Containment 2022: Rallying the Asia-Pacific Against Chinese Aggression (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By David Winter, Fall 2022 Marcellus Policy Fellow

The balance of power has shifted away from the favor of the United States, but the attitude of the American foreign policy elite has not reflected this reality. The Asia-Pacific region is home to multiple U.S. partners, valuable economic traffic, and to a rising near-peer competitor, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China has already surpassed America in purchasing power parity (PPP), but what happens if China emerges as the dominant economic actor globally? China had been patient with its “hide-and-bide” approach from the era of former President Deng Xiaoping and has transitioned to the “loud-and-proud” approach introduced by current President Xi Jinping. Xi’s address to the most recent Communist Party Congress highlighted the need to further improve military power and secure food, energy, and supply chain routes, indicating the insecurity of his leadership.

It is more important than ever to foster and develop alliances so that the United States and its allies may protect their national interests from mutual threats. Such a move will require Washington to delegate power and authority to its partners, entrusting each member with a vested interest in securing the Asia-Pacific region to share the burden of mutual security against instability. Increased economic strength has allowed the PRC greater investment in defense and has contributed to China’s ascension to near-peer competitor status. Defense investments span from improved nuclear capability to cyber and conventional military forces. The days of American hegemony are behind us, and the United States can no longer afford to face economic and security challenges unilaterally without imposing greater costs on itself.

The United States should establish new regional partners through economic and military partnerships to challenge the expansionist policies of Xi’s China in the East and South China Seas. Multiple states in the region beginning to feel the threat of a rising China have challenged the territorial claims made by the Chinese but lack the power and influence to ward off invasive behavior. Washington can harness the concerns of these states to promote equal ownership of the Asia-Pacific region. The United States should enhance economic ties and military interoperability to promote cooperation with Asia-Pacific nations aimed at containing and deterring Chinese aggression in the region. This will require the United States to align with its regional allies and other interested parties in all facets of statecraft including diplomatic/political, economic, and military. In the subsequent sections, I will cover how China was able to attain near-peer competitor status, and how U.S. foreign policy can address this change in the global balance of power. The recommendation proposed is a model for developing new partnerships with unconventional allies, using Vietnam as a case study.