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Cheney Hires China Hawk For Major Asia Post

by Jim Lobe

Bush Admin Draws Heavily From Small Neo-Con Family
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Neo- conservative hawks have scored a new victory in the administration of President George W. Bush with the hiring by Vice President Richard Cheney of a prominent hawk on China policy.

China specialist and Princeton University professor Aaron Friedberg has been named deputy national security adviser and director of policy planning on Cheney's high-powered, foreign-policy staff headed by I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, one of the most influential foreign-policy strategists in the administration.

Both Friedberg and Libby, as well as Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and 21 other prominent right-wingers, signed the 1997 founding charter of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which called for the adoption of a "'Reaganite' policy of military strength and moral clarity."

Friedberg also signed another PNAC letter to Bush on Sept. 20, 2001, which called for the "war on terrorism" to be directed against Iraq and other anti-Israel forces in the Middle East, in addition to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And the professor wrote a chapter on the threat posed by China in 'Present Dangers', a 2000 book edited by PNAC co-founders William Kristol and Robert Kagan that also included chapters by other leading neo-conservative hawks, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief James Woolsey.

The significance of his appointment lies both with Cheney's and Libby's influence in foreign policy-making and the fact that Friedberg will be the only recognized China expert in such a senior position.

"There really haven't been top people under Bush who knew much about China," says John Gershman, an Asia specialist at New York University. "He's the first one."

But according to Gershman, Friedberg "fits clearly into the group that has been dominant in the administration" since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

"He's a China-threat person without being hysterical about it," Gershman continues. "But his appointment is a clear sign that the cooperation that has emerged between the U.S. and China on the war on terrorism and North Korea is entirely tactical, and that Cheney is still inclined to see China as a strategic competitor."

The appointment, which will take effect June 1, comes at an interesting moment in the evolution of Sino-U.S. ties under Bush, who came into office with a significantly harsher view of Beijing than his predecessor, President Bill Clinton.

An early test came in the spring of 2001 after a collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet that destroyed the latter and forced the U.S. plane to land on Hainan Island, where its crew was detained for several weeks.

The incident turned out to be an early indication of the profound split within the administration between right-wing hawks centered in the offices of Cheney and Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose successful negotiation of the crew's return eventually defused a crisis that was avidly stoked by neo-conservatives, especially Kristol and Kagan, whose 'Weekly Standard' magazine generally reflects the views of the administration's hawks.

Bush himself appeared to mellow on China after the crisis and a subsequent meeting with then-president Jiang Zemin, a process that was furthered after Sept. 11 when Washington actively sought Beijing's cooperation in the "war on terrorism."

But despite the detente, Rumsfeld, presumably with Cheney's backing, held up resumption of military-to-military ties between the United States and China that were cut off for more than one year during the crisis.

In addition, the Pentagon has been trying to persuade a reluctant Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, to buy a slew of weaponry, including destroyers, submarines and aircraft, which the administration approved for sale to the island almost two years ago.

According to Friday's 'Wall Street Journal', Washington is now offering Taiwan its most advanced anti-missile system, the Patriot-3, a sale, that, if consummated, is almost certain to result in a Chinese protest.

The Pentagon has also been eagerly courting the Indian military over the past year in what one recently leaked document revealed by Jane's 'Foreign Report' depicted China as "the most significant threat to both (the U.S. and India)," and called for Delhi to become a "vital, component of U.S. strategy" vis-a-vis China, particularly now that Washington is reassessing its military alliances with Japan and South Korea.

In this context Friedberg's appointment gains significance.

In his writings over several years, Friedberg has depicted China as a "strategic competitor" to the United States that will almost inevitably challenge Washington's own political and military pre-eminence in the region.

In a 2000 article entitled 'The Struggle for Mastery in Asia', in the leading neo-conservative monthly 'Commentary', Friedberg wrote, "over the course of the next several decades there is a good chance that the United States will find itself engaged in an open and intense geopolitical rivalry with the People's Republic of China (PRC)." While such a situation is not completely inevitable, he says, it is "quite likely."

"The combination of growing Chinese power, China's effort to expand its influence, and the unwillingness of the United States to entirely give way before it are the necessary preconditions of a 'struggle for mastery'," he goes on, adding that actual military confrontation could be either slow to develop or could happen as a result of "single catalytic event, such as a showdown over Taiwan."

One of the major problems that U.S. policymakers will face is balancing the interests of "powerful business lobbies" -- which Friedberg calls "pro-PRC lobbying groups" -- in the United States determined to expand access to China's market and labor force against strategic concerns caused by Beijing's desire to expand its influence in the region.

He also expresses concern that China's growing economic power in Asia will enable it to exert influence on the region's governments as part of its "strategic competition."

Moreover, writes Friedberg, China "will be a very different kind of strategic competitor from the Soviet Union," given its size, dynamism and relative openness, all of which could work against Washington's ability to contain it in the coming years.

"The thrust of what he writes is the inevitability of confrontation with the U.S. or of an attempt to displace the U.S. in Asia," says one former senior State Department Asia specialist. "The problem with this is his automatic presumption of a clash rather than a more careful assumption that confrontation may not be inevitable."

Indeed, Friedberg's assumptions were even questioned by Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior Bush strategist who has handled relations with Afghanistan and Iraq but has supported a policy of both engagement and containment -- or "congagement" -- toward China.

In a published reply to Friedberg's 'Commentary' article, Khalilzad criticized his assumption "that the current Chinese regime and/or its likely successor will pursue regional hegemony. This is by no means inevitable," Khalilzad said, arguing that it was also possible that the relationship would evolve into "mutual accommodation and partnership," particularly if Beijing made democratic reforms.

But Friedberg thinks this unlikely. "Regimes in transition from strict authoritarianism to greater political openness," he replied, "have historically been prone to bouts of aggressive nationalism."

While Washington should continue to foster trade and investment -- though not in key strategic areas -- the priority, he wrote, should be placed on "serious, sustained, and unchecked efforts to strengthen our alliances, improve our military capabilities, and maintain a balance of power in Asia that is favorable to our interests. Engagement, yes; but from a position of strength."

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Albion Monitor May 15, 2003 (

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