Is Conflict with China Inevitable?: News Releases: The Independent Institute

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News Release
May 26, 2006

Is Conflict with China Inevitable?
Trade, Regional Interests and China’s Military Buildup Require Reexamination of U.S. Policy

Solutions Debated by Ivan Eland, James Lilley, and Rear Admiral Eric McVadon at The Independent Institute’s “What Should the U.S. Do about China?” Forum Include Deeper Economic Ties, Military Accommodation, End of Security Guarantee for Taiwan

Washington, D.C. – U.S. relations with China have never been more complex. Historic economic opportunity co-exists with unsettled questions on the balance of power. The Independent Institute confronted this problem in its May 17 forum, “What Should the U.S. Do about China?”

The solutions debated by panelists included increased economic engagement, adjustment of U.S. policy to accommodate the increased strength of the Chinese military, and adjusting or ending the American guarantee of security for Taiwan.

James Lilley, former ambassador to China and South Korea, grew up in China and has a long career in the CIA associated with China. Ambassador Lilley finds that China today is strongly focused on accumulating military and economic power. He believes the U.S. should continue increasing interaction and economic activities with China. At the same time, his experience with China’s concern for North Korea—as a balance to U.S. support for South Korea—and Taiwan, suggests that the U.S. must be careful not to undermine those relationships even as we insinuate ourselves into them.

Ambassador Lilley reminded the audience that the U.S. must always be mindful that China considers North Korea and Taiwan worth fighting for.

Rear Admiral Eric McVadon served as defense and naval attaché at the American Embassy in Beijing, and is now the director of Asia-Pacific studies for the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. He often advises U.S. intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense.

Rear Admiral McVadon noted that China is radically improving the capabilities of its army. He believes that the destabilizing regional effects of this buildup demand a China-U.S. dialogue.

“The task for Washington . . . might then be–if Beijing were forthright–to accommodate or even reluctantly accept the reality of a dramatically more capable [Chinese army] devoted at least for the present to serving China’s interest vis-à-vis Taiwan. And Beijing must fully appreciate the possible extreme consequences of drawing U.S. military intervention were China to attack Taiwan,” he said.

The admiral believes that the U.S. perspective is transforming from considering China as a troublemaker to China as “an increasingly constructive player in regional security.”

Ivan Eland, senior fellow and director of The Independent Institute's Center on Peace and Liberty, is an author and has worked as a defense analyst for the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and elsewhere. Dr. Eland offered a “more radical” solution than other speakers, noting that criticism of defense spending by China is perhaps misplaced, as Chinese defense outlays are similar to those of the U.S. in the sense that both nations commit substantial resources to secure a military “too big for their security needs.”

Mr. Eland sees the U.S. as simultaneously running a program of economic integration with China while unwisely “tightening the noose” by aggressively supporting Taiwan and pursuing a closer alliance with India. He suggests that our security commitment to Taiwan ought to be re-examined.

He pointed out that Taiwan is not a very strategic island for the U.S. “Guaranteeing Taiwan’s security could lead the U.S. into a nuclear war with China,” he said. “We really ought to ask ourselves what our overall objectives are, and perhaps a more restrained posture should be [assumed] before any crisis over Taiwan comes up.”

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