Daniel Larison continues the discussion about ideology and the rise of China:
I agree that ideology is an instrument of state power, and ideology as such wouldn’t exist except for the desire to acquire and exercise power, but this is what still leaves me puzzled. It doesn’t help the U.S. gain much of anything to stoke hostility towards China, and it isn’t clear to me that it is all that useful to the U.S. to try to encourage regime change in China. America won’t benefit from conflict with China, and it won’t benefit from prolonged instability in China and East Asia. If deploying liberal democratic ideology were actually being used to advance some concrete U.S. interest, that would be one thing, but instead it seems to have become an end in itself that requires the U.S. to put its interests at risk for the sake of prior ideological commitment.
I don't think the Obama administration (or the Bush administration for that matter) has ever been so bold as to declare that regime change is the end-goal of American policy toward China. That may be the implication of some of the ideologically-tinged rhetoric surrounding U.S. policy, but I don't know if either administration has come right out and said so. The further you get from the executive branch, however, the more overt the calls for changing China's regime tend to become.
It's true, I think, that ideological universalism has become an end of U.S. foreign policy in its own right - not just a means to other ends. Larison contends that such universalism won't help the U.S. advance its interests with respect to China:
Other nations don’t have to want to live under a Chinese-style system to accept Chinese investment and influence, and they don’t. In practice, democrats around the world are going to be interested in pursuing their respective national interests, and insofar as China supports or does not interfere with those there is nothing about China’s domestic regime that obviously limits the influence it can have. After all, it isn’t as if China’s neighbors would be less alarmed by its moves in the South China Sea if it were a democratic state. It is fundamentally what China does, not its reigning ideology or its internal repression, that makes its neighbors wary of its intentions.
I agree, although according to the Friedburg article we both cited, the manner in which China has pursued (and to some extent defined) its interests in the South China Sea is an expression of its ideology. I'm not sure about this - partly because I'm not intimately familiar with pre-Communist Chinese history and strategic policy, and partly because this same argument was trotted out about the Soviet Union and Russia and hasn't held up all that well. (Even a "democratic" Russia under Yeltsin complained vociferously about NATO expansion in the 1990s and attempted to exert influence over her neighbors - it was just too economically weak and internally disordered to be effective.)
Bottom line: I think that between China's actions and Washington's ideological commitments, there is ample cause to believe that a Cold War-style standoff is imminent, if not already underway.