The US-China Alliance
One thing that I find pretty oddly absent from popular and much elite discourse on geopolitics is the fact that the United States and China are not necessarily natural antagonists. Here is what I mean by natural antagonists: pairs of countries driven by core geopolitical aims that are in fundamental conflict. The most notable is obviously the US and USSR – the US’s core geopolitical goal was a forward defense of democracy via its diffusion, whereas the USSR’s goal was the same for socialism. This naturally led to some conflicts. But there are other examples! For example, Prussia and Austria between 1740 and 1871 were both aiming for hegemony over the German-speaking peoples, and Prussia won. Carthage and Rome were both aiming for control of the Western Mediterreanean, and Rome won. The US-China relationship is not like that
The US’s main strategic priorities don’t require safeguarding against China. The top US priority is to protect the status quo international economy, followed closely by a war against Islamic fundamentalism. There is a tertiary objective of promoting Western-style government and human rights where convenient. That’s the only major strategic goal that has the potential to create conflict with the Chinese government – Taiwan is a point of conflict, sure, but I would classify the independence of Taiwan as a tactical goal under the broader umbrella of promoting Western government where convenient. The US certainly has demonstrated very little interest in Chinese regime change, other than occasionally voicing support of amelioration of autocracy’s rougher edges.
It’s harder to say what Chinese strategic priorities are, obviously, but one can make some guesses. I’d suggest that protecting the status quo international economy is probably either the top strategic priority or very close behind “maintain China’s territorial integrity”. The latter is an area of conflict with America’s tertiary goal of promoting Western government…which of course, is just a tertiary goal. America has shown itself perfectly willing to not lean too hard on the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or Tibet. China probably has other strategic goals as well, but I think those are the big ones.
These goals are more or less compatible. Neither the Chinese nor the Americans have much interest in regime change in the other, nor does American military strategy emphasize on increasing America’s territorial strategic depth in a way that would conflict greatly with China’s. Given China’s huge export industry, it should be seen as a potential strong partner in making free trade easier and keeping the world’s sea lanes secure. In terms of the big picture, I think the most serious concern for the relationship is China and America getting into Jervisian (is that a word) tussles. As of this moment in 2012, our basic security concerns and goals are compatible enough.