Page 1 of 2 Chinese suspicion over US intentions
By Michael S Chase
Recently, a number of Chinese analysts have argued United States diplomatic and
military actions in the region - including Washington's efforts to assure
allies in response to North Korean attacks, its engagement with Vietnam and
other countries in Southeast Asia, and its statements about resolving competing
claims in the South China Sea - reflect what they see as a desire to ensure
that China's emergence will not challenge US interests.
According to Shen Dingli of Fudan University, Washington is exploiting regional
tensions and urging some countries to "hedge against China's rise". Such
comments appear to reflect growing concern about US intentions, at least among
scholars and security analysts.
The United States repeatedly has indicated it welcomes the emergence of a more
prosperous and powerful China, one that is capable of playing a larger and more
constructive role on the international stage, but many in China are concerned
that Washington is becoming increasingly uneasy about the implications of
China's arrival as a great power.
Chinese analysts have harbored deep suspicions about US strategic intentions
for many years, but a changing strategic context and a series of recent
incidents in the region appear to have intensified their concerns. Some Chinese
scholars even suspect the United States intends to "contain" China to prevent
its rise from challenging America's position as the predominant power in the
To be sure, there is considerable debate about these issues in China, but even
the more nuanced and balanced assessments suggest Beijing views Washington's
concerns about China's rising power and growing US involvement in the region as
factors that are complicating Chinese policy.
China's most recent defense white paper reflects this growing wariness.
According to China's National Defense in 2010, China's security environment
remains relatively favorable, but "suspicion about China, interference and
countering moves against China from the outside are on the increase". Beijing's
suspicion of US intentions may make it difficult for the United States to
maintain a strong deterrence posture while simultaneously assuring Beijing that
it welcomes China's arrival as a great power.
The US welcomes China's rise ...
As underscored by numerous official statements, the United States welcomes
China's emergence as a great power with global interests. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton and other senior officials have emphasized that the United
States wants to build a "positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship"
with China .
To be sure, Washington is also concerned about how a stronger and more capable
China will use its growing power in the region and beyond. In particular, US
officials highlight lack of transparency with regard to China's growing
military capabilities and uncertainty about Beijing's long-term strategic
Nonetheless, the overall strategic message Washington is sending is that the US
welcomes the emergence of a more prosperous and powerful China - one capable of
playing a larger and more constructive international role. Washington also
seeks to assure Beijing that the US is not trying to delay or prevent China's
emergence as a great power with global interests and capabilities. For example,
in June 2011, former secretary of defense Robert Gates stated, "We are not
trying to hold China down. China has been a great power for thousands of years.
It is a global power and will be a global power."
... But Beijing is deeply suspicious
No matter what strategic assurances the United States provides, some in China
are concerned the United States is becoming increasingly uneasy about China's
emergence as a great power. Specifically, despite Washington's rhetorical
emphasis on the importance of a stable and constructive US-China relationship,
they are deeply concerned the US ultimately will attempt to delay or prevent
China's emergence as a great power because it sees a stronger China as a threat
to its continued preeminence.
Some even fear Washington really intends to "contain" China. Chinese suspicions
about US strategic intentions are longstanding . What is new is that a
changing strategic context and series of recent events appear to be
intensifying China's concerns.
One key factor is China's wariness about the possible implications of a
shifting balance of power. Some Chinese scholars see US power as diminished by
the strains of multiple wars and the global financial crisis . Yet there is
considerable debate about the extent to which the gap is narrowing and the
implications for Chinese foreign and security policy.
In the words of Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, "China's national strength
has been on the rise in the past three decades and more since reform and
opening up ... but there remains a big gap, even a huge gap, between China's
national strength and that of the United States. This is a fact that we Chinese
must face soberly."
Notwithstanding this debate about the extent to which the balance of power is
shifting, a number of Chinese analysts have portrayed the United States as
worried that it is declining relative to China, giving rise to concerns that
Washington will try to check China's rise in order to preserve its preeminent
Beyond concerns about how the US is likely to respond as China narrows the gap,
some Chinese analysts highlight Taiwan and maritime security issues as
indicative of antagonistic US strategic intentions.
The China-Taiwan relationship has improved dramatically in recent years, but
Taiwan remains a central concern and a source of suspicion about US intentions
toward China. Beijing continues to object to US political-military backing for
Taiwan in general and US arms sales to the island in particular.
Beijing also appears convinced Washington's support for Taiwan is aimed at
using it as an obstacle to China's emergence as a great power. In this respect,
some see US arms sales to Taiwan as evidence of a "two-handed" policy toward
China, one that includes elements of engagement on the one hand and containment
on the other.
More broadly, as Nancy Bernkopf Tucker and Bonnie Glaser point out: "Apart from
being a potential trigger for war, Taiwan impedes improvement in US-China
relations because of suspicion and mistrust. Beijing firmly believes that
Washington seeks to keep the PRC [People's Republic of China] weak and divided
to obstruct China's rise." 
Beyond Taiwan, some Chinese analysts are focused increasingly on what they see
as a deteriorating maritime security environment. In the words of China Academy
of Social Science (CASS) researchers Zhang Jie and Pu Jianyi, "maritime
security has become a major source of tensions in China's peripheral security
Some Chinese scholars identify the United States as the main cause of China's
maritime security problems. Academy of Military Science analyst Major General
Peng Guangqian argues the United States is "the fundamental factor that
influences surrounding countries, and causes complicated situations,
intensified contradictions, and greater turbulence".
Some Chinese analysts contend Washington seeks to exploit North Korean attacks
on South Korea and Beijing's maritime disputes with its neighbors, especially
Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Chinese observers have expressed concerns that recent events in the Yellow Sea,
East China Sea and South China Sea reflect what they see as Washington's
determination to prevent China from challenging the US position in the region.
Some Chinese observers criticized the late 2010 US-South Korean naval exercises
as further destabilizing an already tense situation.
Particularly vocal opposition came from People's Liberation Army (PLA)
officers, such as Luo Yuan, who emphasized the historical sensitivity of the
Yellow Sea as "the gateway to China's capital region". Indeed, the writings of
some PLA officers and other observers suggest they interpreted the exercises as
a show of force intended to put pressure on China.
For example, Li Jie asserted, "Although on the surface the purpose was to exert
pressure on North Korea, actually a very large part of this was to exert
influence over China." US support for Japan following the September, 2010 ship
collision incident near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands also raised concerns for
As for the South China Sea, some Chinese analysts assert other countries are
exploiting Beijing's relatively restrained approach by nibbling away at China's
interests. Zhu Chenghu, a vocal military scholar at National Defense
University, writes that rival claimants are "plundering China's oil and gas
resources without scruple, turning the South China Sea into an ATM