New Delhi: Containing China would require more than the visit of an US aircraft carrier to Vietnam. It would require a United States president other than Donald Trump who can unite the American people and establishment with the White House and put forward a coherent vision for a balanced and equitable world order. It would require the United States and Western Europe to arrive at a common position on the threat represented by China which has regressed into one-man rule. It would require resuscitation of the Policy Planning Staff which established the foundations for geopolitics through whose agency the United States emerged victorious in the Cold War. And it would require an intelligent appreciation of the sources of Chinese power and the means to neutralise them without provoking a world war.

Conceivably the worst way to contain China is to convey existential military threats which will unite the Chinese in a fight-to-the-death ultra-nationalism. The legacy of Mao Tse Tung has not perished in an important way. Mao united China in a manner centuries of Chinese central rule could not. When the United States established an anti-communist front after World War II, its primary target was the Soviet Union but China was never far behind. It had been United States policy to back the Kuomintang Nationalists against Mao’s revolutionary forces in the Chinese civil war because Mao’s victory represented extraordinary dangers of communist expansion in East Asia. Eventually, the United States ceased supporting Chiang Kai Shek because Mao’s victory was inevitable. The understanding was that China would not remain a Soviet tool for long if it at all became one. It was, as it proved, an admirable appreciation of China’s geopolitics.

This appreciation indeed contributed to making the containment of Soviet Russia rather more imaginative than it was originally conceived. A straightforward way was militarily to balance the Soviet Union. This certainly happened by the application of counter-force where the Soviet Union sought to expand. Rather more interesting and novel was the application of economic pressure, the most significant of which in Western Europe was the Marshall Plan. Originally designed to revive Europe after the war with US aid, it served secondary and tertiary purposes of preventing a Soviet foothold in the West while also alienating Eastern Europe from Soviet Russia because Joseph Stalin would not permit the Marshall Plan into the Iron Curtain countries. A variant of the Marshall Plan was employed much later, in the early 1970s, to revive the Chinese economy and set it up as a counter to Soviet Russia. Analysts blame this for China’s rise and its menace to the world.

Hindsight makes everyone wiser, but bungling China’s containment can still be awfully easy. China does not stand alone. For now at least, the China-Russia alliance is strong to resist any form of military threat from the United States and its allies. The United States is in decline. It does not have an alliance in place to contain China. Military containment of China (and Russia) is impossible. Almost no sensible power would sign up for this insane enterprise. On the other hand, a military backing to China’s economic straitjacketing would be eminently sensible, but it will fail without a plan. Barack Obama had a sensible plan to counter China’s economic might through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Donald Trump killed it with his obsession with America First. A successor to Trump has to revive TPP as the first executive decision. Being reactive to the Belt and Road Initiative will not work. China has to be opposed in East Asia and not in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. China’s power lies in the east which is where it should be targeted.

None of this is going to be easy, however. The United States cannot do it alone nor indeed in partnership with East Asian states threatened by China’s rise. Western Europe has to play a decisive role. Britain, France and Germany are crucial to success backed by NATO military power. It is important to frame and determine the nature of the conflict. It has to be conceived as a second Cold War. Its basis has to be economic, not military. It has to be imagined as a ten-year plan. It should be made clear at the outset that China represents a threat to world peace and not its people who are as peaceable as other people of the world. This is beyond Donald Trump. It has to await a more sensible and trusted US president.