NEW DELHI – America’s strategy in Asia for more than a century has sought a stable balance of power to prevent the rise of any hegemon. Yet the United States, according to its official National Security Strategy, is also committed to accommodating “the emergence of a China that is peaceful and prosperous and that cooperates with us to address common challenges and mutual interests.” So America’s Asia policy has in some ways been at war with itself.
In fact, the US has played a key role in China’s rise. For example, rather than sustain trade sanctions against China after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the US decided instead to integrate the country into global institutions. But US foreign policy had been notable for a China-friendly approach long before that.
In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt, who hosted the peace conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, after the Russo-Japanese War, argued for the return of Manchuria to Manchu-ruled China and for a balance of power in East Asia. The war ended up making the US an active participant in China’s affairs.
After the Communists seized power in China in 1949, the US openly viewed Chinese Communism as benign, and thus distinct from Soviet Communism. And it was after the Communists crushed the pro-democracy movement in 1989 that the US helped to turn China into an export juggernaut that has accumulated massive trade surpluses and become the principal source of capital flows to the US.