Before I left for a meeting in Beijing, the leading China hand at George Washington University, David Shambaugh, advised me to read Huge White’s The China Choice. Shortly after I landed in China, the renowned Harvard scholar Weiming Tu (who now makes his home at the Peking University) asked me if I had read the Australian professor’s book.
The recommendation was well-taken and gladly heeded. White holds that the United States has not made up its mind as to whether it will seek to engage or contain China, but in the meantime there are forces in both societies that push the United States and China down a slippery slope—a dynamic that may end very badly for both sides.
Like many other authors, White’s analysis is much keener than his prescriptions. His main recommendation is that the United States should join with China, India, and Japan to form a “concert of powers” comparable to the power-sharing arrangement that emerged in post-Napoleonic Europe. This would create “a new order in which China’s authority and influence grow enough to satisfy the Chinese, and America’s role remains large enough to ensure that China’s power is not misused.” But White is rather unclear on what this would entail. Allow China exclusive rights on the South China Sea? Give up on the U.S.-Japan military treaty? And would China agree to join a body that has two U.S. allies as the main players, nations it does not considers its equals?
White raises all the right questions, and eloquently so. But he leaves it to others to spell out ways to accommodate China—if this is a course the United States can be persuaded to follow.