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Big China: rising threat, rising peace?

Hegemonic Stability theorists such as Robert Gilpin (cited in Friedberg, P.1) note that rapid changes are dangerous. Periods of accelerated economic and technological development typically result in dramatic shifts in the international distribution of military power, and these can raise the risks of misperception, mutual fears, miscalculation and confrontation.

International systems in which one state is rising rapidly are especially prone to upheaval. Friedberg reasoned out that swiftly ascending powers like China invariably challenge the legitimacy of treaties, territorial settlements and hierarchies of prestige and deference put in place when they were relatively weak. Neighboring countries see the situation as disruptive and threatening.

For K.N Waltz (pp. 881-909) and J. Mearsheimer (pp.13-18) along with many Realists, China’s rise is a threat as it is joining the multipolar system in which there are many strong states that make the region prone to instability. The end of the Cold War accelerates the emergence of a truly multipolar system, with a cluster of ‘big powers (including Japan, China, India, Russia and, to the extent that it remains engaged, the US) and an assortment of others with substantial wealth, technological competence and potential military power. If the realists are right, commented Friedberg (p.2), it may be difficult to achieve a stable, lasting peace in a multipolar Asia.

Some American activities in the East Asia region and their misperception (hence constructivism) against China shows American’s see China’s rise as a threat. As per D. Shambaugh (pp.52-79) and A.S. Whiting (pp. 596-615), the US is taking steps that many Chinese perceive to be aimed at containing their country’s rising power. These include intervening in the 1996 Taiwan Straight crisis, strengthening the alliance with Japan and discussing the possibility of developing a wide-ranging-theatre-missile-defence system. American decision makers regard these measures as defensive, and as response to increasing Chinese power and assertiveness. Chinese strategists see American actions as aggressive, and may well respond in ways that serve only to heighten American anxieties. The reason behind America’s actions and misperceptions is they see China’s rise as a threat.

Even from Democratic Peace theory perspective, the undemocratic China’s rise is considered a threat. Liberal, Constructivist and Realist explanations all lead us to this conclusion. The culture, perceptions, and practices that permit compromise and the peaceful resolution of conflicts without the threat of violence within countries come to apply across national boundaries toward other democratic countries. (Russet, p.31) China does not fulfill this criterion. Democratic states, each with perfect information about the other’s constraints, will always settle their conflicts short of war. (B de Mesqita and Lalman, in Russet p….) But, China cannot. Therefore, from both sides explanations perspective, undemocraticChina’s rise with no democratic behavior, with no information about itself is a menace.

The wider circle of Asian powers includes a number of states that have not historically accommodated themselves to Chinese superiority and several, notably Russia and India, which have their own long traditions of playing balance-of-power politics. (Friedberg, p.6) Friedberg asserts that it cannot simply be assumed that these countries will fall willingly into an expanding Chinese orbit. On the contrary, it appears more likely that one or both will seek to balance China as its power grows. Moreover, taking the history that Japan has twice attacked China, the former may see the latter’s rise a threat. Still more countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam that have stake on the South China Sea may not have positive feedback on China’s rise. Therefore, from this perspective we can say that Chinese rise is seen as a threat and not welcomed by the above mentioned countries and their likes due to several reasons.

In favor of rising peace


Even from Realists, we can observe the opinion China as a rising peace. Considering that China is a rising hegemon and the USA is a hegemon one; we can buy K N. Waltz’s (pp. 881ff) argument of stable bipolar world as opposed to multipolar or unipolar. Therefore, in addition to its own peaceful rising behaviour, China’s rise will not be taken as a threat rather a potential force for a better peaceful and stable world by the time it equates itself with the present hegemon: creating equilibrium.

China’s peaceful rise can also be argued from its own benefits side. Nations whose populations benefit from bilateral trade will have a powerful reason to remain at peace. The widening acceptance of market mechanisms and the deepening of regional economic ties should go a long way towards counterbalancing any residual inclination towards conflict. Countries that are busy trading with one another are far less likely to go to war. (Richardson, Cossa and Khanna, in Friedberd p.3) What can we buy from this argument? China, more than any country else, knows how peaceful co-existence brings wealth and development via trade. If it threats other countries or others see its growth as a threat, Chinamight lose more than it gains. China is happy the way it is going. China has no reason to change its direction to be a threat. So, other countries will also be deemed to consider it as is.

From R. Uriu’s (pp. 388-389) export-led peace perspective, which country is to see China as a threat? Uriu suggests that all of this tremendous focus on exports (and international economic exchange more broadly) has made East Asia into a zone of amity. China is here playing a leading actor.

Almost all countries from all corners of the world, even Japan, need China’s peaceful rise. Is the major debtor and trade partner – the U.S. – to see its main creditor’s rise as a threat? For one thing, China needs to be seen as peaceful force from US perspective for the formers huge stake in the latter one. For another thing, which part of China is really a threat to theU.S.? China’s economy though fast developing is far behind the U.S. Aside nuclear power, U.S.’ immense military might and overall science, technology and intelligence capabilities are unparalleled with any country including the PRC.    (The following website compares US-China military power – accessed on February 9, 2011 )

Friedberg (p.3) summarizes how liberals place great faith on international institutions on. Despite the absence of strong and well rooted economic or security institution like EUin the region to grudge against China’s threat (if any), the emergence of the likes of APEC and ARF are of enormous help in providing regular communication, forum for discussion, negotiation, establish rules of acceptable behavior, and promote cooperation between nations. If so, Chinas rise will not be seen as a threat in the region so far as the institution also guides China.

Its neighbors and other trade partners cannot see China’s rise a threat.  We can substantiate this argument seen from two perspectives.

One, economic interdependence and trade-expectation theory. D. Copeland’s (pp. 334ff),dictates that as partners heavily depend on peaceful, open and free trade and investment, the big China equally needs their partnership. The more it grows, the more it needs their partnership to satisfy its big ‘belly’. It’s going to trade with them not with the planet Mars. There is no way to think that tomorrow’s China is a threat to the region or the world.

B. Womack (p. 548) tells us that China’s asymmetrical relationship with its small neighbouring states, ironically, develops the credibility of its image as a peaceful, cooperative and inclusive partner. Even in the face of global rivalry, China’s best policy would be to continue its current directions by renewing commitments on the part of its leadership and developing an awareness of the importance of solidarity with less powerful states. (ibid)


Two, history will repeat itself: Asia’s past will be Asia’s future. (S. Huntington, p.238) Asians accept hierarchy and they regard a clear ordering of relations as the key to domestic and international tranquility.(D. Kang pp.167, 177ff; Mahbubani, p.117) Such attitudes may well have rooted in Confucianism. Whereas in Europe the dispersal of strength and the insistence on autonomy went hand in hand, in Asia a heavy concentration of capabilities has encouraged an inclination towards deference and an acceptance of Chinese hegemony. (Friedberg, p.5) In this connection, according to S. Huntington (p.234), for 2,000 years, East Asian international relations were Sinocentric. Most of the other states in the region have long traditions of either cooperating with or being subordinate to China. He suggests that similar patterns may well prevail in the future. With the rapid rise of Chinese power, he predicts the other Asian states will have to choose between power balanced to the price of conflict and peace secured at the price of hegemony. History, culture, and the realities strongly suggest that Asia will opt for peace and hegemony power.

D. Kang (p. 183) emphatically argues it is Chinese weakness not Chinese rise that has to be considered a threat esp. to the region.  Hence, (again) China rise is peaceful and a happy end for the region.


Base on preponderance as opposed to absolute reasoning, although the side arguing China’s rise as a threat has more than few grains of truth; generally speaking, I stand on the side of some leaders like US President Obama and Ethiopian PM. Meles side who are equally impressed by the other very strong side: CHINA’S RISE IS PEACEFUL!

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Friday, 19 July 2024