It has become accepted wisdom in Washington, D.C., and among many international relations scholars, that East Asia is a region rife with geopolitical rivalry, and that the United States and China are destined for protracted great-power competition and perhaps conflict. In his newest book, David Kang offers a sharply contrarian viewpoint. He argues that East Asia is far more peaceful and stable than it seems, that China’s rise is not particularly threatening to most East Asian states, and that the United States will only find itself in an intense competition with China if it makes unwise policy choices that turn that danger into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The United States should, therefore, refrain from the temptation to double-down on its East Asian security commitments and efforts to check China’s rise; it should adopt a more restrained posture that minimizes rather than embraces great-power competition.
Tag: East Asia
Michael Beckley’s article argues that East Asian military forces possess local anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities to effectively balance the power projection of Chinese military forces in scenarios in Taiwan, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea. As a result, the U.S. can rely on its current level of security commitments, rather than giving up or dramatically increasing its security commitment, to achieve its strategic objectives in the region.
On 8 March 2018, National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong of the Republic of Korea (ROK) met with President Donald J. Trump at the White House to brief him on his recent talks with Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in Pyongyang. Trump learned that Kim had promised not to stage any further nuclear tests and take steps toward denuclearization. Chung emerged from the meeting to read a statement outside the West Wing announcing that Trump had accepted Kim’s proposal for the two leaders to meet in person. This news shocked people around the world because it constituted a sudden and dramatic reversal in a U.S.-DPRK relationship of intense mutual hostility. In December 2017, under U.S. leadership, the United Nations imposed the last of a series of crippling economic sanctions on North Korea after it launched a missile the previous month that Kim Jong Un claimed could reach any target in the continental United States. By then, Trump had threatened military destruction of the DPRK. On 8 August 2017, at his golf club in New Jersey, he warned that if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States, it would “be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” A month later at the United Nations, Trump repeated his threat. If the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” he declared. Mocking the DPRK’s leader, Trump then remarked that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.” A few days later, Kim Jong Un publicly read an official statement in which he called Trump “a frightened dog” and a “gangster fond of playing with fire.” He added that “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” using an arcane term for a mentally impaired elderly person.
When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, Washington and Beijing were on good terms–the military balance between the two countries was not politically salient. Much has happened in the ensuing decades. While American attention turned towards battling Iraq in two wars, responding to the threat posed by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and around the world, and in dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/DAESH) as the latest manifestation of the jihadist threat, the status quo was changing in Asia. China has emerged not only as a global economic and political power, but also as a conventional military power in the Western Pacific that possesses a small nuclear arsenal that under permissive circumstances can hold a few United States (U.S.) cities at risk. The conventional and nuclear balance in Asia is shifting from one of overwhelming U.S. preponderance to a situation in which things might become a bit more sporting.
It is a pleasure to read Feng Zhang’s Chinese Hegemony: Grand Strategy and International Institutions in East Asian History. This book is an exemplar in its serious treatment of Chinese history, its holistic approach to East Asian history covering Inner Asia as well as Korea and Japan, its simultaneous analysis of the foreign policy strategies of both imperial China and its neighbors, and its meticulous examination of fluctuating normative and instrumental strategies in particular periods and in particular relations. It will no doubt become required reading in the International Relations literature.
The theme of the Great Game for this Special Issue of The Journal of American-East Asian Relations which focuses on colonialism and anti-colonialism in Central, East, and Southeast Asia, arises from the original Great Game, which involved a clash of the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia in the nineteenth century. There are several important similarities between the newer and original Great Games. Both are located in Asia, they both feature the Great Powers of Europe, and Western imperialism is a prominent feature in both cases. However, they are also quite different. The timeframe of the new Great Game is more recent, many of the players are new, and the approach to it has changed completely. This new Great Game covers East and Southeast Asia in addition to Central Asia. The United States is involved in addition to Europeans and Asians. It includes the rise of nationalist ideologies and fierce battles between international capitalism and communism. And it is more interactive, cross-cultural, and gives agency to those fighting against the imperialists. This helps redefine the Great Game away from competition among the imperial powers to a Game played between the powers and their subject peoples. Because the essays in this issue focus in part on these subject peoples, this Great Game is also a story of important reformers and great reforms. This is a Great Game of ideas as well as action. Even when they failed, these reformers are important to understand because they mark the limits of reform. When reform failed to create needed change, it sometimes gave way to revolution. Thus, revolution and the revolutionaries themselves became an important part of the new Great Game.
Will Asia be the site of the next major global conflict or will Asia’s future continue to be characterized by peace and stability? This question has invited a veritable multitude of arguments and counterarguments during the last two decades as scholars have tried to assess the implications of growing Chinese power for the international system. Some have feared that the rest of Asia will build up its armaments in response to China’s growing strength, creating a dangerous and unstable situation. They have even raised the possibility that the United States might get drawn into Asia’s next war. Others have taken a far more sanguine view of the prospects for peace in the region, contending that China’s neighbors do not necessarily see it as a threat and that growing economic interdependence makes military conflict unlikely.
How should we understand the changes in East Asia over the last quarter century? The region that has undergone the most extraordinarily rapid economic transformation in modern history is the subject of fierce contestation regarding the implications of the shifting material balance between East Asia and the powers that dominated in the Cold-War era. The ‘rise of China,’ as the largest and potentially most disruptive of the East Asian countries, has captured most attention in scholarly and popular commentary. In the scholarly debate, realist accounts of power transitions dominate the field, although they do not offer a unified prediction of the consequences of rising Chinese power. Evelyn Goh’s The Struggle for Order: Hegemony, Hierarchy and Transition in Post-Cold War East Asia injects a welcome note of innovation into this field. The Struggle for Order presents a compelling challenge to accounts that view the region purely in terms of the shifting material capacities of the major powers. That it does so without ignoring power asymmetries, contests, and competing conceptions of interest distinguishes it from what Andrew Hurrell in this roundtable calls the “liberal optimism” that until now represented the major alternative to realist theorizing.