china aircraft carrier Zeng Tao/ZumPress

Channeling China’s Aspirations

The closer China’s economic ties with the rest of the world become, the more it will have to lose from a breakdown in international relations. It is better that China be convinced that economic engagement is the best way to project power than for its leaders to conclude that military confrontation is the only viable path to respect.

CAMBRIDGE – China has begun to stretch its economic and military muscles in recent years. In the South China Sea, it has built a series of quasi-military bases on the tiny Spratly Islands and deployed warships to defend them. Meanwhile, it is sponsoring the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – an international institution that threatens to rival the World Bank in Asia – and has persuaded countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, and France to join, over the vocal objections of the United States.

It is easy to conflate China’s saber-rattling with its economic and diplomatic initiatives such as the AIIB, as some US officials seem to have done. But, while China’s rise does merit some caution, it does not make sense to resist the country at every turn; sometimes, it is wiser to leave well enough alone.

While China’s military and economic actions are interlinked, those links provide an opening for the latter to mitigate the former. Indeed, a more supple American policy would seek to play these two aspects of Chinese policy against each other.

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