This week we asked Noah Feldman, author of ”Cool War: The Future of Global Competition” to answer six questions about his book, U.S. relations with China and Edward Snowden. You can also read an excerpt of his book here.
Q: Your new book is called ”Cool War.” Why that title? What does it mean?
A: A great power struggle is taking place between China and the U.S. at the same time as deep interdependence exists between them. This amounts to a new historical era, where conflict is real and pervasive and even quasi-military; yet Chinese firms buy U.S. firms, the U.S. buys Chinese goods; and military allies of the U.S. such as Japan negotiate free trade with China. The rules are different from a cold war.
Q: What, if anything, can be gleaned from the recent meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping? What’s your takeaway?
A: China wants what Xi calls “a new type of major power relationship,” which means increasing Chinese influence in Asia and beyond without provoking the U.S. to stronger containment. Any improved communication deepens interdependence and helps China. Xi gained just by showing up alongside Obama. For Obama, it’s much harder: He needs to warn China not to overreach without himself seeming needlessly bellicose. And it is hard to bring up human rights without a public component to shame the rights violator, so the U.S. lost some ground on that issue.
Q: President Obama has said that some of the recent cyberattacks coming from China on United States targets are state-sponsored. Does China have any incentive to change its behavior?
A: Only if Obama and the U.S. give teeth to their rhetoric. The key is to make it clear that more cyberattacks will cost the Chinese in the economic realm. Military retaliation or escalation is too risky. Without linking further Chinese attacks to economic consequences, it will be hard to deter cyberattacks. China has too much to gain from narrowing the technology gap between the militaries.
Q: How closely are you watching what’s happening with Edward Snowden? The New York Times reported that China allowed Snowden to leave Hong Kong against the wishes of the United States. What do you make of their choice?
A: I’m watching Snowden’s movements with fascination, because he’s a test case for whether “Cool War” alliances will thwart or aid the attempt to prosecute him. From the U.S. government perspective, Snowden weakened national security to the detriment of the U.S. side in the Cool War. China didn’t want to be associated with him, given the U.S. focus on cyberespionage from the Chinese side. But it is also in Chinese interests for the international community to see the U.S. as a bully trying to use its influence to get Snowden home. Passing him on was a logical move from the Chinese side. Plus he’s popular on the Chinese Internet.
Q: You’ve discussed the scenario of China deciding to take back Taiwan by force in your interviews for this book. Under what circumstances do you see China taking that action and risking war with the United States?
A: Ideally, China would wait until it as unthinkable for the U.S. to defend Taiwan. We are not there yet. But before that happens, Taiwan could elect a president who demanded formal independence. That could trigger a crisis.
Q: What advice would you offer President Obama? What should the United States be doing or not be doing in terms of its relationship with China? How does the U.S. win this ‘Cool War?’
A: The U.S. needs to deepen economic ties, then use the leverage of economic necessity to show China’s leaders – whose own continued legitimacy rests on keeping their economy strong – that China needs the relationship to keep growing. At the same time, the U.S. needs to grow its military advantage, not sit back and assume China can’t catch up for 20 years.
The only surefire way to limit China’s move toward regional Asian hegemony is to show China that efforts in that direction would destabilize the region and, therefore, be too costly for China. Victory is relative: not total defeat, as in a cold war, but keeping China a powerful and interdependent economic force while discouraging its military and geostrategic advance.
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