china aircraft carrier Li Tang/ZumaPress

Serenity in the South China Sea

Managing the US-China relationship in general, and the South China Sea in particular, requires, above all, keeping official rhetoric under control. Lines will need to be drawn, but wise leaders will focus on cooperative diplomatic solutions, playing military cards to the minimum extent possible.

CANBERRA – Diplomats and alcoholics don’t always have as much in common as is sometimes assumed. But there is useful guidance for policymakers in the Reinhold Niebuhr prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous has made its own: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

America’s response to China’s rise – and in particular to its assertiveness in the South China Sea – is a case in point. The United States should accept many dimensions of China’s economic, and now military, growth with as much serenity as it can muster. But there are some that call for pushback, and the jury is still out on America’s capacity to make the right calls.

The central, painful, reality that the US must accept is that a major shift in the Asia-Pacific balance of power has already taken place. The days of America’s unequivocal primacy and unilateral capacity to write the rules are over.

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