What Is Romney's China Policy?

By David Shambaugh

As the U.S. presidential election swings into its final three months, the Republican challenger Mitt Romney is beginning to define his foreign policy beliefs. Until recently, Romney had limited his comments on foreign policy to a combination of tough talk and platitudes, but now he is beginning to flesh out more detailed policies on different foreign policy issues and part of the world.

In this effort, the Romney campaign's official website (http://www.mittromney.com/issues) has recently announced the assemblage of a large foreign policy advisory team and a series of policy statements on national security and different parts of the world. Romney's foreign policy advisors are largely a collection of recycled Bush administration officials.

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Based on the official website's description, what might a Romney administration China policy look like? First, it is worth noting that concerning China and Asia, as with virtually every other part of the world, one consistent theme is pervasive: increasing American military strength. On national defense, for example, the Romney platform takes the Obama administration to task for slashing military spending and neglecting weapons modernization, suggesting that "weakness invites aggression." This suggests that defense should somehow be exempt from budget cuts in the current fiscal austerity climate. It is not that Romney wants to insulate and freeze the force from cuts, but he seeks to actually grow the military-adding nearly 50 ships to the navy and doubling the number of fighter squadrons.

This military-first mindset underlies the way the Romney team seems to approach every other foreign policy challenge-from Afghanistan, to Iran, to China, to North Korea, to Russia. In each case, it is argued that American military strength will deter aggression. This simplistic zero-sum mindset is a throwback to the Cold War and is no substitute for nuanced policies to deal with today's complex challenges.

With respect to China, the Romney policy places a robust military and security presence first. While it does claim that "Our objective is not to build an anti-China coalition," and leaves the door open to Beijing for "becoming a responsible partner in the international system," the position paper predominantly takes a deterrence tack emphasizing a potential China threat that must be met with American strength:

"In the face of China's accelerated military build-up, the United States and our allies must maintain appropriate military capabilities to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors."

Romney's position proceeds from the premise that China seeks to dominate Asia and, concomitantly, exclude the United States from the region:
"China must be discouraged from attempting to intimidate or dominate neighboring states. If the present Chinese regime is permitted to establish itself as the preponderant power in the Western Pacific it could close off large parts of the region to cooperative relations with the United States and the West and dim hope that economic opportunity and democratic freedom will continue to flourish across East Asia."

 

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David Shambaugh is Professor of Political Science & International Affairs, and Director of the China Policy Program, at the George Washington University. He is also a nonresident Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program and Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from China-US Focus

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