In 2010, after 30 years of dramatic growth, China surpassed Japan to become the world's second largest economy after ours. China's size in land and in population, its rapid economic growth, and its sharply increasing military expenditures are dramatically changing the strategic map of the world. While the potential for conflict with an authoritarian China could rise as its power grows, the United States must pursue policies designed to encourage Beijing to embark on a course that makes conflict less likely. China must be discouraged from attempting to intimidate or dominate neighboring states. If the present Chinese regime is permitted to establish itself as the preponderant power in the Western Pacific it could close off large parts of the region to cooperative relations with the United States and the West and dim hope that economic opportunity and democratic freedom will continue to flourish across East Asia. Mitt Romney will implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system.
Maintain Robust Military Capabilities in the Pacific
In the face of China's accelerated military build-up, the United States and our allies must maintain appropriate military capabilities to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors. Maintaining a strong military presence in the Pacific is not an invitation to conflict. Quite the contrary; it is a guarantor of a region where trade routes are open and East Asia's community of nations remains secure and prosperous.
Toward that end, the United States should maintain and expand its naval presence in the Western Pacific. We should be assisting partners that require help to enhance their defensive capabilities. The Department of Defense should reconsider recent decisions not to sell top-of-the-line equipment to our closest Asian allies. We should be coordinating with Taiwan to determine its military needs and supplying them with adequate aircraft and other military platforms. We should be assisting Pacific nations to enhance maritime domain awareness, i.e., the ability to employ radar and other detection networks to monitor aggressive behavior in disputed waters. This would minimize the chance of surprise confrontations and prevent military miscalculations that can escalate into larger conflicts.
Deepen Cooperation Among Regional Partners
We need to continue to strengthen alliances and relations with strategic partners like India and build stronger ties to influential countries like Indonesia. Our aim should be to work with all these countries bilaterally but also to encourage them to work with one another as they have begun to do. Our objective is not to build an anti-China coalition. Rather it is to strengthen cooperation among countries with which we share a concern about China's growing power and increasing assertiveness and with whom we also share an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation and ensuring that disputes over resources are resolved by peaceful means. It is yet another way of closing off China's option of expanding its influence through coercion.
As detailed in his book, Believe in America, Mitt Romney will also pursue deeper economic cooperation among like-minded nations around the world that are genuinely committed to the principles of open markets through the formation of a "Reagan Economic Zone." The benefits of this zone -- which will codify principles of free trade -- will be a powerful magnet that draws in an expanding circle of nations seeking greater access to other markets. Although China is unlikely to accede to the Reagan Economic Zone given its current approach to trade, offering Beijing the possibility of participation will give China significant incentives to end its abusive commercial practices. But with or without China as a member, the Reagan Economic Zone will establish a system of trade that could knit together the entire region, discouraging imbalanced bilateral trade relations between China and its neighbors, limiting China's ability to coerce other countries, and ultimately encouraging China to participate in free trade on fair terms.
Defend Human Rights
Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China's regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights. A nation that represses its own people cannot 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. The United States has an important role to play in encouraging the evolution of China toward a more politically open and democratic order.
If the United States fails to support dissidents out of fear of offending the Chinese government, we will merely embolden China's leaders. We certainly should not have relegated the future of freedom to second or third place, as Secretary of State Clinton did in 2009 when she publicly declared that the Obama administration would not let U.S. concerns about China's human rights record interfere with cooperation "on the global economic crisis [and] the global climate change crisis." A Romney administration will vigorously support and engage civil society groups within China that are promoting democratic reform, anti-corruption efforts, religious freedom, and women's and minority rights. It will look to provide these groups and the Chinese people with greater access to information and communication through a stronger Internet freedom initiative. Mitt Romney will seek to engage China, but will always stand up for those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.
Disarm North Korea
North Korea's nuclear weapons program is a serious menace to world peace. A nuclear weapons capability in the hands of an unpredictable dictatorship with unknown leadership and an unclear chain of command poses a direct threat to U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere in East Asia, threatens our close allies South Korea and Japan, destabilizes the entire Pacific region, and could lead to the illicit transfer of a nuclear device to another rogue nation or a terrorist group. As president, Mitt Romney will commit to eliminating North Korea's nuclear weapons and its nuclear-weapons infrastructure. A key mistake in U.S. policy toward North Korea has been to grant it a series of carrots in return for only illusory cooperation. Each step the world has taken toward North Korea has been met with further provocations and expansion of its nuclear program. Over the years, North Korea has found that its pursuit of a nuclear weapon reaps it material and diplomatic rewards, taking away any incentive for it to end its program.
Mitt Romney will reverse that dynamic. The United States will make it unequivocally clear to Pyongyang that continued advancement of its nuclear program and any aggression will be punished instead of rewarded. Mitt will work with allies to institute harsher sanctions on North Korea, such as cracking down on financial institutions that service the North Korean regime and sanctioning companies that conduct commercial shipping in and out of North Korea. He will also step up enforcement of the Proliferation Security Initiative to constrain North Korean illicit exports by increasing the frequency of inspections of North Korean ships and discouraging foreign ports from permitting entry to North Korean ships. Such measures would significantly block the trade revenue that props up the North Korean regime and shut off routes by which the regime supplies its nuclear program.
China holds significant political and economic leverage over North Korea. It is not using that leverage, however, to achieve the goal of ending North Korea's nuclear program. China fears a destabilized North Korea and the implications of its possible collapse for the region along its border. Mitt will work to persuade China to commit to North Korea's disarmament. He will reassure China it will not be alone in dealing with the humanitarian and security issues that will arise should North Korea disintegrate. This will involve detailed planning for such an eventuality to ensure that we are ready to deal with the numerous issues that will arise if and when the North Korean regime collapses under the weight of its own economic and political contradictions. Mitt will also pursue robust military and counter-proliferation cooperation with our allies and others in the Pacific region. As the United States invigorates our relationships with South Korea, Japan, and others, and increases our collective military presence and cooperation, it should demonstrate to the Chinese that they should join the coordinated effort or be left behind as a regional counter-proliferation partner.