November 18, 2012

The Non-Zero-Sum Game between US and China

 
Dr. Monika Chansoria


The US presidential debates between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and incumbent Democrat President, Barack Obama, have witnessed increasing exchange of jabs over their respective "China policy". As the US makes strategic re-adjustments in reference to its role and re-oriented focus in the Asia-Pacific, numerous mechanisms under which China and the US operate mutually are fast proving inept to offset China's budding politico-military ambitions in Asia.
The Pentagon's strategic-guidance defence document released in January 2012 seeks a "strategic pivot" to the Asia-Pacific—a region that is witness to fierce competition in terms of trade and energy routes. Transitioning out of Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has re-assessed priority areas including strategic interests, defence priorities and spending vis-à-vis Asia.

Landing of the US Marines in Darwin, Australia in April 2012 signalled beginning of the initial phase of America's "strategic pivot". Could these recent developments be placed in a framework which argues that Washington and Beijing are competing for greater strategic primacy in the Asia-Pacific? This concurrently necessitates engagement, although not entirely discounting potential frictions—thus representing a classic case of the game theory in international relations.
The high stakes and levels of interdependence between Beijing and Washington, and the ensuing strategies that both appear to be plying are a mixed bag of diplomatic engagement and politico-military containment. Essentially put into practice in order to examine the strategic behaviour between economic, political, and social players, the game theory leads to a decision-making process that is based on patterns/assumptions about the goals that an actor sets forth, based on the knowledge/inputs available with the actor in reference to the objectives of the other player.

The current trajectory of Sino-US relations does not fall into the category of a classic zero-sum game. This can be inferred when US' State Department official, William Burns, stated, "A healthy China-US relationship is central to the future of the Asia-Pacific region and the global economy." The sentiment notwithstanding, a carrot and stick approach seems to be in the offing, thus constituting the very basic determinants of a non zero-sum game (involving mixed-motives) where conflict and cooperation cannot be considered as mutually exclusive.

A prudent submission would be that China's rising economic and politico-military graph makes more than ample room for a mounting query on how would Asia adapt to this rise of China. The shift/possibility of shift, of power, or for that matter, of power centres, has never occurred without creating ripples, and constantly holds the potential to quiver contemporary international order.

The change in Pentagon's game plan is being intently dissected in Beijing. China's state-controlled media has published numerous commentaries and opinion editorials since the beginning of 2012, which confirm that China "has become a firm strategic target of the US" (as stated in the Global Times, 6 January 2012). Beijing seems to be betting heavily on its economic card under the aegis of globalisation, wherein it remains defiantly confident that the US will not succeed in "fully containing" China. Simultaneously, China appears cautious vis-à-vis US' enthusiasm in promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which seeks to build a binding economic and trade framework and a new-generation model of free trade in the region.

In pure military terms, Beijing terms the US' strategy in the Asia-Pacific as "security rebalancing" efforts, given that the world's geographic center is gradually shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific (as cited in the People's Liberation Army Daily). America's "containment attempts" should constitute as one of China's diplomatic strategic goals, suggested the authoritative PLA publication, further stressing that China should unite with "all possible forces" and keep strategic initiatives against the US. Sensing that China's anti-access military capabilities could be targeted, Chinese military analysts have repeatedly advocated strengthening of its long-range strike capabilities to enhance deterrence against the US.

The Chinese ambassador to the US, Zhang Yesui, asserted that Sino-US relations will be characterised by competition, but not to the extent of a zero-sum game. However, it is manifest by the above-mentioned select references that Beijing views promotion of the "eastward shift" by the Obama administration as principally directed to address China's rise and growing ascendancy in the Asia-Pacific.

As far as the US strategic policy orientation is concerned, it could be termed as a mixed bag—one wherein military prowess matches politico-diplomatic nuance. This then leads to the question whether American gunboat diplomacy would find resonance vis-à-vis China registering higher stages of economic growth and a rapidly escalating campaign of military modernisation and critically-related ambiguity? The ramifications of US' strategic re-adjustment in the liberal world order, more specifically, the Asia-Pacific, does entail a troubling prospect of China becoming ill at ease and confrontational in the coming future, not necessarily in military terms alone.

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi
Views expressed are personal

1 comment:

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