`Locking in China at Today’s Prices’

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Part two of my conversation with Thomas PM Barnettt, big think Pentagon strategist, author of the “Pentagon’s New Map,’’ “Blueprint for Action,” and the forthcoming “The Coming Realignment: Reconnecting American Grand Strategy to a World Transformed” (due in 2009). Tom in his second book argues that the US and China should transform their relationship from economic partners who are wary of each other (at best) in every other realm, to one of a formal military alliance. He also believes the US should maintain it’s alliances with Japan and South Korea, and continue to work toward a military alliance with India.
The China bit has generated much discussion in and around the Pentagon, of course. Critics have asked how can the US contemplate an alliance with China given that it’s strongest relationships in the region are with countries that don’t trust Beijing (Japan and Korea). They further argue that progress in the relationship with India, which is occurring, would also be undermined by a formal alliance with China, whom New Delhi obviously views warily as well. He also has strong –and deeply controversial– views, as we’ll see on where Taiwan fits into a new east Asia security architecture.

TIME: You write in the book that the US should move to “lock in China at today’s prices’’. Explain what that means.

Barnett: I write in the book that what I call the old core countries (the US, the EU, Japan South Korea) have to figure out what the price is for China’s political and military integration into the core. If the Old Core isn’t working this vigorously, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves if China goes down some scary path and takes the global economy with it. I think the scariest security scenario out there these days has nothing to do with Al Qaeda or with Iran. It has to do with China withdrawing from the world in ways that are similar to the US’s disastrous bouts of isolationism in the 1920s and 1930s.
We don’t just need China to behave well in the coming years, we need it to emerge as a sophisticated administrator of global security—in all its forms—just as the United States has been in the decades since world war II. But today what I call China’s political connectivity with the outside world has not kept pace with its economic connectivity, and its SECURITY connectivity is frankly non existent. China takes from the world, but does not yet know what it should give back to the global community. I write that if the US is serious about winning the war against terror in the name of globalization’s progressive development of the planet—a fair summary of what we’re doing, I’d argue—then obviously near to top of our to do list is: locking in China at today’s prices.
By that I mean, securing a long term security relationship—a strategic partnership with China NOW, while Beijing’s price remains relatively low.”

TIME: What is that price?
Barnett: “ Our accepting their clout in east Asia, and our defense guarantee to Taiwan.
TIME: So we’d have to sell out Taiwan?’’
Barnett: “Oh c mon, does anyone really believe we’d sacrifice tens of thousands of troops defending Taiwan against China’s desire to re absorb it?’’ The idea that preserving Taiwan’s “independence” from China is worth blowing up the global economy is ludicrous. I write in the book that this is really where the Old Core cutting off its nose to spite its face.
But the important thing about what today’s `China price’ is, is that Beijing is perfectly willing to live with the status quo, as long as Taiwan does not declare independence, or make any move to rule out the future possibility of reunification. That’s it! China is willing to let this issue ride so long as no one makes a move that seems to close the door to reunification.
Time: But you must get accused of wanting to sell out the Taiwanese all the time, right?

Barnett: “Oh I do, sure. But the way I try to explain this for US audiences is, imagine if Jefferson Davis and what remained of the confederacy after the US civil war slipped off to Cuba and set up an anti American country on that island, constantly thumbing its nose at us. Then, fast forward to 1905, and imagine how the United States would have tolerated some distant imperial power like England telling us what we could or could not do with regard to this bunch of losers sitting in Cuba. Imagine what Teddy Roosevelt would have told the Brits what they could do with their defense guarantee! That’s basically where we stand with China today vis a vis Taiwan.
Look, Robert Wright I think it was once said that the first rule in trying to run the world is, Don’t fight the inevitable. In a generation’s time, China will dominate the global economy in the way the US does today. The only way to stop that is to kill this era’s version of globalization, and Taiwan is simply not worth that outcome. Taiwan will join China in a larger economic and, someday, political union. The US strategy isn’t to prevent that integration but to help steer it, to the extent we can. Again, don’t fight fight the inevitable. And the strategic gain of bringing China into the core, not just economically, but politically and in terms of security, is just incalculable.
TIME: You must be really popular in Taipei these days.

Barnett: (laughs) “Yeah I guess I’m a little controversial there. But of course a lot of Taiwanese totally get this.”

Part Three coming in 24 to 26 hours…