Policy Analysis No. 717

China, America, and the Pivot to Asia

Despite the United States’ focus on the Middle East and the Islamic world for the past decade, the most important international political developments in the coming years are likely to happen in Asia. The Obama administration has promoted a “pivot to Asia,” away from the Middle East and toward the Asia-Pacific.

The main factor driving Washington’s interest in the region is the growing economic and military power of the People’s Republic of China. Accordingly, this analysis focuses heavily on the implications of China’s growing power and influence.

This paper has three sections. First, it sketches the two main schools of thought about China’s rise and examines the way in which Washington’s China policy combines elements of those two theories. The second section critiques both theories of China’s rise and argues that U.S. policy combines them in a way that puts a dangerous contradiction at the heart of America’s China policy. The final section recommends offloading responsibility for hedging against potential Chinese aggression to like-minded countries in the region and shows that those countries are capable of doing so.

Justin Logan is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.