China's Rise: Implications for U.S. Leadership in Asia


Robert G. Sutter

Policy Studies, No. 21


Washington, D.C.: East-West Center

Publication Date: 2006
ISBN: 978-1-932728-40-8
Binding: paper
Pages: x, 80
Free Download: PDF


This study argues that overt U.S. competition with China for influence in Asia is unwelcome, counterproductive for U.S. interests, and unwarranted given the limited challenge posed by China’s rise. U.S. policymakers should not be misled by prevailing assessments that exaggerate China’s influence in Asia relative to that of the United States. Washington should resist recent congressional, media, and interest group pressures that employ overstated appraisals of China’s rising power in order to push for tougher competition with China.

Contrary to prevailing commentaries, the study demonstrates that China’s advance rests on a fairly narrow foundation—generally adroit Chinese diplomacy and intra-Asian trade that is less significant than the reported figures of annual trade between China and its neighbors would suggest. China’s influence in Asia is undermined by domestic preoccupations, nationalistic ambitions at odds with neighbors, and the adverse economic implications of China’s rise for many in Asia.

Predictions of an emerging order in Asia led by China reflect a poor understanding of the ambitions of Asian governments, the resilience of U.S. power and leadership, and the actual status of China’s influence relative to that of the United States. This study considers each of these subjects to show that as China’s influence in Asia increases, neighboring governments hedge and maneuver against possible Chinese dominance. America has strong advantages in this situation. The United States is able and willing to commit significant resources and prestige to protect allies and friends. It is very powerful—a superpower—but it is far distant from Asia, and has none of the territorial ambitions that characterize Asian powers. It is thus less distrusted by Asian governments in comparison with how these governments view one another, including China.