The featured article on the National Interest on Sunday called for an end to America’s “securitized competition” with China. It is written by Pounyan Kimiayjan and Johnsen Romero of the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD), which describes itself as “a non-profit and non-partisan North American international affairs think tank operating in the United States and Canada dedicated to promoting dialogue, diplomacy, prudent realism, and military restraint,” which are, according to IPD, “the four cornerstones of sustainable peace.”
Kimiayjan and Romero in their National Interest piece fault the United States for responding to China’s rise as an economic power with a policy of “securitization,” consisting of a military build-up in the region and a strategy of constructing regional alliances to contain China. They accuse Washington of “overstating security as the framework for competing with Beijing,” neglecting “multilateral economic arrangements in the region,” and failing to understand that the U.S.-China rivalry is principally a geo-economic, rather than a geopolitical, competition. And they cite a recent IPD “white paper” that calls on the U.S. to cease viewing the U.S.-China rivalry “from a militarist prism.”
IPD is largely a Canadian operation. Most of the members of its advisory board are Canadian scholars. And most of IPD’s work centers on promoting better relations between Canada and China.
The “white paper” referenced by the authors is titled “On the Brink: Averting a New Cold War Between Washington and Beijing,” and its authors are Johnsen Romero, Arta Moeini, and Christopher Mott. It appeared on the IPD website on November 15, 2021. The paper highlights “the role of securitization in projecting the false reality of a new Cold War” and emphasizes the notion that “geo-economic imperatives . . . underlie and precipitate” the U.S.-China rivalry. It mostly blames the United States for framing the competition as “an all-or-nothing ideological struggle” and “using nostalgically the rhetoric of a ‘new Cold War.’” It approvingly quotes former U.S. diplomat Chas Freeman who described Washington’s approach as “a distillation of American militarism” which provides “a rationale for unbounded defense spending.” The paper also accuses Washington of engaging in “artificial threat inflation,” and views China’s military build-up as defensive and intended for “domestic security” not foreign intervention and international force projection.
The United States, according to the IPD paper, has “over-securitized” the U.S.-China relationship due to “the prevailing climate of bellicosity in U.S. strategy toward China,” and is “obsessed” with Taiwan. Meanwhile, the authors write, “China’s strategic objectives appear more defensive and ‘near abroad’ than truly global in nature.” America’s bellicose policy and its tendency to “totalize every dispute” with Beijing, the paper warns, may cause China to “retaliate” by becoming more aggressive and hawkish. In other words, Chinese aggression is America’s fault.
Instead of containing or confronting China, the authors of the white paper recommend that Washington should give China “the recognition it desires” and treat it “as America’s equal while listening to and addressing China’s legitimate concerns.” Washington policymakers, the paper argues, should approach China with “targeted engagement and smart diplomacy” to “facilitate mutual understanding and clarify expectations in areas of contention and disagreement and to identify the . . . areas of shared interests . . . and common threats.” And America should “lessen its footprint in Asia and remain safely out of sight while assuaging Chinese worries about ‘containment.’”
There are uncomfortable echoes here of the 1970s detente policy, especially as practiced by the Ford and Carter administrations. We saw how that worked out — the Soviet Union attained strategic nuclear parity (and superiority in land-based missiles), developed a theoretical first-strike nuclear capability due to U.S. restraint, and went on a global geopolitical offensive until stopped by the Reagan administration’s more confrontational approach. Let’s not go down that path again. China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea, its construction of a blue-water navy, its Belt and Road Initiative, and its increasingly hostile rhetoric are signs not of a satiated defensive regional power, but rather of an aspiring global hegemon.
The IPD’s website hosts other articles urging Canada’s leaders to adopt a more independent (from Washington) foreign policy so as not to further harm relations with China. The IPD, in other words, promotes appeasement of China’s Communist Party. It is not unlike the many “peace” organizations during the first Cold War that sought to ease international tensions by accommodating the rise of Soviet power. Some people — even smart people — never learn.