American overreach threatens regional stability of East Asia

US strategists believe that conflicts with the US would be inevitable if China attempts to move beyond the “first island-chain.”

But this understanding is not credible.

Since the 1930s, the stability of the Pacific has been mainly the result of cooperation between China and the US.

In the first half of the 20th century, it was Sino-US cooperation that quenched the Japanese disturbance. In the second half, it was again Sino-US cooperation that quelled the expansion of the US. 

Is Sino-US cooperation in the Pacific possible? Both China and the US are great powers with vast territories. The 2 million kilometers of ocean between two sides mean that one’s power and capability to expand cannot possibly shake the other’s national foundation.

The failure or prosperity of one side is closely intertwined with the other. Therefore, peace has inestimable value for the long-term and sustainable development of both countries.

The half-century stability of the Pacific depended on the consensus established at the end of the World War II at the Yalta Conference (1945), between the UK, US, and US.

The PRC was gradually brought into this system following its founding in 1949.

Similarly, future stability in the Pacific cannot be built without the cooperation between China, the US and Russia, especially between China and the US in the South Pacific region.

As long as this cooperation and the basic premises of the system are not destroyed, the interests of China and the US can be guaranteed.

But after half a century of development, China has become a country with great influence. It is neither possible nor fair or even acceptable to limit China within the shallow waters to the west of the “first island-chain.”

In fact, the defense of the “first island-chain” has become a tremendous burden for the US. The US has no need, and will gradually lose the capability to hold the “first island-chain.”

The US should learn from the example of the Russian Governor of what was then the Eastern Siberia region in the 1860s.

Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky saw the unstoppable rise of the US after the end of its Civil War (1860-65) and recommended the Tsar to accept the American purchase of Alaska.

It was this wisdom that ensured the continuous development of Russia for nearly half a century and established a defensible foundation for the later Soviet Union.

Today, US strategic thinking seems to trace back to the containment proposal by US strategist George Kennan, which could be disastrous for both countries.

Kennan himself lamented the aggressive interpretation of his ideas taken by later Cold War actors. The study of history shows us that even when the US was at its peak of power, it could not effectively control the West Pacific.

It will eventually be impossible for the US to limit China which is a great power with vast land and sea territories.

Instead, the two countries should search for new cooperative opportunities in the Pacific region, rather than the US attempting to contain China.

The author is a professor at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. forum@

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