POLI 244: International Relations: State Behaviour Page 1
THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2012: The Coming World Order- The Rise of China
What are the potential consequences of the rise of China?
Usually the rise of great powers has been associated with major hostility,
conflict, and war. Changes in the distribution of power can affect the prospects
of war and peace (ex. WWI, WWI, Cold War).
During the Cold War, we did not get a major war, but the costs of great power
conflict were still extremely high, especially with the involvement of nuclear
Scholars present alternative scenarios of what the world might look like and
what this means. There are three possible worlds.
1. United States as a hegemon/dominant (the current situation). It is a
unipolar moment. The US will still be militarily dominant and
economically viable, and is the only one with global power projection
abilities. Other states have a stake in the US doing well, particularly
smaller countries that rely on it economically. The US has a highly
educated population, one of the best university systems, and is on the
cutting edge of technological development. US dominance is not going to
disappear all that quickly because while we are in a unipolar system, this
system is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. This is due to their
military capabilities, because if any country wants to reach the American
level of power, they would need to match and surpass American military
capabilities (the US spends more than twice of what the next 5 great
powers combined spend on military capabilities annually). This is highly
unlikely. While China might be growing at a massive rate, the Chinese
have their issues and problemstheir economy is nowhere near as
diversified as the United States (it is low tech, export driven, which is not
2. Multipolar world: America is declining and will continue to decline in
influence in every part of the world and economic power and military
predominance in some reason. It will have to share power with Asian
states, but there is skepticism that China is working its way to global
dominance. They expect the world increasingly reflect a multipolar
order. Germany (a rising European power, especially if the Eurozone
recovers quickly), India (if their economic growth and influence
continues, prominent military power, nuclear power), Brazil (influential
South American power, growing economy) and Russia (might recover
from the shock of breakup of the USSR, solve its democratization issues,
extremely large, in a strategic part of the world, nuclear power, resource
rich) will all become greater powers. While China and the US will be POLI 244: International Relations: State Behaviour Page 2
extremely important actors, they will not be the only actors powerful and
influential in the system.
3. US decline and China catching up: Many scholars argue this is the most
likely world. The American economy has hit a brick wall, and they are
not going to get any better. They will need to scale down military
spending and adopt more international restraints. China is growing at a
great rate, and despite the occasional blips it will likely continue to grow.
China may be at a point where it becomes the dominant power in the
next couple decades. China is the next lender of money in the world
economy, and their economic dominance may be complete sooner rather
than later. China is investing a lot of resources in upgrading its military
capabilities, and China is probably not disclosing officially the full amount
that it is spending on capabilities. Right now its naval forces are not
strong, but they are being rapidly built up, and they will have great power
projection capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region. The expectation is that
over the next several decades; the US will keep declining and China will
grow towards matching the United States at the global level.
If China is rising, many believe that hegemonic stability is positive and a
hegemon is good for world stability and peace. If the third world is true, this
sparks concern because periods of hegemonic decline/power transitions are
periods of conflict and war. The Cold War didnt involve a power transition, but
the Sino-US case possibly does.
Possible paths of conflict:
o China is seeking influence in East Asia as it grows stronger, and the US
will resist. Historically, China has considered this area as their rightful
sphere of influence, but with American presence and power projection
capabilities the US has its own allies (Japan, Korea, several Southeast
Asian states) who are aimed at curbing Chinese dominance in this region.
The US has maintained this power through their strong navy, and through
bases in this region the US has been able to maintain its power. As China
gets stronger economically, it is building up is military capabilities,
particularly its naval capabilities. China wants a blue water navy like
the US possesses, and it wants to use this to project power at great
distances from its own shores. China will want the US to remove its navy
from the area, but the US will not give up easily (it has put a lot of
resources in the area and wants to maintain its allies in the region, and
this would also be a signal to the rest of the world they are in decline and
are giving up).
ex) The US government has made a public decision that they will pivot
towards Asiacutting down presence in the Middle East and Europe and
moving troops to Asia to shore up their influence in the region. If this
takes place, it will generate a lot of conflict between the US and China. POLI 244: International Relations: State Behaviour Page 3
o There is a fear in Asia of Chinese expansionism based on what critics of
China see as solid group. China and Japan have disputes over some
islands, which has sparked a major diplomatic incident (ex. Chinese boat
captain). Japan fears that when China becomes dominant it may just
take over what it thinks belongs to it. There are also a number of
territorial disputes in East and Southeast Asia over islands (which are
thought to be surrounded by waters with a lot of oil and natural gas).
China does not possess a navy strong enough to venture from its own
shore, but once it acquires this stronger navy, it could pursue
expansionism and take what they want, particularly because China wants
these resources. South East Asian states are weaker, so deal with China
by creating closer relations with the United States, so it China threatens
them they will be in direct conflict with the United States.
ex) Recent diplomatic dispute over an island in the South China sea
between China and the Philippines.
o Taiwana remnant of the Chinese civil war. In the war the communists
defeated the nationalists, who retreated to the island of Taiwan and
established what China calls a rebel government. China still asserts
that Taiwan is a threat and wants to control China. The US has adopted a
one China policy where they only recognize the Beijing government as
the Chinese representative. They have also made it clear they will not
allow China to absorb Taiwan by force. If China were to try to occupy,
the US would have a responsibility to go to the aid of Taiwan. As China
grows, it will likely to try to take back Taiwan.
o Ideological and regime type differencesthe democratic peace logic.
China is not satisfied in a US dominant system where liberal values are
emphasized, and the United States will not be satisfied in a Chinese
dominant system when communism is dominant and liberal values are
undermined. What would a Chinese rise mean for the prospect of peace?
There is a case to be made that this transition to power isnt necessarily going to
o Nuclear weapons made the war between the US and the Soviet Union
cold, and there is no reason to believe this will not be the case in a US-
China war. Both sides would fear nuclear exchange, and this deterrence
alone should be enough to stabilize relations. That being said, nuclear
deterrence is difficult in practice, and could result in the stability-
instability paradox. Would the powers risk nuclear war for small allies
like Taiwan or over small islands? And if the US isnt willing to risk war for