Power Transition Theory and U.S.-China Relations

Power Transition Theory and
U.S.-China Relations
Professor David Skidmore
September 28, 2010
University of Macau
A Chinese View of the United States
U.S. Worries about China
An Inside View of Obama-Hu Talks.
Political scientist John
“China cannot rise peacefully. “
“… I am not arguing that Chinese behavior alone
will drive the security competition that lies
ahead. The United States is also likely to
behave in aggressive ways …”
More Mearsheimer
• “… the United States labored for more than a
century to gain regional hegemony … it has
made sure that no other great power
dominated either Asia or Europe the way it
dominates the Western Hemisphere. …”
China’s “Monroe Doctrine”
• “A much more powerful China can also be
expected to try to push the United States out
of the Pacific-Asia region, much the way the
United States pushed the European great
powers out of the Western Hemisphere in the
nineteenth century. We should expect China
to come up with its own version of the
Monroe Doctrine.”
Assessing Power Transition Theory
• Will China overtake the United States in
national power?
• Will China seek to overturn the existing
international or regional order?
• Can a US-China “cold war” be averted?
• China’s economy will overtake US economy in
overall output and will dominate Asian region
• http://www.mint.com/blog/trends/gdp-percountry-08182010/
Constraints on Chinese Economic
• US will remain much richer on per capita
basis: Chinese per capita income from 7% of
US per capita income today to 54% in 2050.
• China’s economic growth rate will slow.
• Biggest reason: demographics
– Today: 70% of Chinese of working age – support
30% who are young or old
• Economic trends can change rapidly
• In 1990, no one predicted stagnation in Japan
or rapid growth in India
US-China Military Balance
Military Power
• US military spending roughly equal to rest of
world combined
• US has troops in approximately 120 countries
and significant bases in around 60
• US has military alliances with dozens of
• US has eleven aircraft carrier groups (China is
developing first)
Chinese Strategic Problems
• Surrounded by 14 countries who need
• Depends on oil and other resources imported
along sea lanes controlled by US Navy
• Flashpoints: Taiwan, North Korea, South China
Sea, disputed border with India
• US military has technological lead and
capacity to increase spending
Chinese Military Strategy
Develop “blue water” navy
Missile and rocket technology
Cyber and space warfare
Increase domestic production capacity in
military goods
• Reduce size of ground forces while improving
Chinese Intentions
• “Peaceful rise” or “Peaceful development”
• “China will never seek hegemony.”
US Attitude Toward China’s Rise
• http://jp.reuters.com/news/video?videoChan
• “power is no longer a zero-sum game”
Historical Cases
• Germany and Japan’s strategies of expansion
in first half of 20th century led to ruin
• Soviet Union’s arms race with US led to
bankruptcy and dissolution
• Japan’s economic rise stalled in 1980s
• Britain accommodated US rise
Reasons to think China’s Rise might
be peaceful
• China has benefitted from existing
international order
• International order built upon institutions that
are “easy to join, hard to overturn” (G. John
• China aware that expansionist policies will
produce balancing coalition among neighbors
who can rely upon US for support
Reasons to think China’s rise might
not be peaceful
• China might wish to change international
order created and controlled by West
• China might not be trusted by West because it
is not democracy
• Need for raw materials leads to conflict over
resources, sea lanes, etc.
• Internal instability leads to nationalist
Will US seek to “contain” China?
US does not have ability to contain China
US depends on China for goods and finance
US corporations heavily invested in China
US needs Chinese cooperation on many issues
Comparisons to Soviet Union: no ideological
challenge, no serious military challenge, far
more interdependent (80,000 Chinese
students in US)
Is US-China conflict inevitable?
Is US-China conflict possible?
Is US-China conflict avoidable?
Structure versus choice
Unpredictability of future
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