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187 Zoellick’s China Kurt M. Campbell On September 21, 2005 in New York, then deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick, the acknowledged intellectual powerhouse of the Bush administration, delivered a nuanced presentation detailing the complexities of the U.S.-China relationship. Rarely, if ever, has a sub-cabinet official presented a speech of such consequence and at such an important juncture. Zoellick argued for a policy of continued broad engagement and productive cooperation between the United States, the dominant power in the international arena, and China, the rising behemoth in Asia. The speech, coming just before the release of the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power and the beginning of the Asian-focused dimensions of the Quadrennial Defense Review (sometimes referred to as the “China threat” sections), was a necessary check on the increasing trend in some Republican circles to portray China publicly as the next strategic rival and military threat facing the United States. After a protracted period of uncertainty concerning the nature of the foreign policy difficulties likely to confront Washington over the course of the first half of the 21st century, two overriding challenges are finally coming into sharper relief. The first is how to wage a more effective campaign in the long, twilight struggle against violent Islamic fundamentalism; the second is how to simultaneously cope with the almost certain rise Kurt M. Campbell holds the positions of Senior Vice President, Director of International Security Program, and Henry A. Kissinger Chair in National Security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He can be reached at . nbr analysis 188 of China to great power status. Zoellick’s speech offered essential insights into how to manage the latter challenge. The most interesting aspect of the Zoellick speech was the intended audience: interested parties in the United States. To be sure, some sections—such as the comments on the benefits of democracy and the need to become “a stakeholder” (the most memorable watchword from the speech) in the international system—were directed squarely at the authoritarian leaders in Beijing. The majority of the speech, however, was intended for the domestic U.S. audience, particularly those most inclined to view China as the next great threat to U.S. power and prestige on the global stage. Divisions in U.S. politics over complex foreign policy matters are nothing new. Throughout U.S. history, domestic debates have often focused on how best to conceptualize challenges and threats, be they from imperial Germany, Soviet Russia, or more recently Islamic jihadists. In most respects, however, the domestic divisions concerning China are greatly amplified. The main difference is that debates over U.S. China policy occur not so much between the two parties but within them. During the Clinton administration, human rights and democracy advocates battled vigorously throughout much of the first term against proponents of increased U.S.-China trade relations. In the current Bush administration, however, the in-fighting is much more intense, as hardliners in both the Pentagon and the vice president’s office square off against the traditional proponents of engagement housed primarily at the Department of State, the White House, and in various economic agencies. In recent years, proponents from both sides have engaged in a much more public debate. The 2002 “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” various Pentagon documents such as the “Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” and working drafts associated with the “Quadrennial Defense Review Report” have all raised deep anxieties regarding China’s military growth and global aspirations. Zoellick’s speech constitutes the pro-engagement camp’s first major counter-attack in the ongoing bureaucratic in-fighting over the future of U.S. policy toward China. When the Bush administration first came to power in 2000, many assumed that U.S. policy would shift inexorably away from Europe and the Middle East and toward the new strategic challenges and opportunities in Asia. Numerous administration officials gave speeches filled with language concerning “rising powers,” a term that was actually a coded phrase meant both to express concern over China’s rise and to anticipate changes inU.S.foreignpolicytowardthenewlysignificantAsianarena.September11profoundly refocused U.S. attentions, however, and over the course of the past five years U.S. strate- 189 “whither u.s.-china relations?” roundtable gists have been mostly preoccupied by policy issues far removed from the enormously vital and important developments ongoing in Asia—developments animated primarily by the rise of...


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