China Pushes Back Against Growing U.S. Influence in East Asia

More

American outreach to China's neighbors has Beijing on the defensive

economy nov26 p.jpg

World leaders pose for the family photo at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii / Reuters

Now that President Obama has completed his victory lap in Asia and is safely ensconced--or is that mired?--in Washington's political mess, the Chinese are busy recalibrating their message to the region. After watching the United States once again be voted most popular, the message from China seems to be twofold:

First, the United States is not one of us. As Tsinghua University scholar Tao Wenzhao writes in the China Daily, "East Asian countries have to face another thorny issue: How to deal with the United States in their push for regional integration. Despite being a non-Asian country and despite lying on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. has been on high vigilance against East Asian integration that in its eyes could lead to its exclusion from the region's affairs." Or, as Premier Wen Jiabao noted at the East Asia Summit, "East Asian countries are capable of solving the [South China Sea] dispute by themselves."

Second, we have more money, so you should be friends with us instead (or, by the way, you'll be sorry).

The Global Times manages to evoke insecurity and arrogance all at once. In a series of opinion pieces, the newspaper both boasts of China's strength and threatens those who don't see things China's way.

  • "The momentum of U.S. returning to Asia seems fierce...A question must be answered: What should China do? ...observe calmly and secure our position. China should decode the nature of the U.S. encirclement and the strategic threats it will bring...The U.S. does not have the strength to encircle China now...Facing a weak economic recovery, the U.S. can do nothing but make some strategic mobilization as self-consolation. China will not confront the U.S. strategically or militarily. At present, China has the upper hand in the Sino-U.S. competition and the U.S. return to Asia cannot change the situation. A growing China will possibly change the choice of some countries and China's development will simplify many problems."
  • "As long as China is patient, there will be no room for those who choose to depend economically on China while looking to the U.S. to guarantee their security."
  • "Australia surely cannot play China for a fool. It is impossible for China to remain detached no matter what Australia does to undermine its security. There is a real worry in the Chinese society concerning Australia's acceptance of an increased U.S. military presence. Such psychology will influence the long-term development of the Australia-China relationship."

Neither of these arguments is likely to be compelling to regional actors. Both miss the point that you don't win friends by bad-mouthing others or paying for their friendship. The real argument Beijing should make is one espoused by Tsinghua professor Yan Xuetong in his recent New York Times opinion piece: the "battle for people's hearts and minds" between the United States and China will be "won by the country that displays more humane authority." Unfortunately, in trying to define how to get to a more humane authority, Yan falls short, doing little more than suggesting Beijing should choose more virtuous and wise leaders, as well as open its doors to leaders from abroad. Good luck with that. Instead, he should listen to his neighbor at Peking University Zhu Feng, who calls it straight when he says that in order for China to lead, it needs to respect the rule of law and human rights as well as promote economic growth. Until all of those are Beijing's top political priorities, Chinese leaders will never be voted most popular--they'll just keep paying people to hang around with them for a while.



This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Elizabeth Economy is a senior fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and blogs for "Asia Unbound."

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

Just In