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Kevin Bayona: China's rise is challenge to U.S.

Posted: February 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

The start of the 21st century has brought with it an avalanche of international problems such as war, economic recession, nuclear proliferation, and rising global competitors. Although all these issues merit individual attention and consideration, I think the unrelenting rise of China presents the largest and most significant global challenge to the United States.

The United States and China will arguably be the two greatest and most influential powers in the 21st century and will come to dominate our world, in one way or another, economically, culturally, and militarily.

In order to maintain peace and avoid war, both powers will have to work together on various issues and avoid falling into the pitfalls that plague all bi-polar international orders.

There is much to learn from the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the antagonism between the British Empire and the Germans, and their struggle with the French before them, and the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. These were all global tussles fueled by suspicion, miscommunication, pride, hubris, and misunderstanding. So, what should we be thinking about?

1) Wise leadership is very important

Many of us like to think our leaders are wise, sensible, and prudent, but history has proved otherwise. Americans and Chinese alike must contend with the fact that it is very likely our respectable nations will at one point or another be led by buffoons who will succumb to misguided judgment and foolish leadership.

The most we can hope for is that America and China are not befallen by impetuous leaders at the same time! We will need wise leaders who possess the forbearance, clarity, and temperament to guide the coming bipolarity towards peaceful coexistence.

2) Rival grand strategies will present an intractable problem

America and China share the same world but view it on very different terms. The United States would like to maintain its global hegemony as well as prevent any regional powers (like China) from dominating any particular continent or hemisphere. America warred with Germany to keep it from ruling over Europe and struggled with the Soviet Union to prevent it from reigning over Asia.

The United States assumes (correctly) that a regional power is more likely to challenge the United States in the Western hemisphere as well as in the challenger’s own neighborhood.

This dynamic poses a threat to America’s global dominance and a possible existential threat to its security on the American continent.

China, on the other hand, would like to push the United States out of Asia, or significantly reduce its influence in the region. The Chinese aim to continue to grow economically, culturally, and militarily and peacefully co-opt its neighbors to distance themselves from the United States.

China naturally believes it can better secure itself by adopting its own version of America’s Monroe Doctrine and push America and any other rival powers out of it neighborhood.

Obviously, with such opposing strategies, reconciliation and common ground will not come easily and will likely cause a great deal of friction over the next several decades.

3) Opportunities for cooperation

The coming bi-polar world will present many difficulties but there are some instances in which the United States and China can work together to prevent inevitable friction. The most important of which is naval cooperation.

Alfred Thayer Mahan’s perceptive tome "Influence of Sea Power Upon History" still serves as a geostrategic guide to the U.S Navy and provides many lessons for how the United States and China can come together to establish universal rules of the sea that will accommodate both powers and their webs of interests.

The United States and China can also work together on cyber-security and possibly ban such cyber-attacks that have recently made headlines here in the United States.

Of course, there is always traditional arms control which may be a great way to assure a mutual commitment to peace.

4) Unfortunately, it might get worse before it gets better

The prospects for peace and cooperation don’t fare well for the foreseeable future for various reasons. Mutual collaboration requires restraint, but the United States is and has always been inclined towards proactive engagement.

The recent "pivot" towards Asia will only make American bellicosity more likely.

China too, continues to naturally succumb to a powerful nationalism as its relative power grows and domestic social and economic crises plague its people.

China’s "peaceful rise" may very well turn into a violent rampage.

Washington and Beijing must come together, and their respective cadres of leaders must transcend all these issues and problems in order to prevent the ghosts of international history from befalling their worlds.
Kevin Bayona is a Valencia resident. He earned a BA in international relations and political science from Fairfield University, studied global affairs at New York University, and is a member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.



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