In March 2018, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi responded to a question about the Donald Trump administration’s new “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy by comparing it to “sea foam in the Pacific or Indian Ocean” that might get some attention, “but soon will dissipate.”1 Wang’s remarks raise an important question for U.S. policymakers: Is Beijing so confident in its own influence, and doubtful of U.S. commitments in the region, that it perceives a green light to continue or expand the kinds of behavior Washington is trying to discourage, such as coercion of China’s territorial rivals and “predatory” lending? The question takes on added significance in the context of Chinese perceptions of a United States in relative decline following the 2008 global financial crisis. The view that Washington was no longer able or willing to stand up to China may have contributed to more assertive Chinese policies over the last decade. For instance, Beijing’s discounting of some U.S. commitments under the Barack Obama administration’s “rebalance to Asia” strategy may have contributed to China’s controversial land reclamation program in the South China Sea.2 Some regional observers are now concerned that Beijing will exploit Washington’s lackluster response to the 2019–20 novel coronavirus to further expand its influence across Asia.
Dr. Joel Wuthnow is a senior research fellow in the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs within the Institute for National for Strategic Studies at NDU. His research areas include Chinese foreign and security policy, Chinese military affairs, U.S.-China relations, and strategic developments in East Asia. In addition to his duties in INSS, he also serves as an adjunct professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
Prior to joining NDU, Dr. Wuthnow was a China analyst at CNA, a postdoctoral fellow in the China and the World Program at Princeton University, and a pre-doctoral fellow at The Brookings Institution. His research has appeared in journals such as The China Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary China, Asian Security, Asia Policy, Journal of Strategic Studies, Chinese Journal of International Politics, and Joint Force Quarterly, as well as in NDU’s China Strategic Perspectives monograph series. He is also the author of a book, Chinese Diplomacy and the UN Security Council (Routledge).
Dr. Wuthnow holds degrees from Princeton University (A.B., summa cum laude, in Public and International Affairs), Oxford University (M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies), and Columbia University (Ph.D. in Political Science). He is proficient in Mandarin.