Should the 21st century be an American century? To answer, it is only necessary to contemplate the alternatives.
One much bruited these days is that of a Chinese century. With China's billion-plus population, its 10% annual average growth rates, and its burgeoning military power, a China that comes to dominate Asia and much of the globe is increasingly becoming thinkable. The character of the Chinese government--one that marries aspects of the free market with suppression of political and personal freedom--would become a widespread and disquieting norm.
But the dawn of a Chinese century--and the end of an American one--is not inevitable. America possesses inherent strengths that grant us a competitive advantage over China and the rest of the world. We must, however, restore those strengths.
That means shoring up our fiscal and economic standing, rebuilding our military, and renewing faith in our values. We must apply these strengths in our policy toward China to make its path to regional hegemony far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system.
Barack Obama is moving in precisely the wrong direction. The shining accomplishment of the meetings in Washington this week with Xi Jinping--China's vice president and likely future leader--was empty pomp and ceremony.
President Obama came into office as a near supplicant to Beijing, almost begging it to continue buying American debt so as to finance his profligate spending here at home. His administration demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even "the global climate-change crisis." Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia.
Now, three years into his term, the president has belatedly responded with a much-ballyhooed "pivot" to Asia, a phrase that may prove to be as gimmicky and vacuous as his "reset" with Russia. The supposed pivot has been oversold and carries with it an unintended consequence: It has left our allies with the worrying impression that we left the region and might do so again.
The pivot is also vastly under-resourced. Despite his big talk about bolstering our military position in Asia, President Obama's actions will inevitably weaken it. He plans to cut back on naval shipbuilding, shrink our Air Force, and slash our ground forces. Because of his policies and failed leadership, our military is facing nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade.
We must change course.
In the economic arena, we must directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation. While I am prepared to work with Chinese leaders to ensure that our countries both benefit from trade, I will not continue an economic relationship that rewards China's cheating and penalizes American companies and workers.
Unless China changes its ways, on day one of my presidency I will designate it a currency manipulator and take appropriate counter-action. A trade war with China is the last thing I want, but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender.
We must also maintain military forces commensurate to the long-term challenge posed by China's build-up. For more than a decade now we have witnessed double-digit increases in China's officially reported military spending. And even that does not capture the full extent of their spending on defense. Nor do the gross numbers tell us anything about the most troubling aspects of China's strategy, which is designed to exert pressure on China's neighbors and blunt the ability of the United States to project power into the Pacific and keep the peace from which China itself has benefited.
To preserve our military presence in Asia, I am determined to reverse the Obama administration's defense cuts and maintain a strong military presence in the Pacific. This is not an invitation to conflict. Instead, this policy is a guarantee that the region remains open for cooperative trade and that economic opportunity and democratic freedom continue to flourish across East Asia.
We must also forthrightly confront the fact that the Chinese government continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights. If the United States fails to support dissidents out of fear of offending the Chinese government, if we fail to speak out against the barbaric practices entailed by China's compulsory one-child policy, we will merely embolden China's leaders at the expense of greater liberty.
A nation that represses its own people cannot ultimately be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom. While it is obvious that any lasting democratic reform in China cannot be imposed from the outside, it is equally obvious that the Chinese people currently do not yet enjoy the requisite civil and political rights to turn internal dissent into effective reform.
I will never flinch from ensuring that our country is secure. And security in the Pacific means a world in which our economic and military power is second to none. It also means a world in which American values--the values of liberty and opportunity--continue to prevail over those of oppression and authoritarianism.
The sum total of my approach will ensure that this is an American, not a Chinese century. We have much to gain from close relations with a China that is prosperous and free. But we should not fail to recognize that a China that is a prosperous tyranny will increasingly pose problems for us, for its neighbors, and for the entire world.