President Nixon was a pragmatic strategist. He would engage, not contain, China, but he would also quietly set pieces into place for a fallback position should China not play according to the rules as a good global citizen. In this circumstance, in which countries would be forced to take sides, he would arrange to win over Japan, Korea, ASEAN, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia to America's side of the chessboard.
Are Chinese leaders serious about displacing the United States as the number one power in Asia and in the world?
Of course. Why not? They have transformed a poor society by an economic miracle to become now the second-largest economy in the world -- on track, as Goldman Sachs has predicted, to become the world's largest economy. They have followed the American lead in putting people in space and shooting down satellites with missiles. Theirs is a culture 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, with a huge and very talented pool to draw from. How could they not aspire to be number one in Asia, and in time the world?
Today, China is growing at rates unimaginable 50 years ago, a dramatic transformation no one predicted. The Chinese people have raised their expectations and aspirations. Every Chinese wants a strong and rich China, a nation as prosperous, advanced, and technologically competent as America, Europe, and Japan. This reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force.
Unlike other emergent countries, China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West. The Chinese will want to share this century as co-equals with the United States.
How should U.S. policies and actions adjust to deal with the rise of China?
For America to be displaced, not in the world, but only in the western Pacific, by an Asian people long despised and dismissed with contempt as decadent, feeble, corrupt, and inept is emotionally very difficult to accept. The sense of cultural supremacy of the Americans will make this adjustment most difficult. Americans believe their ideas are universal -- the supremacy of the individual and free, unfettered expression. But they are not -- never were. In fact, American society was so successful for so long not because of these ideas and principles, but because of a certain geopolitical good fortune: an abundance of resources and immigrant energy, a generous flow of capital and technology from Europe, and two wide oceans that kept conflicts of the world away from American shores.
The United States cannot stop China's rise. It just has to live with a bigger China, which will be completely novel for the United States, as no country has ever been big enough to challenge its position. China will be able to do so in 20 or 30 years. Americans have to eventually share their preeminent position with China.