China’s Monroe Doctrine

Last week at the Naval War College’s annual Current Strategy Forum, several speakers likened China’s policy in the near seas to U.S. policy in the Caribbean and Gulf during the heyday of the Monroe Doctrine. (Why hadn’t someone thought of that before?) One asked: “Why can’t China have a Monroe Doctrine?” He answered his own question: “Because it’s China!” Implication: the United States and its Asian allies deny China the special prerogatives America enjoyed during its own ascent to great sea power. To do so is apparently the height of hypocrisy, if not an exercise in threat-mongering.

The trouble with this view is that no one denies Beijing influence over its surroundings. Great powers wield such influence as a matter of course. But the kind of influence matters. China has given fellow Asian powers ample grounds to worry about how it will use the armed forces it is busily assembling.

The contrast with U.S. history is striking. Far from being a writ for American meddling, the Monroe Doctrine was popular in Latin America for decades following its inception. Why wouldn’t it be? It was a declaration that Europeans could keep their holdings in the New World but not expand them. It was a kind of ratchet. Once Latin American republics had wrested their independence from the great empires, it was permanent. Washington vowed to construe any effort to restore imperial control of American states – whether direct or by proxy – as an unfriendly act toward the United States. Few in Central or South America objected to a strong neighbor’s guaranteeing their independence against extraregional predators.

Full article: China’s Monroe Doctrine (The Diplomat)