Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 16:44 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 16:44 | SYDNEY

If Nicholas Burns is right...


Sam Roggeveen


This post is part of the What is the US consensus on China? debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

24 June 2011 11:19

This post is part of the What is the US consensus on China? debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

...then hold on for a bumpy ride, Australia.

The US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has now made available audio and video of its recent 9/11 Summit, which took place a couple of weeks ago. In the context of our ongoing discussion about Australia's approach to China, it's worth highlighting some comments from former US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. Here's how he described the view from Washington (emphasis added):

In the security realm, I think there is a consensus that China is a potential threat — and particularly, not the Hu Jintao generation but the more nationalistic generation coming to power in China — and that if China should rise, with its extraordinarily big military modernisation, and find disarray in Asia and find a declining or receding United States, and finding an alliance system that was withering, then China might be tempted to seek military domination. I don't mean of a colonial sort, at all, but just the ability to intimidate, the kind of Chinese behaviour we saw at the ASEAN last summer on the South China Sea, the China that reaches too far.

If, on the other hand, the United States is able to maintain its position in Asia, retains its predominant military power, through its alliance system, and also includes India in a new strategic partnership in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific, it is much more likely that, when China rises into a democratic sea filled with democratic powers, that will be peaceful. The surest way to peace with China is through military strength and the maintenance of our alliance. That is a bipartisan view, firmly held in the United States of America.

These comments were preceded by another claim: that there is bipartisan consensus in America that it would be 'catastrophic' for the US to engage in a cold war or hot war with China, and that the economic relationship is so vital and so integrated that the two countries must work together constructively.

So, to summarise the US consensus, according to Nicholas Burns: (1) the US and China must engage constructively, and (2) the US must maintain military dominance over China.

My question to Nicholas Burns? Which is more likely: that the US gets its way on both these propositions, or that proposition 2 increasingly clashes with proposition 1?

My secondary question: how likely is it that India will want any part of this 'democratic sea' arrayed against China?