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Nina Hachigian is a Senior Fellow at American Progress. Based in Los Angeles, she is the co-author of The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers[…]

Is China a security partner or security threat?


Nina Hachigan: China is not a direct security threat to the United States, and on many issues, it has been a security partner. On the issues that are most pressing to America now, they are mostly a security partner, so for example, we’re never gonna roll back North Korea’s nuclear program if China is not right with us, twisting arms, you know, right along with us in Pyongyang. And there are places where our policies certainly have the- you know, have the potential for clashing over Taiwan, for example, or over Sudan, or yeah, in Myanmar, in Burma. We don’t see eye-to-eye on some issues, but the fact is that with the right combination of pressure, China will move in the right direction. And the fact is that we have to work with them on some of these issues in order to actually make progress. But on the real core security interests of the United States, terrorism and disease and North Korea and Iran- they are more of a security partner.

I mean, you can’t discount the possibility that fifty years from now, there could be some sort of military clash with China. But the fact is that we are both nuclear powers, and that in and of itself provides a very strong deterrent to any sort of direct clash. We- our economies are wholly interdependent, and that’s not gonna change, I don’t think- and so that also provides a deterrent. I mean, the fact is it’s hard to imagine what China and the United States would get out of a direct clash. It’s not as if it would help to conquer each other on economic terms the way it might have- you know, two hundred years ago- but we live in a totally different economy now. I mean, that’s not to say that there couldn’t be some sort of proxy war somewhere over Taiwan or Africa or whatever, but that’s really not in the interest of either country, and right now, we are both very much in needing and wanting a global stability. That’s what China wants, that’s what America wants. We want open markets and we want stability. And so, I think on a lot of issues, we can agree. I mean, I do think it’s smart that we ought to, you know, we ought to have in mind the possibility that thirty or fifty years from now, there could be a clash, and we ought to prepare militarily for that possibility, without doing anything overt to antagonize China, because then that’s the self-perpetuating cycle, you know, of arms buildup. But I just don’t think it’s a likely- it’s not something you can bet on in any way. I mean, we have a terrible history of trying to predict who’s gonna be the big power thirty years from now. We might all be living in houseboats by then because of global warming- we just don’t know what’s gonna happen.

Recorded on: 5/14/08