marked by division and hostility.

The United States and China must prioritize co-existence and realistic cooperation. Some experts advocate for the U.S. to accept China’s distinct political and economic system while promoting power-sharing in international institutions. This path would recognize that the traditional liberalist approach has failed, with the post-Obama realist strategy only inflaming nationalist sentiment in China.

Alternatives could include the principles of the 1955 Bandung Conference, a forum conceived as a rebuttal to neocolonialism. Embracing China’s right to exist within the international system would allow more space for collaboration. Co-existence would also enable the U.S. to retain its global influence, though some demilitarization would likely be required to secure de-escalation from China.

The difficult truth for America to acknowledge is that China’s rise is inevitable. Trust will be pivotal in fostering genuine rapprochement, but the U.S. must make the first move. Should the current militaristic path persist, humanity’s ability to address the 21st century’s most pressing challenges may be compromised. A peaceful co-existence between the United States and China can no longer be postponed.