China’s Rise and the Balance of Influence in Asia

  • Published

China’s Rise and the Balance of Influence in Asia, edited by William W. Keller and Thomas G Rawski. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007, 284 pp.

The unprecedented growth of China’s economy over the past 25 years, coupled with its ever-increasing regional, political, and aggressive military modernization plan, has many within the US government, military, and corporate leadership wondering what it all means. Anecdotal evidence resonates everywhere, with no consensus on whether or not the United States should see China’s rise as a threat or just a natural progression of any nation’s growth—albeit with significantly greater acceleration than all nations before it. What the topic has obviously lacked until now has been a comprehensive, scholarly analysis on the aforementioned concerns, particularly one that is forward leaning in time.

In China’s Rise and the Balance of Influence in Asia, the editors and a group of distinguished researchers examine these issues utilizing an integrated multidisciplinary approach. Their intent is “to determine the likelihood that China’s economic and political rise will continue without conflict . . . [and] to test the hypothesis that China’s peaceful rise represents a realistic outcome.” Their comprehensive research discusses such issues as whether the Chinese political system and foreign policy present an obstacle to—or support for—continued economic growth and reform as well as the associated pitfalls of economic growth, both domestically and internationally.

Utilizing current relevant data, resources, and scholarly research, their collective analysis convincingly concludes that:

1. China has emerged as the new economic center of gravity in Asia.

2. The market forces driving China toward globalization will extend current patterns of integration and advocate a foreign policy that further promotes trade liberalization (promoting free-trade agreements within the region) and investment flow. This will lead to a new political and economic realignment throughout Asia . . . the balance of influence in Asia will continue to shift decidedly in China’s favor.

3. China’s increasing reliance on the global market for its economic growth and development enhances the probability of its peaceful rise.

4. Economic growth within China will continue to generate pressure for political reforms, thus destabilizing the political environment within China—balancing the survival of the Communist Party with the aspirations of the Chinese people. While vigorously supporting economic reform, the Chinese Communist Party still views market forces and Western thinking—including thinking on economics—as a threat to the party. What is remarkable is how well the party, believing that marketization is dangerous, has nevertheless been able to maintain its political position while riding the tiger of reform (p. 92).

5. China’s economic, diplomatic, and technological transformation is emerging hand-in-hand with major upgrading of its military capabilities.

6. China’s military ambitions are local in nature and not global force projection. . . . China cannot project military power and therefore is a minimal threat to its neighbors. Its military growth is designed to protect its borders and influence Taiwan’s political future.

7. China’s military rise does not conflict with a peaceful rise.

The authors emphasize the need for the United States to develop a more consistent, comprehensive, and constructive Asia policy—one that emphasizes key commercial and military objectives and China’s emergence as a regional power and global economic partner.

Aside from the conclusions drawn, what makes this book such a valuable read is the wealth of scholarly based, macro-level, economic and geopolitical insight provided. One of the most intriguing insights is how Southeast Asian nations have embraced the economic opportunities associated with China’s growth. For example, the three largest participants in global foreign direct investment (FDI)—the United States, the European Union, and Japan—now only account for one-quarter of China’s FDI inflows. China now does significantly more trade with South Korea and Taiwan than does the United States. This economic reorientation has led to shifts in political alignments—alignments increasingly leaning more toward China and away from the United States. Manifestations of such shifts include Taiwan’s business community opposing the independence-oriented policies of Taiwan’s ruling party and South Korea’s restrictions on the use of installations from which US attacks possibly could be launched against North Korea, as well as South Korea’s acceptance of North Korean nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. Another response to China’s ascent includes indirect consequences such as the strengthening of bilateral military relationships between the United States and Japan, India, Singapore, and Indonesia, as well as growing interest in bilateral and multilateral trade agreements between some of these same nations.

Other nuggets abound, such as the effects of China’s growth on its people and the associated social welfare issues, the global impact of its educational and industrial policy, China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization, and the emergence of China-led bilateral and multilateral regional trade agreements, to name just a few.

The chapters are comprehensive and effectively interwoven, bringing clarity, persuasiveness, and credibility to the editors’ conclusions and recommendations. Furthermore, it is reader friendly and can be read as a complete body of work or as independent chapters.

The broadest of readership will find value in this book—from military officers and government officials seeking a better understanding of China for planning and policy consideration/formulation to academics and corporate leaders seeking greater situation awareness. I do, however, feel compelled to end with a word of caution to the readers of this fine book: as convincing as it is in conveying the belief that China’s emergence is merely a strategic balancing of the powers of others and/or of promoting the peaceful global integration of a transformed economy, we cannot separate strategy and capabilities from future intentions.

David A. Anderson, PhD

US Army Command and General Staff College

"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."