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Cold War II

While campaigning for president in 2000, George W. Bush made it clear that China’s relationship with the United States would be as a strategic competitor, and he declared he’d do whatever it took to defend Taiwan. After assuming the presidency, and especially since 9/11, Bush has backpedaled and generally acted as a strategic partner instead. But now that Iraq is on cruise control, President Bush seems to have flip-flopped again back to his original stance on China.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was recently in Tokyo laying out President Bush's new anti-Soviet style containment policy regarding China, "I really do believe the U.S.-Japan relationship, the U.S.-South Korea relationship, the U.S.-India relationship - all are important in creating an environment where China is more likely to play a positive role than a negative role."

In the same speech, Rice brought up George Kennan, the father of the United States' containment policy directed at the former Soviet Union. Kennan wrote, "the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies."

Substitute 'China' for 'Soviet Union' and you can see where the Reagan-era anti-communists surrounding President Bush are still hard at work. Giving that claim a little more gravitas, Dr. Rice - a Soviet specialist herself - was also recently in India urging settlement on the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan,

It has become urgent because the Bush administration is trying to lure India into an alliance with the United States that would implicitly define China as the enemy. When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited New Delhi last month, she told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that it is now America's policy to "help India become a major world power in the 21st century," and the State Department briefer emphasized that Washington "understands fully the implications, including the military implications, of that statement."

President Bush is expecting to cement our understanding with India in an upcoming visit. As one analyst puts it, the Bush administration thinks they're replaying the Nixon-Kissenger strategy of thirty years ago when they encircled the Soviet Union by restoring relations with China, except that now China is the target.

The problem is, China is not the Soviet Union. China is one of our biggest trading partners and one of the biggest holders of the federal debt the Bush administration has run up. Any perceived US threat to China is bound to be met by counter-threats of economic disaster. And it's an effective deterrent because the Chinese government is more likely to survive devastating economic warfare than the Bush administration. Also, the US is currently counting on China to resolve the North Korean nuclear stand-off.

However, the rising tension between China and our foremost ally in the region, Japan, and the longstanding question of Taiwan's status both have the potential to drag the US into a hot war. And as China attempts to position itself as Asia's leading economic and political power, the potential for clashes over influence and energy resources (as in Iran and Sudan) could spark new conflicts - especially if Beijing feels it's being surrounded and squeezed.

Containment coupled with engagement brought about the liberalization of the Soviet Union (and then it's unexpected - and by many accounts undesired - collapse). China is already well on it's way to being a liberal, capitalist society, which makes an adversarial Soviet-era containment strategy at this stage an interesting foreign policy choice.

Posted by American Pundit at April 14, 2005 11:13 AM