NAVIGATING US CHINA RELATIONS: COMPLICATED BY CHINA’S
by Jenny Lin
Pacific Forum CSIS Honolulu, Hawaii Number
March 5, 2013
Jenny Lin (Jenny@pacforum.org) is a Sasakawa
Peace Foundation resident fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS. She previously worked
at Project 2049 Institute, and the C enter for the Study of Chinese Military
Affairs, Institute for National Strategic Studies.
Wonder why the Chinese government,
especially the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has appeared more aggressive,
self -confident, and assertive in dealing with the US and its allies? The
answer could lie in an ancient Chinese strategy cal led the “unrelenting
strategy”– a part of the “thirty -six political military strategies” derived
from the I Ching. Mao Zedong incorporated this ancient teaching into his strategic
thinking, and it was recently discussed in Chinese media as having made the Japanese
mise rable over the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute.
Use of this strategy
suggests that Beijing has taken the US-China relationship onto an adversarial
path, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) systematically seeks to reduce
Washington’s influence in Asia.
This “unrelenting strategy” first calls for
China to confuse its opponent’s judgments; second, create and induce internal political conflicts within its
opponent; and third, deepen the opponent’s existing internal conflicts before
launching an offensive attack . However, the goal of “offensive attack” does not
necessarily mean the CCP/PLA is ready to use military force against the US in
the short-run; rather Beijing is pressing every advantage against the US to
transform the balance of forces between them.
That said, evidence of all three is
visible in Chinese behavior. Beijing believes that the US is both the greatest
threat to China’s national security and a declining power.
According to PLA
Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, the main challenges to China are
threats to the country’s sovereignty and legitimacy, as well as
separatism. Hu Jintao has warned of a hegemonic power’s efforts to induce
separatist movements and violate China’s sovereignty.
Meanwhile, Xi Jinping is dedicated
to lead China toward “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” with Mao’s strategic
thinking at its core –which is a struggle against
hegemonic power by unifying third world countries.
The perception that the US is in
decline began as early as 2001. According to Chinese media such as Xinhua and People’s
Daily , “US decline is no longer an unwarranted fear.” They report that US
power will “continue to decline” and the US “will unlikely hang on to its
hegemony.” Chinese media have examined the causes of US decline, speculated on the
possibility of breaking US hegemony, and explored how China can achieve
To effectively implement the “unrelenting strategy,” China
must fulfill certain preconditions – achieve internal stability, along with
economic, political, and military strength –before it can contend with other
Since Deng Xiaoping opened China, the CCP has made great strides in building
national strength with economic growth and military modernization. By the end
of 2015, China will have fulfilled its 12thFive-Year Plan. Utilizing an average
annual economic growth of 11 percent during 2006-2010, the CCP grew national wealth and agricultural
production, and financed technological breakthroughs in space, supercomputers, weapon
systems, and high-speed rail.
This growing economic and military strength
underpins Beijing’s perception that China has ascended to great power status
and met the preconditions for implementing the “unrelenting strategy.” The
perception that China is an emerging superpower began in the early 2000s.
Chinese media such as Xinhua linked the ownership of an aircraft carrier as a symbol
to superpower status, while others defined superpower status as chieving
economic, military, and political power. In September 2012, China launched its
first aircraft carrier, and Beijing anticipates breaking “a pillar of US
superpower status” by becoming the world’s leading economy.
Step one in the
“unrelenting strategy” can now be implemented, which is to confuse the
opponent’s judgments. Washington has been consistently surprised by the PLA’s rapid
evelopment, a phenomenon that is compounded by the tendency of policy makers to
take Chinese public statements at face value without fully understanding CCP
According to a 2012 report prepared for the US-China Economic and
Security Review Commission, the US government and most analysts missed the
significance of China’s new attack submarines and stealth fighters, its anti-satellite
missile system, and aircraft carrier-killing missiles. The geopolitical consequences
of not knowing an opponent’s full capabilities could result in miscalculation
and a failure in strategic planning.
Step two in the “unrelenting strategy”
seeks to induce the opponent’s internal political conflicts. This is evident in
the divisions between the US business and security communities. Despite
regulatory barriers and security concerns, US companies continue their
investments in China and remove incentives for Beijing to foster a better business
environment for foreign companies. Moreover, the 89 percent of US companies
operating in China that made a profit in 2011 press the US to go easy on Beijing to
protect those profits.
China also profits from US corporate
engagement by violating intellectual property law, hacking into US cyber networks,
and espionage designed to acquire sensitive information and technologies. The
lack of coordination between the US government and private industry is being
exploited by Beijing to its economic and strategic