28
Jan

By Joseph S. Nye Jr.

Citing an escalating dispute over islands in the East China Sea, The Economist warned last week that “China and Japan are sliding toward war.” That assessment may be too alarmist, but the tensions have bolstered the efforts of some American analysts who have urged a policy to “contain” China.

During a recent visit to China, I was struck by how many Chinese officials believe such a policy is already in place and is the central purpose of President Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia. “The pivot is a very stupid choice,” Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations, declared publicly. “The United States has achieved nothing and only annoyed China. China can’t be contained,” he added.

Containment was designed for a different era, and it is not what the United States is, or should be, attempting now. At the start of the cold war, containment meant economic isolation of the Soviets and regional alliances like NATO to deter Moscow’s military expansion. Later, to the chagrin of George F. Kennan, the father of containment, the doctrine led to the “domino effect” theory behind the escalation of the Vietnam War.

Cold war containment involved virtually no trade and little social contact. But China now is not what the Soviet Union was then. It is not seeking global hegemony, and the United States not only has an immense trade with China but also huge exchanges of students and tourists.

When I worked on the Pentagon’s East Asia strategy in 1994, during the Clinton administration, we rejected the idea of containment for two reasons. If we treated China as an enemy, we were guaranteeing a future enemy. If we treated China as a friend, we kept open the possibility of a more peaceful future. Read more…

Joseph S. Nye Jr., a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and a former Pentagon official, is the author of the forthcoming book “Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era.”

As published in www.nytimes.com on January 25, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 26, 2013, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Work With China, Don’t Contain It).

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