2013 December 22 Sunday
Stephen Walt: Will China Achieve Regional Hegemony?

Will China push the United States out of East Asia and then dominate East Asian countries?

It is hard to overstate the long-term implications of this issue. If the United States is able to maintain the status quo in Asia and help prevent China from dominating the region, then Beijing will have to focus a lot of attention on local issues, and its capacity to shape politics in other parts of the world will be constrained. By contrast, if China eventually pushes the United States out of Asia, it will have the same sort of hegemonic position in its region that the United States has long enjoyed near its own shores. That favorable position is what allows Washington to wander all over the world telling others what it thinks they should do, and regional hegemony would give Beijing the option of doing the same if it wished.

China is asserting sovereignty over islands also claimed by Japan, has asserted a large air defense zone, and harasses US Navy ships. China's territorial claims in the South China Sea are absurd.

I am wondering whether the rise of China will eventually bring focus to US foreign policy and make American foreign affairs thinkers become much more rational about strategy. Clearly Japan, South Korea, and Philippines do not want to become vassals of China. The Filipino decision to push the US Navy out of Subic Bay was a big mistake for which they starting to pay as China becomes more aggressive about asserting sovereignty over seas and islands which are much much closer to Philippines than China.

My guess is that the United States will not shift enough military resources, trade negotiation atteniton, and other efforts to stop the Chinese from getting other Asian nations to submit. Japan is aging rapidly and with its stagnant economy and massive sovereign debts it can not afford a big defense build up. The United States is becoming such a large entitlements state that it will not be able to maintain current military funding levels. Big defense cuts are coming even as retirement costs for military personnel

In an article about Middle East strategy Walt goes into greater detail on how America's two weak bordering neighbors, the two oceans on its eastern and western borders, and hegemon position in Latin America enables it to mess around in the rest of the world.

Furthermore, the United States has no serious rivals in the Western Hemisphere. It is protected -- still! -- by two vast oceans. As the French ambassador to the United States said in 1910: "The United States was blessed among nations. On the north, she had a weak neighbor; on the south, another weak neighbor; on the east, fish, and on the west, fish." Today, the United States possesses the world's most capable conventional military forces and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal, giving Washington a deterrent power that others can only envy. Indeed, the main reason the United States can roam around concerning itself with other countries' business (and interfering in various ways) is because it doesn't have to worry about defending itself against foreign invasions, blockades, and the like.

Will the US and China start backing rival factions in African civil wars? Or back rival countries in cross-border conflicts in Africa? Will China ignore the Monroe Doctrine and support factions in Latin America? Will we enter a transition period where China unseats the United States as hegemon?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 December 22 11:22 AM 


Comments
Fred said at December 22, 2013 2:49 PM:

I wonder if they're going to take on the Vietnamese again. Good times...

G said at December 23, 2013 8:13 PM:

This is just another example of obvious thinking; China is big and populous, so it has to dominate. It's pretty unimaginative to think like this. It just extrapolates current trends in a very crude way. It's why pundits have such a terrible track record when predicting the future. I think Japan on its own could act as a counterweight to China, and certainly wouldn't be dominated by it. And alliances between Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and others would leave China virtually hamstrung. China is huge but fairly incompetent. There have been many examples of smaller countries holding their own easily and even winning out against much larger foes and alliances between unfriendly nations against a larger common enemy are common. A typical pundit would have looked at the Israeli/Arab conflict in 1948 and made bland self-assured predictions that the Arabs would end up dominant; and in fact, that's exactly what they said. Pundits are so useless.

G said at December 23, 2013 8:14 PM:

This is just another example of obvious thinking; China is big and populous, so it has to dominate. It's pretty unimaginative to think like this. It just extrapolates current trends in a very crude way. It's why pundits have such a terrible track record when predicting the future. I think Japan on its own could act as a counterweight to China, and certainly wouldn't be dominated by it. And alliances between Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and others would leave China virtually hamstrung. China is huge but fairly incompetent. There have been many examples of smaller countries holding their own easily and even winning out against much larger foes and alliances between unfriendly nations against a larger common enemy are common. A typical pundit would have looked at the Israeli/Arab conflict in 1948 and made bland self-assured predictions that the Arabs would end up dominant; and in fact, that's exactly what they said. Pundits are so useless.

Paul A'Barge said at December 28, 2013 3:25 AM:

Walt? Is this the same Walt of mearsheimer and Walt? Because if it is, the man is without a shred of credibility.

Randall Parker said at December 28, 2013 7:02 PM:

Paul A'Barge,

What robs Walt of all credibility?

Also, why not consider his arguments even if you disagree with something else he's said?


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