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On the C-Shaped Encirclement by the U.S. – Huang Yingxu, China Academy of Military Science

[Editor’s Note: The following report is translated from a Study Times article by Huang Yingxu, a research fellow at the China Academy of Military Science. The author believes that the U.S. has formed a C-shaped encirclement around China. But he also believes that China’s peaceful rise may not necessarily cause a war with the United States.

While acknowledging that the U.S. has “technological and military superiority that China does not match,” the author criticizes the war hawks’ “China and the U.S. cannot avoid a war” mentality as “alarmist talk.” He stresses that China will never give up its socialism with Chinese characteristics, and will never let the U.S. manipulate its politics. “(China) should not be blindly optimistic about the Sino-U.S. relationship; it should not be unnecessarily pessimistic either.”

Study Times is the official newspaper of the Communist Central Party School. According to its official website, the papers’ readers “are mainly Party and governmental cadres and intellectuals. … The Party’s Central Propaganda Ministry designates it as a key newspaper of reference.”] [1]

After the Cold War, the U.S. shifted its strategy from defensive to offensive. Its most prominent achievement was expansion into Central Asia, where the U.S. had never set its foot before. At the same time, the U.S. actively cozied up to India and Mongolia, and intervened in the South China Sea disputes. Together with the first and second island chains formed in the 1950’s, the U.S. assembled a C-shaped strategic formation. Some called it a C-shaped encirclement, or encirclement arc.

The C-shaped strategic encirclement may not be entirely aimed at China. But it surely has the intention to curb and contain China. We can reasonably assume it is mostly targeting China. However, things usually do not play out following one party’s wishful thinking. What kind of threat does the U.S. impose upon China with its strategic formation? To what degree can the U.S. manipulate and inhibit China? Is China facing an insurmountable enemy force? We cannot develop the right counter measures before we have a clear understanding of this issue.

First, we should clearly understand the nature of the C-shaped encirclement. Let us review the “new-moon shaped encirclement” formed around China in the 1950s. After the People’s Republic of China was founded, the U.S. put the focus of its Asia-Pacific policy on inhibiting “the Communist expansion in Asia” and gradually built the strategic framework consisting of a “single line” linking Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Southeast Asian countries. From 1951 to 1955, the U.S. signed security treaties with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Southeast Asia countries, and China’s Taiwan. These treaties include the “Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the U.S. and Japan,” the “Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the U.S.,” “The ANZUS Treaty,” the “Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea,” the “Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty,” and the “U.S. and Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty.” These treaties established America’s Asia-Pacific military build-up, which targets China as the chief enemy. This was the so-called new-moon shaped encirclement. That military build-up was a concrete replica of America’s mutual defense system in Europe. First, its shared political foundation was “preventing Communist expansion in Asia. Second, the treaty countries formed a military alliance and have obligations to support each other militarily. However, the current C-shaped encirclement is very different. First, the Sino-U.S. relationship has changed significantly; the two countries have a normal diplomatic tie. Second, the former Asia-Pacific military system (the new-moon shaped encirclement) has partially disintegrated. Most treaty countries no longer hold anti-China policies. Third, America’s newly established formation in the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent,  the West and Central Asia, is neither solid nor stable. In fact, the U.S. has no military alliance with these countries. Therefore, the so-called “C-shaped encirclement” is a far cry from the “new-moon shaped encirclement.”

More importantly, the U.S. is limited in what it can do to China with the “C-shaped encirclement”; it has too many things to deal with in different directions within this encirclement. As Brzezinski stated clearly in his book The Grand Chessboard, the pivot point of the U.S. global domination is controlling the Eurasian continent; whereas the pivot points of controlling the Eurasian continent are West Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. After the Cold War, the U.S. began to build a C-shaped encirclement in Asia as part of its global dominance strategy.

To maintain its global dominance, the U.S. must prepare to face multiple enemies and potential adversaries; even its traditional allies could become a threat. The U.S.-Japan alliance is one such example. The U.S. military formation has China as the primary target, but it also stays vigilant against Japan.

After WWII, the U.S. used Japan as a critical pawn for controlling the East end of Eurasia. In the meantime, it did not want to see Japan grow strong and challenge America’s authority in the Asia Pacific region (the U.S. regards the Pacific Ocean as its “inland lake”). The U.S. will never forget the history of Japan’s aggression. Over the years, the U.S. has been using a “carrot and stick” strategy to manipulate Japan. The two countries’ recent dispute over the Okinama Futenma Military Base reflect Japan’s struggle to become independent of the United States, and the U.S. pressure on Japan.

Another example is the U.S. presence in Central Asia. Although the U.S. has the intention to covet Western China, its real strategy is to insert a wedge in the old Soviet territory and suppress Russia’s strategic influence. Clearly, Russia is extremely uncomfortable with the U.S. presence. Recent political turbulence in the Kyrgyz Republic shifted the political situation in Russia’s favor, and undermined the U.S. status in Central Asia. In general, the U.S. has a long front line and too many opponents. That makes it hard to stay focused, which is America’s fatal weakness.

Therefore, China still enjoys a broad strategic maneuvering space, despite the C-shaped encirclement. If we handle the situation properly, the space will grow. China and the U.S. can avoid a war. Some people talk about the “inevitability of a China-U.S. war,” but to me, that is an exaggeration.

In the past 30 years since China and the U.S. normalized their diplomatic relationship, except for the first ten years of stability, the two countries’ relationship has been a roller coaster ride. Despite that, the relationship survived. Some key stabilizing factors are at work to sustain and confine the Sino-U.S. relationship.

First, the U.S. has a huge technological and military superiority over China.

Second, the U.S. will not abandon the effort to dominate the world. It will try to keep its “game rules” that have benefited America’s political and economic interests for years. China will never give up its socialist path and its independent foreign policy; it strives to create a new international order marked by justice and equality. China will never become a puppet of the United States.

Third, although the U.S. has a strong overall national strength, it is not strong enough to build and maintain global dominance. The U.S. cannot gather all its forces to deal with China. Although China is not developed enough, it is still a big country. If the U.S. gathers its forces to confront China, its global dominance will surely collapse.

Fourth, with a new round of economic globalization, the interests of the U.S. and China are increasingly intertwined. Cooperation has become a practical necessity. The U.S. cannot ignore China’s role in the world. It has to seek China’s support in many key international affairs.

From China’s perspective, the Sino-U.S. relationship is very significant to its global diplomacy and open-door policy. Promoting a positive relationship is imperative to China in its immersion into the international community, and its own business interests. Therefore, China has chosen to pursue peaceful development and has adopted a defensive military strategy. China will never seek to dominate the world.

The overall effect of these factors determines that China and the U.S. will continue to be “opponent-partners.” Under this scenario, the two countries allow enough room for dialogue at times of conflict, and will unlikely head to a dead end. Based on this understanding, (China) should not be blindly optimistic about the Sino-U.S. relationship; it should not be unnecessarily pessimistic either. As long as we take care of our own business, and follow the right strategies at home and abroad, China can achieve broad international strategic space and take advantage of the precious time for further development.

[1] Study Times, No. 541.