Recently, the United States issued a military strategy report. President Obama stressed the importance of maintaining U.S. superiority and reshaping the military. What's your comment on this?
There have been some shifts in strategy underway since 2004 or 2005. There's been some thinking about changing our strategy globally and among our ideas for the change was to wind down our engagement in the Middle East and refocus toward Asia. Also, the costs of the Iraq War and Afghanistan War may be over $3 trillion into the future—a very expensive mistake. The multi-trillion-dollar costs for these unnecessary wars in the Middle East have caused some rethinking in the United States particularly at a time of economic difficulty.
And by the way, the budget deficits in a lot of our economic issues are impacted by the expense of these wars. The costs of these wars over the past 10 years are actually reflected in our budget deficit problems. Therefore, to try to cut against that, there's an idea to try and wind down part of the military. [With regards to defense spending cuts,] $450 billion over 10 years is only $45 billion per year, actually a relatively minor cut when you think about it. These aren't really broad and serious cuts in our military budget—I would say minor modifications of the military budget, although they're being pitched to the public as saving all this money over 10 years. They're really not. We have high military spending, actually too much. That's because our foreign policy has become militarized. Militarization of our foreign policy has caused us to have to engage in moving more hardware around the world.
U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and disputes in the South China Sea complicated Sino-U.S. relations in 2011. What do you expect in 2012?
There certainly could be some campaign rhetoric. But fortunately if we could just hold the rhetoric at that level, it shouldn't affect the relationship which we are trying to improve. Nonetheless, the United States has this recent policy shift. Unfortunately, the foreign policy establishment in the United States still retains some Cold War thinking and the idea of a hegemony policy. This is called "U.S. leadership," but what we're talking about is sort of a hegemony policy, and then they use a euphemism called "hedging" about China. "Hedging" really means containment, of course. They're just using different phraseology.
What we have to hope for is that in the dialogue between the United States and China, either government to government, people to people, at all levels of the dialogue, we can alter the perception in the United States, and policy, away from a unipolar, hegemony Cold War-oriented thinking, and reorient that into a more cooperative concept. That is to say, the United States and China cooperate on important issues. They cooperate on keeping the Korean Peninsula stable, cooperate on the Taiwan issue, and cooperate on the South China Sea issue. So in my view, we need to be thinking ahead toward cooperation in a multi-polar world. Unfortunately, leading Democrats and leading Republicans are still caught in a Cold War mentality. They may think they're not, but they are. And now they're talking about democratic states vs. non-democratic states, so there's still that Cold War kind of thinking.
The United States views the freedom of the seas as a core interest. China also views the South China Sea as a core national interest. There are lots of disagreements on this issue. Do you see more conflicts in the future?
In general, for 200 years, the United States' one core value has been freedom of the seas. We had the war with England in 1812 over that topic. In World War I, there was an issue with the Germans on that topic. So the basic concept of freedom of the seas—as a general international legal principle—has been a concern of the United States. Why? Because we have to reach out and trade with other countries in the world. It's vital to our life. So for 200 years, then, the United States has been interested in freedom of the seas, open seas, as a legal concept. Now, with respect to the United States and China, and the South China Sea, there is no reason at all why our diplomats and Chinese diplomats cannot sit down and reach some reasonable conclusions about the South China Sea. I'll make two comments on that:
First, we should not allow third parties to cause problems between ourselves. This is a very important problem. This is a very important subject that the U.S.-China relationship should not be derailed by third parties. This is a danger, a big danger. In my view, the United States and China need to speak frankly with each other and work closely with each other. And we don't need third parties to derail our relationship.
Second, it would be very important, I think, in terms of military exchanges, to have good communications between the U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy—professional communications, so the two sides can get to know one another professionally, and so issues that come up can be solved professionally. For example, in the Persian Gulf, for a number of years, our navy has asked the White House for an "incidents at sea" agreement with Iran. That would mean that if there was a particular problem between the U.S. Navy and the Iranian Navy, we would have a diplomatic agreement that would provide a mechanism for taking care of that problem and not letting it get out of hand. And also it would be a basis for some cooperation between the two navies on a professional basis.
Similarly, I think it is important that the U.S. and Chinese navies establish some professional contacts and relationships, possibly even going into an "incidents at sea" agreement. Also, there's no reason that the United States and China cannot work together on patrolling for piracy or work together on anti-terrorism. So there are a lot of reasons for cooperation between the two sides when it comes to naval issues. What we don't want to have is some sort of a naval race or incidents to come up that provoke tensions.