The Corner

National Security & Defense

John McCain Raises a Good Point: Why Is Obama Inviting a Lawless China to Play in the Pacific?

Senator John McCain has suggested that China shouldn’t be reinvited to a major international military exercise next year, as they were in 2014 — RIMPAC, the world’s largest naval wargame and now a gathering of most Pacific security forces, hosted at U.S. bases in Hawaii.

The Obama administration gave China its 2014 invite back in 2012, when the country was behaving a lot better. They hadn’t declared control over a huge swath of airspace between the mainland and Japan, and they hadn’t started building whole islands and military bases to advance their claims to ocean south of there, in the South China Sea. (There were just small signs of such ambitions at the time.) By the time RIMPAC 2014 happened, China was already behaving noticeably worse in the Pacific, and then they brought an uninvited spy ship to the event. (See a slideshow here!)

So why bring the Chinese back next year? The main worry seems to be that it will annoy them and temporarily sour our relationship. The idea of inviting them in the first place was part of the Obama administration’s general approach to foreign policy: build trust through engagement. Building military-to-military ties was prized long before the Obama administration, but Obama’s strategy raised the hopes for such relationships, and other ceremonial forms of cooperation, to new heights. It does not seem to have worked all that well — we welcomed China into the community of responsible Pacific militaries, they continued their expansionism.

2014 RIMPAC. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe

Ankit Panda of the Diplomat analyzes and supports McCain’s idea here. It seems quite reasonable to kick them back out, as long as we make it clear that the point is not to exclude them from the Pacific but to exclude them until they’re ready to play by the rules. Unfortunately, the decision is up to President Obama, not John McCain, and he has not generally seemed very interested in reconsidering his zeal for engagement in light of bad behavior from the other guys.

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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