China Ascendant: Is Conflict Inevitable?

December 17, 2013 Topic: Grand StrategyGreat PowersRising PowersSecurity Region: China

China Ascendant: Is Conflict Inevitable?

The ADIZ is one more reminder that China has the strength to challenge the regional order. A deep look at where this might lead.

The power shift that occurred between Athens and Sparta culminated in a devastating war. The one now unfolding between China and the United States in East Asia will not. China’s focus is on economic development and its post-1978 economic reforms—call them the Deng Xiaoping Revolution—has enmeshed in the global economy, giving it a big stake in stability making it averse to crises and conflicts that rattle markets and unnerve investors. Still, there are other impulses than those that motivate homo economicus: pride, passion, the quest for respect and standing, the desire for revenge. Thucydides’ masterpiece is chock-full of examples of how powerfully these sentiments shape political decisions, particularly in times of uncertainty and apprehension. The challenge in East Asia—for China and for others in the region—will be to manage the consequences of the power transition so that it produces a new and stable equilibrium.

Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York/City University of New York, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the author, most recently, of The End of Alliances (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Image: Flickr/Philippe Teuwen. CC BY-SA 2.0.