Why China cannot rise peacefully

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In the back of every world leader’s mind lays the question: how should China’s seemingly unstoppable rise be handled?  The world’s superpower and the West have spent the past decade distracted, hopelessly pursuing a costly war on terror to little or no avail while the dragon in the east has continued to rise.  The nature of the international realm coupled with the size and rapid development of China are the reason its rise is feared and unwelcome, ultimately leading to the high chance of conflict in the future.

However these efforts will remain completely in vain. A common historical pattern shows that power transitions come with international conflicts, and the rise of a superpower is not going to be welcomed by an existing one.  Theory suggests that every nation seeks to dominate its own region.  What nation would turn down the opportunity to be the most powerful and thus not fear those it shares its borders with?  This is precisely the conditions which America enjoys, with its neighbours Canada and Mexico much weaker than itself and consequently posing no threat.  On this basis, it is perfectly feasible that China will attempt to replicate America’s feat in the Western hemisphere and try to become the hegemon of Asia.  Secondly, superpowers will prevent any other nation replicating its achievement in other regions.  This is where China will run into problems as its power grows.  Evidence of this can be found by taking a quick look at the last two centuries.  America has intervened across the world to prevent each nation’s run at hegemony since it became a global power; Imperial Germany (1900-1919), Imperial Japan (1931-1945), Nazi Germany (1933-1945) and the Soviet Union during the Cold War (1945-1989). Now it has achieved primacy, it has no plans to lose it.  Following the end of the Cold War, leaked documents from Washington in 1992 stated clearly the intention of the United States to prevent the emergence of any future global competitor.  This is a policy line which has been reiterated by every American president since.  Ultimately, the U.S. does not accept challengers.

America is aware that China continues to decrease the gap in their power, with Goldman Sachs predicting the Chinese economy will supersede the America’s by 2027.  Militarily, while the U.S. defence budget – in spite of recent cuts – continues to dwarf the rest of the world’s, China  is not to be overlooked; it has doubled its spending on defence every six years and announced on the March 4 that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will receive a generous $106 billion this year.  This increased power has given Beijing a chance to be more assertive internationally, and old claims such as the one to Taiwan and grievances with Japan are likely to re-emerge in its domestic discourse.

China and the U.S. are unlikely to go head to head in the traditional sense for a number of reasons; firstly they are each other’s second biggest trade partners, the economic gains from peaceful cooperation are massive and finally each power’s weapons can induce devastating damage.  Yet there will one day be conflict, history suggests nothing else and the American-Sino relationship will be scarred by a number of proxy wars.  America will look to contain China and will continue to exert its influence around the globe, particularly in Asia where it has a large vested interest.  All that is left to be decided is whether it will be China who acts first, no longer content to tolerate Uncle Sam in its backyard and dance along to America’s tune.  Or will Washington finally lose patience with competition from Beijing, either way this article must pessimistically conclude that war is on the horizon.

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