Many admonish the United States for not finding a more far-sighted way to manage strategic competition with a reemerging China. However, the ongoing search for a bilateral strategic roadmap has proven quixotic largely because of China’s reluctance to embrace international norms and rules, especially in the realm of national security. From maritime disputes to economic cyber theft, China is keen to exert its newfound power rather than to be bound by multilateral rules. Meanwhile, the ongoing crackdown on domestic freedom in China only reinforces fears that Beijing will treat neighbors as subordinates and remain a reluctant global stakeholder for decades to come.
Major General Zhu Chenghu recently claimed that “the Americans are making very, very important strategic mistakes right now” in their dealing with China. “If you take China as an enemy,” he expanded, “China will absolutely become the enemy of the U.S.” But while General Zhu seeks to defend Chinese coercion through punchy talking points, he glosses over China’s role in determining the fate of regional peace. As Joseph Nye is fond of saying, “only China can contain China,” because neighbors will respond to the tenor of Chinese behavior.