The rise of China is perhaps the most consequential regional security issue of this century. A stronger China is challenging important aspects of the long-established Pax Americana, including the forward deployment of US forces, the US alliance system, and American involvement in regional issues. A struggle for regional leadership between China and the United States is emerging, repeating a historical pattern that often results in military conflict.
Most governments in the region perceive some degree of strategic peril in a militarily strong China with an assertive foreign policy. Also in question is the continued viability of certain accepted international norms which the Chinese government does not support.
As China becomes stronger, the government appears to be more ambitious in its efforts to control its surroundings. The Chinese may believe that they are defending legitimate interests, but much of the region perceives some Chinese policies as overly assertive and bullying. China sees itself as the historical leader of the region returning to its rightful place after a period of weakness and mistreatment. At the same time, many Asia-Pacific countries have histories of conflict with or domination by China.
Some international forces work to restrain China from aggressive behavior. Since China is thriving by participating in the global economy and in multilateral institutions, there is little incentive for Beijing to overthrow the international system. The Chinese are also keen to avoid frightening other states into forming an anti-China defensive coalition. Unfortunately, these pacifying forces are ineffective when it comes to the issues about which Beijing is especially sensitive: the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party government, the demand that the world treat China with proper respect, and China’s entitlement to a sphere of influence on its periphery.
This research project will produce a single-authored book, titled China, peace and war: Rising China’s impact on regional security. Publication by Columbia University Press is expected in late 2012.
Managing Tensions in the South China Sea
One specific, immediate challenge is managing tensions arising from disputed claims in the South China Sea. Sovereign rights over the water column, seabed, and island-like features of the South China Sea are disputed between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. The value of the resources at stake (fishing grounds and extractable hydrocarbons) and the tendency of territorial issues to arouse nationalist passions make a compromise settlement difficult. Furthermore, this issue has become one of the first test cases of how China as a great power will work out disputes with its smaller neighbors.
This project aims to assess the prospects for peace or conflict in the South China Sea as the rise of China's relative military and economic capabilities emboldens the Chinese to take more assertive measures in defense of the extraordinarily expansive Chinese claims. At the same time, the smaller claimants are scrambling to strengthen their own claims both because of and in spite of the expectation that China's ability to project power into the South China Sea will soon be unmatchable.
The strategic implications of the South China Sea disputes is the subject of an edited book comprised of papers presented at a workshop held in January 2012 at Academia Sinica, Taiwan. The book is under consideration for publication by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Likely publication will be in late 2012.
An additional complicating factor is the involvement of the United States. Washington takes no official position on the territorial disputes but clashes with China over the right to conduct military surveillance from within China's exclusive economic zone and has intervened diplomatically to prevent China from dominating negotiations with its neighbors. This has added a layer of US-China strategic rivalry over the South China Sea issue.
The partner institution for this project is the Institute for European and American Studies, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Individual scholars involved are:
- Lin Cheng-yi, Research Fellow, Institute for European and American Studies, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
- Elina Noor, Assistant Director, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia
- Carlyle Thayer, Professor, Australian Defense Force Academy
- Aileen Baviera, Professor, Asian Center, University of the Philippines
- Clive Schofield, Professor and Director of Research, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security
- Alice Ba, Associate Professor, University of Delaware
- Ian Storey, Senior Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies
- Li Mingjiang, Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University
- Richard Hu, Associate Professor, University of Hong Kong
- Yoichiro Sato, Professor, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
- Yann-Huei Song, Research Fellow, Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica
An edited book comprises papers presented at a workshop held in January at Academia Sinica. The book is under consideration by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Likely publication date is late 2012.