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Containing China

The Bush administration is once again putting the Asian giant in its strategic gun sights.

| Wed Apr. 19, 2006 2:00 AM EDT

Slowly but surely, the grand strategy of the Bush administration is being revealed. It is not aimed primarily at the defeat of global terrorism, the incapacitation of rogue states, or the spread of democracy in the Middle East. These may dominate the rhetorical arena and be the focus of immediate concern, but they do not govern key decisions regarding the allocation of long-term military resources. The truly commanding objective -- the underlying basis for budgets and troop deployments -- is the containment of China. This objective governed White House planning during the administration's first seven months in office, only to be set aside by the perceived obligation to highlight anti-terrorism after 9/11; but now, despite Bush's preoccupation with Iraq and Iran, the White House is also reemphasizing its paramount focus on China, risking a new Asian arms race with potentially catastrophic consequences.

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President Bush and his top aides entered the White House in early 2001 with a clear strategic objective: to resurrect the permanent-dominance doctrine spelled out in the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for fiscal years 1994-99, the first formal statement of U.S. strategic goals in the post-Soviet era. According to the initial official draft of this document, as leaked to the press in early 1992, the primary aim of U.S. strategy would be to bar the rise of any future competitor that might challenge America's overwhelming military superiority.

"Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival... that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union," the document stated. Accordingly, "we [must] endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power."

When initially made public, this doctrine was condemned by America's allies and many domestic leaders as being unacceptably imperial as well as imperious, forcing the first President Bush to water it down; but the goal of perpetuating America's sole-superpower status has never been rejected by administration strategists. In fact, it initially became the overarching principle for U.S. military policy when the younger Bush assumed the presidency in February 2001.

Target: China

When first enunciated in 1992, the permanent-dominancy doctrine was non-specific as to the identity of the future challengers whose rise was to be prevented through coercive action. At that time, U.S. strategists worried about a medley of potential rivals, including Russia, Germany, India, Japan, and China; any of these, it was thought, might emerge in decades to come as would-be superpowers, and so all would have to be deterred from moving in this direction. By the time the second Bush administration came into office, however, the pool of potential rivals had been narrowed in elite thinking to just one: the People's Republic of China. Only China, it was claimed, possessed the economic and military capacity to challenge the United States as an aspiring superpower; and so perpetuating U.S. global predominance meant containing Chinese power.

The imperative of containing China was first spelled out in a systematic way by Condoleezza Rice while serving as a foreign policy adviser to then Governor George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign. In a much-cited article in Foreign Affairs, she suggested that the PRC, as an ambitious rising power, would inevitably challenge vital U.S. interests. "China is a great power with unresolved vital interests, particularly concerning Taiwan," she wrote. "China also resents the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region."

For these reasons, she stated, "China is not a ‘status quo' power but one that would like to alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor. That alone makes it a strategic competitor, not the ‘strategic partner' the Clinton administration once called it." It was essential, she argued, to adopt a strategy that would prevent China's rise as regional power. In particular, "The United States must deepen its cooperation with Japan and South Korea and maintain its commitment to a robust military presence in the region." Washington should also "pay closer attention to India's role in the regional balance," and bring that country into an anti-Chinese alliance system.

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