Today, many people in the United States look upon China with a growing a growing super power that is probably competing economically with the United States. Many scholars that harp on realpolitik and offensive realism like Mearshimer or Kagan would probably think that a Chinese rise in the asia-pacific region would probably spell doom for any American regional hegemony in the area along with a probable loss of forward deployed military presence on Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea. The “evil” Chinese – as the cx debate community would jokingly call them – would probably overtake the US in terms of military power one day.
All of the above are probably scenarios that many cant fathom as being “okay” for international affairs. An usurpation of status quo power? Unheard of!
But what if we look deep into the implications for a China rise? Would it be malevolent? Benign? Total hegemony or just increased influence? What would it mean for the status of American power? Will it decline? Or is the United States here to stay? Maybe it would be beneficial for everyone’s interests if the China gained power?
Let’s explore the possibilities.
Some Background Informatics
China is a country with a large variety of cultural backgrounds as well as political thought. Although some may think of the current policies of the Chinese Communist Party as representative of China as a whole, I think it may be just a good refresher to take a quick social and anthropological lesson regarding China itself. At least history right after the rise in the CCP.
Contrary to what most people believe, the population in China feel fairly satisfied with the government. Many actually believe that the events during Tian an men square were not justified during a time of “economic and political” instability. Moreover, although it seems that many in China do like the government, it seems strange that many also recognize the power that the government holds over the population. This, I feel is an important concept to grasp: the people willingly accept the power of the government – there is a strange sense of satisfaction in the majority of the population.
Moreover, culturally and socially, the people of China are extremely proud. Last names are a symbol throughout families and there is a goal of honoring the family name: this can be visibly seen as there is a focus on having male children (heirs) and the refusal of many married couples of having shared last names. Maiden names seem permanent.
Finally, a third thing that should be recognized is that China finds previously conquered or controlled land to be permanently theirs. With the experience of colonization by the British as well as invasion by the Japanese, it seems as if the Chinese have a certain complex against losing any sort of power or footholds of control. The Boxer Rebellion as well as the refusal to accept Taiwan as a sovereign nation and the belief of some that even Okinawa belongs to Chinese influence complicates as well as explain certain international behaviors of the state.
With these three things in mind, let’s begin.
China is currently gaining in power in a region currently dominated by Japan and South Korea (under the umbrella of US military power.) With economic force as well as shows of military power in during the 2007 ASAT test as well as other dogmatic behavior in response to US requests. What does it mean? Keeping in mind the “colonization complex” we can postulate that the Chinese probably don’t like US power and forward military presence in the region on Japan or South Korea. This makes sense; however, the United States also probably don’t want foreign aircraft carriers just a few thousand miles from the coast.
But China isnt as satisfied with US control as South Korea or Japan. China wants a little bit of regional hegemony. With a long history, a proud population, as well as a history of being controlled by western influence, it obviously wants its own shot at the world stage. And a bit of control of the region like current US control of North America with NAFTA and influence would be proof of a “powerful” China.
Some say that China would rather keep the US in the region. That they fear a rise of Japanese or South Korea. Although this may seem like a probably theory, empirics as well as a peer into the psychology of the nation and population seem to disprove this. China has obviously shown multiple shows of power to the United States: following with an active space program, ASATS, and aircraft carriers itself pretty much show that the feel that the US should get out of their backyard. And bitter resentment of western influence in their history is probably more telling than the Japanese invasion. I think it’s pretty obvious that the country wants regional power and want the US out. The real question is thus: Would they be malevolent?
I think that they wouldn’t be malevolent. With a move toward the capitalist impulse and little less control on the actions of the populace with regards with the economic system, I think that the Chinese are more interested in fame, glory, and power in the context of making history and spreading the language than destroying nations or colonization. Given that current Chinese actions are fairly militarily showing, these malevolent actions are not for the sake of being malevolent, but rather a challenge to the US: we can match you too.
Thus, if the Chinese were to gain hegemony or at least regional hegemony, they would not be controlling, but rather similar to how the US behaves now. This is probably a bad assumption, but I think that I can conclude that this would be true. A Chinese rise would not be the end if the world; it would be a fairly non aggressive rise.
However, how would the US respond?
The Western Hemisphere
What happens after China rises to power and how the US would respond is a lot more complicated. I think there are two possibilities: a shift to a multipolar balance of power between China and the United States as forward military presence declines. Or the US latches onto hegemonic power and a very similar conflict will probably erupt between the United States and the Chinese. And I think the latter is probably a better possibility.
If China were to rise, the US would probably accommodate their new power. However, the US will refuse to leave Asia. Keeping allied credibility, relationships, and deterrence with SoKo and Japan would be extremely important to maintain. The United States would not just leave the region up to the Chinese with no guarantees. Even if China’s rise would have peaceful intentions, the US nor any other country in Asia would believe that. The US would probably dig in for as long as possible and voila we have another Cold War. But it’s doubtful who would win this time: an overextended America or an ambitious China.
It is difficult to depict the outcome. Although I believe that a rising Cina would be fairly peaceful, the transition process will definitely be heated and probably make any sort of peaceful intention turn south. In this sense, the United States should open up with more diplomatic efforts with China, including them with consultation in foreign policy. In the mean time, the US should build up a dig in Japan and SoKo for the inevitable conflict in the future. The only question is if the United State can keep China satisfied.