General Michael V. Hayden, Director of the CIA, gave a speech this week at Kansas State University, on, among other things, China’s future relationship with the United States. Hayden had this to say:
China, a communist-led, nuclear state that aspires to—and will likely achieve—great power status during this century, will be the focus of U.S. attention. As such, it deserves special mention today.
As is often the case with issues of real consequence for our national security, there are differing views about where China is headed and what its motivations are. Let me give you Mike Hayden’s view: China is a competitor—certainly in the economic realm, and, increasingly, on the geopolitical stage. But China is not an inevitable enemy. There are good policy choices available to both Washington and Beijing that can keep us on the largely peaceful, constructive path we’ve been on for almost 40 years now.
I say that with full appreciation for the remarkable speed and scope of China’s recent military buildup. The Chinese have fully absorbed the lessons of both Gulf wars, developing and integrating advanced weaponry into a modern military force. While it’s true that these new capabilities could pose a risk to U.S. forces and interests in the region, the military modernization is as much about projecting strength as anything else. After two centuries of perceived Western hegemony, China is determined to flex its muscle. It sees an advanced military force as an essential element of great power status. And it is the Intelligence Community’s view that any Chinese regime, even a democratic one, would have similar nationalist goals.
Don’t misunderstand. The military buildup is troubling, because it reinforces long-held concerns about Chinese intentions toward Taiwan. But even without that issue, we assess that a build-up would continue—albeit one that might look somewhat different.
As important as military strength is to China today, economic development and political stability are just as central to its leaders’ thinking—as Ambassador Zhou himself made clear when he was here just 11 weeks ago. From the U.S. perspective, China’s growing engagement with the rest of the world is driven primarily by two things: a need for access to markets, resources, technology, and expertise, and a desire to assert its influence in the region and with developing countries in other parts of the world.
I should note that even as it aspires to a larger global role, China faces significant domestic challenges and structural weaknesses: things like uneven income distribution, growing dependence on foreign oil and other imported resources, environmental degradation, an aging population, and massive migration from rural areas to cities. All of these factors will influence China’s trajectory, and we can’t ignore them. But to me, the key question for the future is whether China is ready to accept the responsibility that comes along with “great power status.”
Today, China’s behavior in the international realm is focused almost exclusively on narrowly defined Chinese objectives. We saw that in the country’s dealings with Sudan, where protection of its oil interests was paramount. Let me give you another example. Two years ago, Beijing pledged to Pacific Island nations more than $370 million at a forum specifically designed to undermine Taiwan’s ties to the region. Much of China’s aid to the developing world comes with few, if any, conditions attached, which undermines the West’s own efforts to promote good governance.
Whether China begins to engage the world in ways that are less narrowly focused will greatly influence the U.S.-China relationship in the new century. If Beijing begins to accept greater responsibility for the health of the international system—as all global powers should—we will remain on a constructive, even if competitive, path. If not, the rise of China begins to look more adversarial.
For more views on this speech, check out the following:
1. “Is China Our Enemy?” By Gordon Chang.
2. “CIA director sounds off on the future of the world,” at FP Passport.
3. “Pundits talk about China,” at Uncommon Misconceptions.”
4. “CIA chief says China’s rapid military buildup troubling,” at 1913Intel.
5. “I’d Agree With This,” at Liberty Pundit.
6. “China and the CIA,” at the Seminal.