Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India, and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade

  • Published

Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India, and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade by Bill Emmott. Mariner Books, 2009, 352 pp.

Bill Emmott’s Rivals preceded the recent flurry of publishing on the rise of China and India, which included Robert Kaplan’s Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power and Henry Kissinger’s On China. Acknowledging the perils of predictive writing, this 2009 paperback edition of Rivals contains a foreword updating Emmott’s conclusions (originally published in 2008) in light of the Great Recession and the then-recent election of President Obama. The author, an English journalist and former editor in chief of the Economist, has published several earlier books about Japanese business and politics. Rivals uses historical events, personal anecdotes, and economic data to envision the future of a region defined by rivalry among ascendant China and India as well as a declining but still powerful Japan.

Emmott introduces his theme with a discussion of the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2005, in which President Bush agreed to sell nuclear fuel and technology to India outside the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He compares this departure from Bush’s counterproliferation objectives to Nixon’s courtship of China as a counterweight to the USSR. Rivals argues that more than the global war on terrorism, “the most important long-term trend in world affairs does indeed remain the shift in economic and political power to Asia” (p. 7). The author supports this contention with a number of economic statistics, the most telling of which is the 6 percent rise in Asia’s share of world gross domestic product (GDP) since 1990. (Other regions lost ground or maintained their share.)

The second chapter gives an account of Asian integration—in terms of ideology, markets, and diplomacy—since the nineteenth century. According to Emmott, to the extent that any pan-Asian ideology has succeeded as a motive force, it is “economic development and the accompanying reduction of poverty” (p. 33). He traces the history of Asian economic development through the “flying geese” construct: postwar Japan became an economic powerhouse through export-led trade followed within two decades by the Four Asian Tigers and then Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia—and eventually Deng Xiaoping’s China. Chapters 3–5 offer an in-depth look at the recent past and the foreseeable future of China, Japan, and India, respectively. Japan will have to deal with an aging population and increasing pressure to amend its pacifist constitution to permit greater military preparedness. In the cases of China and India, the common denominator is that even if the most optimistic forecasts prove accurate, rapid growth can be as socially destabilizing as economic decline. Chapters 6 and 7 examine two different pitfalls for the region as a whole—the disputed politics of climate change and the long shadow of Asia’s own history.

Chapter 8 looks at five potential conflict “flash points” throughout the region. The author emphasizes each major player’s incentives for seeking stability, noting that the region is home to four states possessing nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, unpredictable future events could lead to conflict in one or more of these areas—for example, a crisis related to the succession of the Dalai Lama or the next leader of North Korea. Indeed, some commentators attributed the artillery bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea in November 2010 to succession-related saber rattling. Emmott’s final chapter offers nine policy recommendations for securing the peaceful growth and integration of Asia. They include continued American support for India, greater diplomacy between India and its immediate neighbors, and US support for the East Asian Summit and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum as the primary regional vehicles for economic and security cooperation, respectively (in order to supplant several ineffective and duplicative forums).

Rivals is well served by Emmott’s extensive experience in the region. Unlike the other works mentioned earlier, Emmott’s appropriately emphasizes the importance of Japan. China has passed that country since the book’s publication to become the second-largest economy in the world, but Japan remains still a close third. More importantly, China and India are still impoverished. They both lag far behind Japan (and the world average) in terms of GDP per capita. Japan will remain an important diplomatic and economic player for some time, and the author does a good job sketching out what that country’s best-case scenario might look like. The governmental bureaucracy will have to continue to reform (Emmott uses the phrase “ ‘rule by law’ rather than ‘rule of law’ ” to describe the bureaucracy at the height of its power, prior to the financial crisis of the 1990s), with “scarce labour [providing] a new source of discipline” (p. 115) for the private sector. As American influence declines, Japan will also have to mend its relationship with South Korea and consider expanding its military.

Readers must understand that Rivals is a work of long-form journalism rather than political science as such. In his discussion of Asia’s conflict flash points, Emmott chose not to engage a wealth of theoretical literature about the causes of war—an unfortunate choice because some of it (e.g., Charles Doran’s power cycle theory) seems tailor-made for assessing potential conflicts between established declining powers and newer ascendant ones. Furthermore, events have already supplanted some of Emmott’s analyses. For instance, he argues that a G14 or G20 should replace the G8 to give China and India a seat at the table (p. 264). This has since occurred, but the G20 has proven no more successful at promoting freer trade and financial stability than its predecessors.

This well-written book offers extensive insight into a region that is rapidly becoming a central concern to all airmen. Although Kaplan and Kissinger have trod similar ground in more recent books, only Rivals can claim a career Asia specialist as its author. Its ground-level perspective and economic focus more than earn it a place alongside the others.

Capt Joe G. Biles, USAF

Barksdale AFB, Louisiana

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."