To peer more deeply into the logic of the United States' China strategy, Chinese analysts, like analysts everywhere, look at capabilities and intentions. Although U.S. intentions might be subject to interpretation, U.S. military, economic, ideological, and diplomatic capabilities are relatively easy to discover -- and from the Chinese point of view, they are potentially devastating.
U.S. military forces are globally deployed and technologically advanced, with massive concentrations of firepower all around the Chinese rim. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) is the largest of the United States' six regional combatant commands in terms of its geographic scope and nonwartime manpower. PACOM's assets include about 325,000 military and civilian personnel, along with some 180 ships and 1,900 aircraft. To the west, PACOM gives way to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for an area stretching from Central Asia to Egypt. Before September 11, 2001, CENTCOM had no forces stationed directly on China's borders except for its training and supply missions in Pakistan. But with the beginning of the "war on terror," CENTCOM placed tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan and gained extended access to an air base in Kyrgyzstan.
The operational capabilities of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific are magnified by bilateral defense treaties with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Korea and cooperative arrangements with other partners. And to top it off, the United States possesses some 5,200 nuclear warheads deployed in an invulnerable sea, land, and air triad. Taken together, this U.S. defense posture creates what Qian Wenrong of the Xinhua News Agency's Research Center for International Issue Studies has called a "strategic ring of encirclement."
Chinese security analysts also take note of the United States' extensive capability to damage Chinese economic interests. The United States is still China's single most important market, unless one counts the European Union as a single entity. And the United States is one of China's largest sources of foreign direct investment and advanced technology. From time to time, Washington has entertained the idea of wielding its economic power coercively. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the United States imposed some limited diplomatic and economic sanctions on China, including an embargo, which is still in effect, on the sale of advanced arms. For several years after that, Congress debated whether to punish China further for human rights violations by canceling the low most-favored-nation tariff rates enjoyed by Chinese imports, although proponents of the plan could never muster a majority. More recently, U.S. legislators have proposed sanctioning China for artificially keeping the value of the yuan low to the benefit of Chinese exporters, and the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has promised that if elected, he will label China a currency manipulator on "day one" of his presidency.
Although trade hawks in Washington seldom prevail, flare-ups such as these remind Beijing how vulnerable China would be if the United States decided to punish it economically. Chinese strategists believe that the United States and its allies would deny supplies of oil and metal ores to China during a military or economic crisis and that the U.S. Navy could block China's access to strategically crucial sea-lanes. The ubiquity of the dollar in international trade and finance also gives the United States the ability to damage Chinese interests, either on purpose or as a result of attempts by the U.S. government to address its fiscal problems by printing dollars and increasing borrowing, acts that drive down the value of China's dollar-denominated exports and foreign exchange reserves.
Chinese analysts also believe that the United States possesses potent ideological weapons and the willingness to use them. After World War II, the United States took advantage of its position as the dominant power to enshrine American principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments and to install what China sees as Western-style democracies in Japan and, eventually, South Korea, Taiwan, and other countries. Chinese officials contend that the United States uses the ideas of democracy and human rights to delegitimize and destabilize regimes that espouse alternative values, such as socialism and Asian-style developmental authoritarianism. In the words of Li Qun, a member of the Shandong Provincial Party Committee and a rising star in the Communist Party, the Americans' "real purpose is not to protect so-called human rights but to use this pretext to influence and limit China's healthy economic growth and to prevent China's wealth and power from threatening [their] world hegemony."
In the eyes of many Chinese analysts, since the end of the Cold War the United States has revealed itself to be a revisionist power that tries to reshape the global environment even further in its favor. They see evidence of this reality everywhere: in the expansion of NATO; the U.S. interventions in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo; the Gulf War; the war in Afghanistan; and the invasion of Iraq. In the economic realm, the United States has tried to enhance its advantages by pushing for free trade, running down the value of the dollar while forcing other countries to use it as a reserve currency, and trying to make developing countries bear an unfair share of the cost of mitigating global climate change. And perhaps most disturbing to the Chinese, the United States has shown its aggressive designs by promoting so-called color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. As Liu Jianfei, director of the foreign affairs division of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in 2005, "The U.S. has always opposed communist 'red revolutions' and hates the 'green revolutions' in Iran and other Islamic states. What it cares about is not 'revolution' but 'color.' It supported the 'rose,' 'orange', and 'tulip' revolutions because they served its democracy promotion strategy." As Liu and other top Chinese analysts see it, the United States hopes "to spread democracy further and turn the whole globe 'blue.'"