United States Leadership in East Asia and China’s State-by-state Approach to Regional Security

Chinese Political Science Review, Sep 2017

China’s rapid growth in comprehensive capabilities has been accompanied by an increasingly serious rise dilemma. The rise dilemma refers to the dilemma a rising great power faces, as it seeks to maintain the growth in comprehensive capabilities and international influence, while simultaneously managing the increasing external security pressures generated by its growth. Provided that the United States continues to lead its East Asian allies through providing security protection and shared norms, China must adopt a state-by-state approach in integrating the tripartite relationship between China, the United States and China’s neighbors into a coherent policy framework. In the context of a state-by-state approach, China needs to employ strategic hedging to maintain stability in China–US strategic relations. At the same time, two dimensions need consideration in determining a specific security policy towards a given neighbor, i.e., whether a state is help-dependent (depending on the US security protection) or self-help (safeguarding its security independently), and the extent to which that a state harbors concerns over China’s rise.

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United States Leadership in East Asia and China’s State-by-state Approach to Regional Security

United States Leadership in East Asia and China's State-by-state Approach to Regional Security Xuefeng Sun 0 1 0 Tsinghua University , Beijing , China 1 & Xuefeng Sun China's rapid growth in comprehensive capabilities has been accompanied by an increasingly serious rise dilemma. The rise dilemma refers to the dilemma a rising great power faces, as it seeks to maintain the growth in comprehensive capabilities and international influence, while simultaneously managing the increasing external security pressures generated by its growth. Provided that the United States continues to lead its East Asian allies through providing security protection and shared norms, China must adopt a state-by-state approach in integrating the tripartite relationship between China, the United States and China's neighbors into a coherent policy framework. In the context of a state-by-state approach, China needs to employ strategic hedging to maintain stability in ChinaUS strategic relations. At the same time, two dimensions need consideration in determining a specific security policy towards a given neighbor, i.e., whether a state is help-dependent (depending on the US security protection) or self-help (safeguarding its security independently), and the extent to which that a state harbors concerns over China's rise. US leadership; China; Rise dilemma; East Asia security 1 Introduction Since the mid-1990s, China’s rapid growth in comprehensive capabilities has been accompanied by increasing security pressures in East Asia. On one level, this includes the territorial/maritime disputes that have flared between China and several East Asia countries, and which are increasingly difficult to manage (Fravel 2008; Sui and Zhou 2015, 208–209, 227–237). On another level, competition between the US and China vis-a`-vis the regional order more broadly has gradually intensified (Mearsheimer 2010; Mearsheimer 2014; Kong 2013/2014, 153–154) . As such, China finds itself in an increasingly unfavorable position vis-a`-vis its regional security, which translates into serious obstacles vis-a`-vis its broader rise as a great power (Liff and Ikenberry 2014, 55–58). This phenomenon, also known as the rise dilemma, refers to the dilemma a rising great power faces, as it seeks to maintain the growth in comprehensive capabilities and international influence, while simultaneously managing the increasing external security pressures generated by its growth (Sun 2013b, 24) . For China, specifically, this dilemma manifests itself in the need to ensure an external environment conducive to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. As China cannot afford to lose sight of either objectives, addressing this dilemma represents the core challenge facing China in its grand strategy, and particularly with respect to its East Asian security strategy. China sees its relationship with the United States as central to addressing the growing rise dilemma, and has long identified the United States as the top priority of its foreign policy. China’s hope is that stable Sino–US relations will keep external security pressures at bay, providing a healthy environment for its rise. At the same time, while China has also proposed a concept of “neighboring countries as a top priority” in its foreign relations, it is clear that the level of attention given to China’s neighbors lags far behind that directed towards the United States (Xu et al. 2016, 9) . Scholars are increasingly vocal in pointing out the need for more attention to this priority. In April of 2013, Shi Yinhong pointed out in a media interview that many years ago Chinese only talked about the importance of China–US relations. However, as a great power, China cannot just have one priority. A second priority is China’s relations with its neighbors (Xu et al. 2016, 9) . In October 2013, China held the Conference on the Diplomatic Work with Neighboring Countries, which functioned to raise considerably the relevant level of importance of China’s relations with its neighbors. At this conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that China’s relations with its neighbors had changed considerably, and that this change requires China to adjust its strategy in the direction of a more proactive form of diplomacy. Xi Jinping further emphasized that to achieve this, “China needs to develop closer ties with neighboring countries, with more friendly political relations, stronger economic bonds, deeper security cooperation and closer people-to-people contacts.…letting the awareness of community of common destiny take root in the neighboring countries”.1 As the importance of its “neighborhood diplomacy” or foreign policy vis-a`-vis neighboring states grows, scholars have started a broader debate on the top priorities of Chinese foreign policy. One school of thought argues that China’s relations with neighboring countries should be the top priority of Chinese foreign policy, arguing that without the support of her neighbors, it will be impossible for China to realize its rise. A second school points out that the United States is not only the world’s 1 “Xi Jinping: Let the Sense of Community of Common Destiny Take Deep Root in Neighboring Countries”, October 25, 2013, http://au.china-embassy.org/eng/xw/t1093870.htm. only superpower, but it is also the greatest obstacle to China’s rise. As such, getting China–US relations correct, needs to be maintained as the top priority of Chinese foreign policy (Yan 2015; Xu 2016, 482) . Since 2013, another group of scholars has raised the argument that China now faces two core priorities in its foreign policy: great power relations (United States) and neighborhood diplomacy (Xu et al. 2016, 9) . This paper argues that provided the United States continues to lead its East Asian allies and partners through the provision of security protection and shared norms, China’s regional security strategy must effectively integrate both of these core concerns. The tripartite relationship between China, the United States, and China’s neighbors must be integrated through a coherent state-by-state approach.2 In the context of a state-by-state approach, China needs to employ strategic hedging to stabilize Sino–US relations. Meanwhile, two dimensions need consideration in determining a specific security policy towards a given neighbor: whether a state is help-dependent or self-help; and the extent to which a state harbors concerns regarding China’s rise. 2 China’s Rise Dilemma in the Shadow of America’s Dominance Chinese capabilities have grown rapidly since the mid-1990s in both economic and military terms. On the economic front, in 2010, China became the world’s second largest economy in terms of GDP. In the years since, the gap in GDP between China and the world’s third largest economic power, Japan, has continued to widen, while the gap between China and the United States has narrowed (Liu 2016b, 45) . With respect to military power, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, China’s military expenditures have steadily grown, China ranking number two in the world as of 2009. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of 2016, China continued to rank second with respect to military expenditures, representing 13% of global military spending.3 The growth of China’s comprehensive capabilities has been accompanied by an expansion of its regional influence. In terms of economic influence, at the beginning of 2010 China marked the formal establishment of the China–ASEAN Free Trade Agreement.4 In the second half of 2013, China further initiated the Belt and Road Initiative, which functions to promote Euro-Asian economic integration and establish the community of common destiny with its neighbors.5 With respect to security, China grew more proactive terms of its policies on security disputes with 2 Li Chenyang and Yang Xiangzhang have briefly discussed a state by state policy on the developing countries in China’s neighborhood. But they fail to elaborate the theoretical logic and practical mechanisms of such an approach. See Li and Yang (2017) , 19. 3 “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2016”, April 2017, p. 2, https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/ files/Trends-world-military-expenditure-2016.pdf. 4 “ASEAN-China Free Trade Area”, http://www.asean.org/storage/images/2015/October/outreachdocument/Edited%20ACFTA.pdf. 5 “Full text: Action plan on the Belt and Road Initiative”, March 30, 2015, http://english.gov.cn/archive/ publications/2015/03/30/content_281475080249035.htm. its neighbors, and has seen significant progress with respect to disputes around Huangyan Island (黄岩岛) and the Diaoyu Islands (钓鱼岛) (Zhou 2016, 879–884; Sui and Zhou 2015, 210–216) . In response to the growing Chinese regional influence, both states in the region and the United States have adopted measures targeted at hedging or balancing against China, causing China to face a dramatic rise in security pressure (Liff and Ikenberry 2014, 57) . These pressures have risen, especially, around a range of US actions over the past decade. Since 2006, the United States began pivoting its military position in the Asia–Pacific, strengthening its regional alliances as a means of checking the expansion of China’s strategic influence (Hughes 2016, 145–147) . Pressures increased further as the United States began intervening in maritime disputes between China and its neighbors. Most dramatically, in the case of the Diaoyu Islands, the US publicly asserted that those islands are subject to US defense obligations under Article 5 of the US–Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.6 In the case of the South China Seas, the US went as far as deploying naval ships, aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to areas adjacent to disputed waters.7 During his Japan visit in February 2017, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis likened China’s expansion in South China Sea to an effort to re-create the tributary system of the Ming Dynasty. According to Mattis, Beijing could be trying to use its military and economic might to re-create a similar set-up today, though such efforts will not be tolerated in the modern world.8 In turn, China’s neighboring states have initiated their efforts to hedge or balance against a rising China. Japan, in particular, has taken several such steps (Hughes 2016, 139–148) . For example, in September 2012, Japan ignored strong Chinese sentiments in determining to nationalize the Diaoyu Islands, thereby provoking a standoff between China and Japan. To follow, Japan passed a new security law in 2015, lifting restrictions on its right of collective self-defense as a means of better uniting with the United States in balancing against China.9 As these developments played out, states without any direct territorial/maritime disputes with China began to express their concerns regarding China’s rise. Just as Singapore’s late leader Lee Kuan Yew once predicted, the small- and medium-sized powers in the region worry that China will resume its position of imperial dominance in Asia, which may lead to them being treated as “vassal states”. As 6 Justin McCurry and Tania Branigan, “Obama Says US Will Defend Japan in Island Dispute with China”, April 24, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/24/obama-in-japan-backs-statusquo-in-island-dispute-with-china; “Gist of Joint Statement after Japan-U.S. ‘Two-Plus-Two’ Security Talks”, August 18, 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/08/18/national/politics-diplomacy/ gist-joint-statement-japan-u-s-two-plus-two-security-talks/#.WZfq9dJ96M8. 7 Guo Yuandan, “America’s Nuclear Aircraft Carrier Enters the South China Seas for the First Time under the Trump Administration”, February 19, 2017, http://news.sina.com.cn/o/2017-02-19/docifyarrcc7964245.shtml. 8 Hiroyuki Akita, “Time’s up for Soft China Policy: US Defense Chief Sees More Active Role in South China Sea”, February 8, 2017, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Time-sup-for-soft-China-policy. 9 Tong Qian, “Committee of the Lower House of the Japanese Diet Passes Self-Defense Law”, July 15, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/zhongwen/simp/world/2015/07/150715_japan_constitution_committee. such, following the 2008 global financial crisis, Lee Kuan Yew called upon the United States to continue to burden the responsibility of balancing Chinese power.10 As should be apparent, the growth in China’s capabilities and international influence has reached a point where China now faces a rise dilemma. The growth of Chinese power has resulted in China’s expanded and intensified security disputes with its neighbors. Considering America’s power advantage (Brooks and Wohlforth 2015/2016, 16–32) and leadership in East Asia,11 many of China’s neighbors have a strong desire to seek help from the United States in addressing their security concerns over a rising China. As a result, bilateral contradictions between China and its neighbors are inherently interrelated with the broader competition between China and the United States around the regional security order. In other words, if we want to understand the dynamics at play around China’s rise dilemma, we must fully understand how the United States lead its allies and partners in East Asia. 3 American Security Protection Weakens China’s Strategic Reassurance Over the first decade of twenty-first century, China largely followed a policy of strategic reassurance to moderate its rise dilemma. China’s strategic reassurance is manifested through its efforts to express strong goodwill in bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation and through the low-profile posture it maintains in management of security challenges. For cases where China is not able to find an immediate and suitable means to overcome security challenges, its preference is to shelve disputes, prevent escalation of conflict to reduce short-term security pressures, and work to create conditions favorable to the future resolution of conflict (Shambaugh 2004; Sun and Huang 2011, 30–32) . Despite its preferences and efforts, China has great difficulty in effectively reassuring its neighbors (Sun 2013a, 10) . To understand why this is the case, one must fully understand the nature of the security challenges that China faces. Strategic reassurance functions to moderate security dilemmas in cases for which both parties have no intention of harming one another’s security (Tang 2010, chapter 6) . With respect to security conflicts involving a state’s fundamental survival or territorial integrity, a reassurance strategy may be effective over the short term, but over the long term cannot successfully control conflict. This is due to the largely zero-sum nature of such conflicts, which renders it impossible for parties to identify space to make substantial concessions. Unfortunately, against the backdrop of its rise, China increasingly finds itself faced with these types of zero-sum security conflicts (Sun and Ding 2017, 58) . Beyond the challenges associated with zero-sum competitions, a more critical factor functions to undermine the effectiveness of China’s strategic reassurance: American security protection. The US alliance system was established during the 10 “Lee Kwan Yew: The Thinking of an Elder on China, the U.S., and the World”, http://mil.news.sina. com.cn/2013-08-23/1024736932.html. 11 For a different analysis, see Waever (2017) . era of strategic competition with the Soviet Union, and has sustained and even expanded in the post-Cold War period. The system functions based on the assumption that the United States provides its regional allies with security protection in exchange for their strategic supports or resources, including the placement of US troops on allied soil, the US acquisition of military bases, and the bilateral or multilateral integration of military capacities between the US armed force and those of its allies (Lake 2009, 9; Thalakada, 2012, 26, 70, 96, 111; Sun 2013a, 15–16; Liu 2016b, 47–56) . In the wake of Cold War, the US alliance system in East Asia includes five key treaty allies: Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Of these, the US maintains major military deployments in Japan and Korea, and smaller military bases or deployments in Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand. In addition to these formal treaty allies, the US security umbrella works with two other key partners. While it never signed an alliance treaty with the United States, since 1992 Singapore has provided US aircraft carriers with a naval base and related facilities. Beyond this, the US also provides informal security protection to Chinese Taiwan (Liu 2016b, 49–54) . With decades of strategic integration with US military capabilities, the great power allies (Japan, UK, Germany, and France) together with other allies have heavily depended on the US support to tackle effectively any primary security threats. In other words, the United States allies, including great power allies, have transformed to help-dependent states.12 As Lake argues, the United States has the authority to make demands of its allies according to their agreements on mutual exchange of interests, and these states cannot change their status as clients of the United States (Lake 2009, 11) . Put differently, the United States has the authority to determine “redlines” with respect to both domestic and foreign policies, which these help-dependent allies must respect. From the perspective of its allies, respecting the US authority to determine such “redlines” both is seen as a low cost means of obtaining security and increased capacity to respond to threats, especially as these allies are largely afforded full sovereignty and control over their foreign and domestic affairs provided that they do not cross a “redline”. As such, in normal times, these helpdependent states acknowledge the legitimacy of American leadership (Liu 2015, 55–75) . It is important to recognize that the legitimacy of American leadership stems not only from its reliable security protection, but also from shared values and principles. Since the end of World War II, the United States has worked to share its values with its allies, encouraging non-democratic states to embrace democracy and market economics, while also working to establish common norms, principles, values and aligned objectives (Adler and Pouliot 2011, 164–165) . By their shared experience of the Cold War and their joint recalibration in the post-Cold War period, the US and the majority of its allies achieved a relationship which far surpasses the standard military alliance. What has emerged is relationship of security protection based on a high level of cooperation, and a culture of 12 On the escape from self-help within the West, see Lebow (1994 , 269, 275). collective sacrifice (Adler and Pouliot 2011, 164) As scholars have pointed out, for example, the meaning of the Japan–US alliance for Japan is manifested in military terms, but even more in terms of its political and psychological meanings vis-a`-vis American leadership in the post-War era (Zhang 2016). Since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the Trump administration has further affirmed the United States’ security commitment to the Asia–Pacific. As the US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis remarked in June 2017, the American administration is demonstrating the relationships in Asia–Pacific region as its policy priority. He also quoted Vice President Pence’s words that United States has affirmed its enduring commitment to the security and prosperity of the Asia–Pacific region. The American enduring commitment is based on strategic interests and on shared values.13 American security protection and leadership in East Asia constrain the effectiveness of China’s reassurance strategy through two mechanisms: dependence and leverage. Dependence on American security protection can encourage the helpdependent states to challenge China’s reassurance policies when they seek to maintain a favorable position in strategic competition with China. It is because a temporary improvement in their relations with China will not resolve the long-term security challenges they face vis-a`-vis China’s rise. Therefore, they strongly prefer making full use of reliable US protection to manage security pressures from a rising China (Sun 2013b, 200–201) . Leverage functions largely with respect to self-help states outside of the American security umbrella. For these states, to the extent that they face a security challenge vis-a`-vis China, they will harbor deep concerns that a long-term solution will play to China’s benefit, especially as its capacities grow. Such self-help states further recognize that it is not possible to obtain any effective security protection from the United States. As such, beyond efforts to enhance their capacities, they will inevitably leverage tensions between the United States and China or between helpdependent states and China to their benefit. This also functions to undermine the effectiveness of China’s reassurance policies (Sun 2013b, 202) . Another point to consider in assessing the effectiveness of reassurance strategies relates to the economic-security nexus. As China offers neighboring states forms of economic reassurances, they will develop closer economic ties with China. Assuming that these states are not able to resolve their security disputes with China, the increased economic dependence will serve to heighten their concerns that if they continue to respond favorably to China’s reassurance policies, they will gradually lose the ability to secure their core security interests. In the end, these states will seek greater security dependency on the United States, or leverage US security assistance to undermine China’s reassurance policy.14 13 “Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Shangri-La Dialogue”, June 3, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/ Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1201780/remarks-by-secretary-mattis-at-shangri-la-dialogue/. 14 See also John Mearsheimer, “Can China Rise Peacefully”, October 25, 2014, http://nationalinterest. org/commentary/can-china-rise-peacefully-10204?page=12. 4 China’s State-by-state Approach to Regional Security The declining effectiveness of China’s reassurance strategy has caused its policy makers to recognize that China now faces a rise dilemma, and that reliance only on efforts to reduce misunderstanding cannot effectively manage external security pressures. China needs to become more proactive in its security policies,15 and needs to identify more sophisticated measures to address effectively the growing rise dilemma (Yan 2014) . As China has advanced a more proactive policy, other states find themselves increasingly concerned that they are in disadvantaged position vis-a`-vis competition with China. As these dynamics continue to develop, China will face greater security pressures, as the United States and its allies in the region adopt a more unified approach to hedging and balancing against China. The joint US, Australia and Japan military exercise conducted on May 2015 is a clear example of this.16 This has further extended to non-allied states (like India).17 China thus needs to find a way of integrating the United States and its neighbors into a coherent policy framework. If China fails to find such a solution, it may find that relations with its neighbors improve, but that strong American intervention will lead to significant setbacks vis-a`-vis any progress made. This was clear in 2015 when Thailand planned to purchase Chinese submarines, but later put the transaction on hold in the face of American opposition.18 4.1 Hedge Against the United States A coherent framework integrating the US and China’s neighboring countries is premised on maintaining to the greatest extent possible stability in China–US strategic relations. Stable bilateral relations will help to prevent China’s neighbors from exploiting contradictions or conflicts between the US and China to exert security pressures on China. Meanwhile, China can create conditions whereby its neighboring states will seek to improve relations with China, thereby reducing the acuteness of the rise dilemma. As China still suffers from a huge gap in term of military capabilities, hard balancing (pursuing military alliances or engaging the US in an arms race) is not a feasible strategy vis-a`-vis bilateral strategic relations. At the same time, a simple reassurance policy or strategic accommodation will not be beneficial for addressing the rise dilemma over the long term. The reason for this is that such policies imply 15 For the typologies of a rising power’s regional security strategy, see Liu (2016a), 157–161. 16 “Japan to Join US-Aussie Military Drills in July”, May 26, 2015, https://www.rt.com/news/262049japan-us-australia-military/. 17 Vivek Raghuvanshi, “US, India and Japan Launch Joint Naval Exercises to Keep China in Check”, July 11, 2017, https://www.defensenews.com/air/2017/07/11/us-india-and-japan-launch-joint-navalexercises-to-keep-china-in-check/. See also Hughes 2016, 148. 18 Wang Yonghuan, “Thailand Put Plan to Purchase Chinese Submarines on Hold, Expert Asserts American Involvement”, July 16, 2015, http://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1352989; Akita, Hiroyuki, “Thai Plan to Buy China Subs Has US on Edge”, August 15, 2017, https://asia.nikkei.com/ Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Thai-plan-to-buy-China-subs-has-US-on-edge. that China will continuously need to make concessions to the United States and its allies, which will prompt the US or other states to secure greater interests vis-a`-vis China. In other words, a policy of only enhancing cooperation or making accommodations comes at the unaffordable cost of sacrificing the pace of China’s rise. Therefore, strategic hedging will be the most promising means of stabilizing China–US strategic relations.19 Under a framework of strategic hedging, restrained competition and principled cooperation are employed in unison rather than being used as alternatives. Specifically, restrained competition functions to increase capacities to check US power, and can be achieved by moderately increasing military expenses and deepening strategic partnership with relevant countries (Sun and Ding 2017, 59–60; Stru¨ ver 2017, 42–59) . Principled cooperation, on the other hand, functions either bilaterally or multilaterally to coordinate management of security challenges, or can even involve positive security cooperation while China’s core interests are not undermined. For example, China has proactively participated in the anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 (Kaufman 2009; Erickson and Strange 2015) . What needs to be made clear is that strategic hedging does not simply consist of repeating traditional modes of cooperation and competition between China and the US, but it fundamentally is a competitive policy. The objective of strategic hedging is not the elimination of structural competition between the two countries, but is instead an effort to ensure that the two states do not repeat the full-scale confrontation in Europe that was the experience of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is also means of preventing the two states from getting engulfed in military conflict over regional security challenges. The Diplomatic and Security Dialogue that the China and US held in June of 2017 represents the application of this idea. Both parties hope that this dialogue can consistently enhance mutual trust, expand mutual understanding, promote cooperation, and manage differences, thereby opening the greatest space possible for the development of China–US relations.20 By preventing full-scale confrontation and military conflict, not only can China and the United States create conditions for cooperation in global governance, China can further coordinate security policies between neighboring countries and the United States, and generate greater space for managing regional security challenges. 4.2 A State-by-State Approach to China’s Neighbors In the framework of a state-by-state approach, coordinating policies vis-a`-vis the United States and neighboring states can do with reference to two variables: (1) whether a state is help-dependent (depending on the US security protection) or selfhelp (safeguarding national security independently); and (2) level of a state’s concerns with regard to China’s rise. Based on these two dimensions, neighboring 19 For the latest discussion of strategic hedging, see Liu (2016a, 9–16). 20 “The First Sino-U.S. Diplomatic and Security Dialogue is Held in Washington, DC”, June 22, 2017, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/zyxw/t1472281.shtml. states can be classified into four categories, for each of which a distinct security policy may be applied towards moderating China’s rise dilemma (Table 1). In cases of help-dependent states which have serious concerns regarding China’s rise, China can leverage the “security redlines” that the United States has established for these states, and unite with the United States in adopting a “tit for tat” strategy,21 whereby China takes the first step in adopting measures to prevent states from crossing the redline. For example, in November of 2015, President Xi Jinping met with then Taiwanese leader Ma Yingjiu to express his hope that the later would re-affirm the “One China” principle, thereby preventing the Democratic Progressive Party candidate from crossing the US redline with respect to “Taiwanese independence”. The United States expressed positive support for this effort.22 The joint China–US effort in preventing Taiwanese independence following the 2008 elections in Taiwan is another classical example of this approach. As means of preventing the Chen Shuibian administration from seeking de jure independence, Mainland China repeatedly demanded that the United States put pressure on Taiwan, and in the end received a positive response from the US side (Christensen 2007) . By coordinated efforts between China and the US, the 2008 Taiwan elections did not generate any obvious challenge for peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. Should China and the US find it difficult to reach a consensus regarding a security redline, China needs to emphasize the rational for adopting a counter measure and weaken to the greatest extent possible American strategic pressure. In September of 2012, in taking a hard line in responding to Japan’s “nationalization” of the Diaoyu Islands, China paid special attention to articulating to the US how this represented a challenge to the international norms which the US worked to establish, and on this basis, demanded that the US take steps to reign in Japan. The US responded with considerable restraint. In other words, given the strength of China’s opposition and the framing of China’s arguments in terms of broader US security interests, the US found itself unwilling to get involved in a military dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands (Sui and Zhou 2015, 213) . 21 For the tit-for-tat strategy and its application in Chinese foreign policy, see Tang (2000), 27–28. 22 “U.S. Welcomes Steps by Both Sides of Taiwan Strait to Improve Ties”, November 3, 2015, http:// www.gwytb.gov.cn/en/CrossstraitInteractionsandExchanges/201604/t20160408_11429614.htm. As for help-dependent states which have moderate concerns related to China’s rise, China can take full advantage of its own strength in providing strategic support to these countries, provided that it does not fundamentally challenge their security dependence on the US. This will serve on the whole to weaken the pressures generated by America’s security umbrella. For example, in late June of 2016 following President Duterte’s inauguration, the Philippines shifted the anti-China policies of the outgoing President. In response, China provided the Philippines with the strategic support it needed, and relations between the two countries improved dramatically, thereby also bringing stability to the South China Seas.23 The improvement in Sino–Thai relations since the Asian Financial Crisis represents another classical example of this approach. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis severely harmed the Thai economy, in response to which China not only provided 1 billion US dollars in capital, but also maintained a policy of not depreciating the Chinese Yuan. In 1999, two countries signed the Joint Statement on the Plan of Action for the twenty-first century between China and Thailand, which included specific measures such as enhancing joint military and foreign affairs negotiations, engaging in exchanges on military technology, and sharing various types of intelligence. This amounted to Thailand becoming the first Southeast Asian state to sign such statement with China (Sun and Xu 2012, 90) . China has continued to extend its firm support to Thailand as Thailand suffered from domestic turmoil over the past decade. As a result, Thailand accepted a Chinese proposal for the two sides to engage in their first joint naval search and rescue exercise in December 2005. Even after China’s competition with the Philippines and Vietnam over the South China Seas intensified, Thailand persisted in coordinating and bridging disputes between China and ASEAN. At the same time, Thailand continued to deepen its security cooperation with China, engaging in numerous joint exercises (Sun and Xu 2012, 91) . As for self-help states with serious concerns over China’s rise, China must apply a policy of tit-for-tat, applying in unison policies of reassurance as well as proactive policies that can weaken their challenges towards China. Specifically, China must reply positively when such self-help states adopt cooperative policies towards China, and to the greatest extent possible, prevent these states from deepening cooperation with the United States and its help-dependent allies and partners, lest China see an unnecessary rise in strategic pressure. For example, in May of 2014, in the course of drilling near the Zhongjian Island (中建岛), CNOOC’s (China National Offshore Oil Corporation) No. 981 oil drilling rig not only escalated the conflict between China and Vietnam, but further prompted the Vietnamese side to lean closer to the United States. In May of 2016, during his visit to Vietnam, Obama officially lifted the ban on arms transfers to the country.24 These are the types of growing pressures that China must prevent vis-a`-vis self-help states. 23 “Routine Press Conference Convened by Speaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lu Kang, July 25, 2017”, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/fyrbt_673021/t1479940.shtml. 24 “Obama: Lifting Ban on Weapons Sales to Vietnam unrelated to China”, May 23, 2016, http://news. cri.cn/20160523/c401838a-eeb4-9dee-8cc4-445c2432b31a.html. China’s use of proactive policies should be targeted at denying efforts of these states in challenging China’s core interests. As these self-help states cannot depend on the US security protection, they are also very cautious with respect to their security conflicts with China and fear that China may adopt punitive measures (Sun 2013a, 20; Liu and Sun 2015, 764–765) . Therefore, China must avoid targeting these states directly in adopting counter-policies when these states adopt aggressive policies together with help-dependent states under US security protection. Otherwise, it will give the international community the negative impression that China picks on weak states and fears strong states, and that it will not challenge the United States. For example, while both the Philippines and Vietnam abandoned policies of restraint with respect to the South China Seas, China would focus its counter efforts on the Philippines and not on Vietnam. As for self-help states which have moderate concerns regarding China’s rise, China should work with them to enhance strategic coordination and cooperation, and provide them with strategic support to the greatest extent possible. Faced with bilateral security disputes vis-a`-vis such states, China should afford them a great deal of tolerance so that these states can perceive positive benefits associated with China’s rise, further weakening any reservations they may have regarding the expansion of Chinese influence. In this way, when China faces other security challenges, these states will seek to assist China, thereby moderating China’s rise dilemma. China’s relations with the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization provide one successful example (Ding 2017, 39–42) .25 In other words, China can deepen its strategic partnership with such self-help states, but without taking the further step of establishing military alliances (The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China 2017, 4) . Over the short term, not only will Chinese attempts to pursue military alliances aggravate strategic confrontation between China and the US, it will further result in deeper strategic cooperation between the United States and help-dependent states which have moderate concerns regarding China, as well as states looking to lean on American strategic assistance. As a result, China’s rise dilemma will be aggravated. Scholars have emphasized that pursuing military alliance may enhance China’s strategic credibility, which will also serve to reduce China’s external security pressure (Yan 2014, 161; Liu and Liu 2017, 156–158) . It is acknowledged that overcoming the rise dilemma does depend on maintaining strategic credibility. However, the key to enhancing strategic credibility is offering other states effective solutions when they are faced with challenges or crises, and there are many ways to accomplish this short of alliance formation (Liu and Liu 2017, 158–161) . For example, during the 2017 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for boosting free trade as means of restoring confidence in the global economy. This helped enhance China’s credibility and global economic leadership.26 To offer a second example, from 2002 to 2006, 25 For “Shanghai spirit”, see also “The Astana Declaration of the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”, June 9, 2017, http://eng.sectsco.org/documents/. 26 “Foreign Media on Xi’s Speech in Davos”, January 18, 2017, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/business/ 2017-01/18/content_27990320.htm. China’s coordination of the Six Party Talks effectively prevented the Korea Peninsula from war or military conflict. This also played a positive role in strengthening China’s strategic credibility in that period (Sun and Huang 2011, 31– 32) . In other words, the efforts to enhance strategic credibility should integrate the US and China’s neighboring countries into a coherent framework and prevent China and the US from becoming embroiled in broader confrontation. China’s strategic credibility will not be strengthened through bloc contests between China and the United States—that will only result in further aggravation of China’s rise dilemma. 5 Conclusion Since the mid-1990s, China’s rapid growth in comprehensive capabilities has been accompanied by an increasingly serious rise dilemma. Provided that the United States continues to lead its East Asian allies and partners through the provision of security protection and shared norms, China must adopt a state-by-state approach in integrating the tripartite relationship between China, the United States and China’s neighbors into a coherent policy framework that can systematically address this dilemma. In the context of a state-by-state approach, China needs to employ strategic hedging as means of maintaining stability in China–US strategic relations. Under a framework of strategic hedging, restrained competition and principled cooperation are employed in unison rather than being used as alternatives. Meanwhile, two dimensions need consideration in determining a specific security strategy towards a given neighbor: whether a state is help-dependent (depending on the US security protection) or self-help (safeguarding its security independently), and the extent to which that a state harbors concerns over China’s rise. In cases of help-dependent states which have serious concerns regarding China’s rise, China can unite with the United States in adopting a “tit for tat” strategy. As for help-dependent states which have lesser concerns related to China’s rise, China can extend its strategic support to these countries, provided that it does not fundamentally challenge their dependence on the US protection. As for self-help states with serious concerns over China’s rise, China must adopt a policy of tit-fortat to manage their challenges towards China. As for self-help states which have limited concerns regarding China’s rise, China should provide them with strategic support to the greatest extent possible. These findings will benefit China in moderating its increasing rise dilemma and thereby function to enhance regional stability in East Asia against the backdrop of structural competition between sustained US leadership and China’s rise. Theoretically, these findings may deepen our understanding of the nature and impacts of US leadership in East Asia. More broadly, by considering the US allies as helpdependent states rather than self-help ones, we may develop a more convincing theory of US unipolarity in comparison with theories based on structural realism.27 27 For the latest structural realist theory of U.S. unipolarity, see Monteiro (2014) . Acknowledgements This research is supported by the National Social Science Fund of China (No. 14BGJ027). Xuefeng Sun is Professor of International Relations and the Chair of the Department of International Relations, Tsinghua University. He also serves as Executive Dean of Institute of International Relations, Tsinghua University and Executive Editor of the Chinese Journal of International Politics (CJIP). He is the author or co-author of many academic papers and books on international relations theory, Chinese foreign policy, and East Asian security. 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Xuefeng Sun. United States Leadership in East Asia and China’s State-by-state Approach to Regional Security, Chinese Political Science Review, 2017, 1-15, DOI: 10.1007/s41111-017-0075-x