At the end of the Obama administration, the world is probably more chaotic than it was 8 years ago. Military conflicts and tensions are spreading to regions that have been considered stable, and peaceful.
In the traditional hot spots in the Middle East and Africa, the rise of Islamic terrorist groups, the Syrian civil War, the competition for sphere of influence among Turkey, Iran, Arab Saudi, and Israel, etc. triggers the worst humanitarian crisis in the 21st century. It also leads to the rise of terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States.
Europe, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, finds war at its door step as Russia has been aggressively intervening and providing military troops and weapons to anti-Western rebels in Eastern Ukraine.
In Asia, China’s increasingly assertiveness causes great concerns to neighbors, especially among American allies. Despite all of these, the United States appears on retreat from the global stage.
During the Obama administration, the United States has taken several actions to reduce its military footprint. It began with the massive military budget cut in 2011. On April 20, 2011, Obama announced $400 Billion military cut in the next 12 years (Washington Post, “Mr. Obama’s Defense Cut”,2011) in the Budget Control Act 2011 (BCA). It reduces the federal spending will be reduced by $917 Billion for the next 10 years ending in FY 2021 (CRS, “The Budget Control Act 2011, p2). As the result, about 1.5 trillion will be cut from the United States defense budget in the period of 2011-2020.
Several lawmakers and foreign policy establishments see the cut as a tremendous threat to American strategic position. In 2015, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert and Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford told that due to the massive budget cut, the size of the Navy and the Army is the smallest for many years since before War World II, making the United States forces unready to prevent and respond to unforeseen crises in the future (Cheney & Cheney, 210). Among of those “unforeseen crises” are the rise of conflicts and tension across the globe.
In short, the American foreign policy establishment perceived the United States’ retreat from the global stage is a serious weakness that can be exploited by its adversaries. Many countries, especially China, also share this view.
Of all threats American faces today, None is more dangerous than China. In 2010, Colonel Liu Mingfu, a well-known Chinese hawkish military officer, published a book called The China Dream. In this book, Colonel Liu argues that the United States is a decline superpower, so China should seek to surpass the United States militarily in order to become a sole global hegemon. (Liu 2015)
This idea is no doubt adopted by the current president of China Xi Jinping as he emphasized that in order to achieve this dream, China need a powerful military. (WSJ, “For Xi, a ‘China Dream’ of Military Power). China has been building the military forces necessary to become a global power. Their defense spending increased more than 10 percent each year since 1989. According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s “2014 report to Congress”, by 2020 the Chinese could have more than 350 submarines and missile-equipped surface ships in the Asia-Pacific compared to 67 submarines and surface ships “stationed in or forward deployed to” of the United States Navy (pg12).
These two trends: 1) The United States’ retreat from the global stage and 2) the increasing assertiveness of China’s rise worry many states in Asia. Will the United States decline in leadership lead to the end of the peaceful and prosperous period in Asia-Pacific Region? Will China’s assertive territorial claims lead to military confrontation between the United States and China, both of whom has nuclear weapons? If these two trends continue, many countries fear that China will be as equal to American power in the next decade, and eventually drive the United States out of the region.
This paper argues the opposite by using Mearsheimer's Offensive Realism. China will continue to pursue military expansion as a mean to become a regional hegemon. Meanwhile, the United States will lead a coalition to keep China contained. Whether this coalition succeeds or not, it will depend on the resilience of the American encirclement created by network of alliances, military bases and security treaties of most countries surrounding China.
This paper will demonstrate this American encirclement will at least maintain a significant presence in the region. Therefore, China will never be equal to American power in the next decade.
In realism, states are the main actors of international politics. All states, by nature, seek material power. Why do all states desire power?
Traditional Realists explain this behavior is caused by human nature which has a high tendency to acquire more power (Hans Morgenthau, 1948a).
Neo Realists, like Mearsheimer, underline five assumptions behind state behavior.
First, Realism assumes that the world is anarchy. There is no external force to prevent one state from taking advantage of other states when an opportunity arises. States are on their own to protect their own border and their citizens (Mearsheimer 1994-95).
Second, all states have some offensive capacities to cause damage and destroy each other.
Third, states can not fully know the intention of other states. States lie and abuse goodwill to gain advantages at the cost of others.
Fourth, survival is the ultimate motive of states.
Fifth, states think strategically when navigating the international politics to maximize its survival.
Under the brand of Realism, there are Defensive Realism and Offensive Realism.
In Defensive Realism, the goal of the state is to reach and maintain a balance of power not maximizing power. (Waltz, 1979). States who challenge the current balance of power will be counter-balanced by other states.
To become a hegemon, a rising state has to invest to increase its military capacity. When neighboring countries and other great powers see an increase in the rising state's offensive capabilities, it is their turn to fear for their own survival. The neighbors, in turn, increase their military capacities to counter the rising state, hoping to maintain the balance of power.
This time, it is the rising power fears for its security when seeing the neighbors improve military power. Unless the rising state backs down, it will spend more budget for the military. The neighbors will respond with more additional spending. Thus, the arms race only gets more dangerously intense, especially for the rising state.
If this circle repeats, war between the rising power and the coalition against it will be inevitable. The result of this war would rarely in favor of the rising state.
The offense-defense balance usually favors the defenders not the aggressor. The rising power either engages in a series of costly war or is contained by the coalition. Even if the aggressor emerges as a victor, the cost of prolong war, manpower, indefinite occupation, rebuilding infrastructures outweighs the benefits.
In any case, the rising power most likely is weakened severely, and its survival is much more at stake compared to its at the start of the arms race. As a result, States should not seek to become a hegemon or expand their military power, otherwise its sovereignty may be destroyed by the balancing coalition.
Contrary to Defensive Realism, Offensive realism argues that a state should maximize its offensive capability to become a regional hegemon. Even if it will bring more potential conflicts with other countries, being a powerful regional hegemon to ensure that state has the best available means for its survival.
"The overriding goal of each state is to maximize its share of world power, which means gaining power at the expense of other states... Their ultimate aim is to be the hegemon- that is the only great power in the system."(Mearsheimer, 2001)
Offensive Realists argue that weaker states will avoid fighting war against the more powerful rising power and more likely to yield to prevent conflict. Even great powers will also do the same because their positions in the international order and their survival are at stake.
Afraid of costly or losing war is one of the weaknesses of the balancing coalition that the rising power can exploit. If the rising power can take advantage of the coalition’s weaknesses, it will definitely become a regional hegemon without any fear of retaliation.
Nevertheless, recently, Mearsheimer also provided another possibility in regard to the rising power.
Mearsheimer and other Realists emphasize that the survival of the state is at most secured if and only if that state is the only regional hegemon in the world (Mearsheimer 2014, “Taiwan Dire Straits, 32). The current regional hegemon will do its utmost to prevent others from becoming a regional hegemon, even if it happens in regions far away. Otherwise, a rising power will become a regional hegemon and will have enough resources to threaten the current hegemon.
In the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union were two regional hegemons. One was in the Eastern Europe and one was in the Americas. Both used their military alliance systems to challenge each other to the point of almost launching nuclear warheads across in several continents.
As the result of the threat of the rising power becoming a regional hegemon, the current regional hegemon will take action to prevent this from happening. The combination between the leadership and military strength of the current regional hegemon and the military strength of smaller powers may be powerful enough to contain or destroy the rising power.
Because Offensive Realism has two contrary predictions in regard to whether a rising power can secure its sovereignty by becoming a regional hegemon, Offensive Realism has a potential to provide a fair theoretical ground to decide whether China becomes coequal to American power or not in the next decade. The conclusion of this essay will be depended on the strength of the balancing coalition.
In summer 2016, Offensive Realist Theorist Mearsheimer and Defensive Realist Theorist Stephen Waltz wrote the article “The Case for Offshore balancing: A superior US Grand Strategy” to address the concept of Offshore balancing.
What makes this concept interesting is that both theorists do not state this in general terms like “States do this” or “states do that”, but this term is used specific to the United States. Regardless whether both Realist theorists will define it in broader terms in the future or not, the concept Offshore Balancing helps tremendously in providing an explanation for the United States decreasing military budget during the Obama Administration.
The Offshore balancing concept states that the United States appears to retreat from the global stage to consolidate and preserve its foothold in its home region. Meanwhile, the United States encourages states to take the lead in checking and preventing rising powers in the region outside the Americas. The concern of the previous practice is that the United States was often dragged into unwanted military conflicts to protect its allies. If the United States continues to use military action frequently, the United States will be overextended and weakened severely in the future, losing its regional hegemonic status and security.
Thus, the United States now lets regional allies solve problems in their own regions while the United States leads from behind by providing aids, logistic and intelligence supports. If the rising power becomes too much for other states to handle, the United States will definitely increase its involvement, including its military power to prevent and suppress the threat of the rising power. By pursuing this offshore balancing strategy, the United States can preserve its manpower while the result is at least as effective as the current one, according to both the realist theorists.
The Obama administration and Realism: The Atlantic’s “The Obama doctrine”
In April 2016, Barack Obama had an interview with the Atlantic in regard to his foreign policy. He defined four categories in Foreign Policy that have been practiced by the United States: Isolationism, Liberal Interventionism, Realism, and Liberal Internationalism. Isolationism is the idea that the United States stays away from any trouble outside the Americas. Isolationism was mostly practiced before World War II. Liberal Interventionism, on the contrary, is the idea that the United States will commit resources and even military forces to promote Democracy and Human Rights and any liberal ideas across the globe. For example, the George W. Bush administration called the Iraq War 2003 as “Operation Iraqi Freedom” with the objective of removing the dictator Saddam Hussein from power. Realism is self-explained itself. Finally, Liberal Internationalism is the idea that the world works together with the United States to address and solve any global issue.
Obama described his foreign policy between Realism and Liberal internationalism. He believed that the world is a mess that cannot be dealt with by military forces, but require the participation from other countries. His foreign policy follows Realists’ concept of Offshore balancing In the case of Syria, he said that Assad must go after the Syrian government opened fire on civilians because of concerns over human rights violation.
Nevertheless, in the end, he decided not to back his words with military action like he did in Libya. He realized that spending manpower and resources to Syria would only make the United States overextended in another costly war, similar to the Iraq War. This was why he tried to influence the United States regional allies to address the conflict.
Unfortunately, most American allies only expected the United States to intervene itself, and do not have sufficient interests to do that without American power. The Obama administration realized his allies were trying to take advantage of the United States military. Consequently, Obama refused to take any action, and he is trying to conserve the American manpower, just like the concept of offshore balancing stated.
In the case of counter China’s rise, the Obama administration used the same strategy. Instead of actively using the United States military to confront China’s assertive behavior alone, the US tries to cultivate a coalition against China’s rise in the region with traditional and non-traditional American allies. While the United States suggests that it takes no sides in sea disputes with China, the United States encourages all the claimants to resolve the dispute in accordance to international laws, a move that indirectly against the Chinese interests in expanding their claims not on legal basis.
For example, the United States encouraged the Philippines to bring the South China Sea dispute to the international court at Hagen. When the court ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines by rejecting almost all China’s claims, the United States supported the ruling and insisted any future negotiation between the Philippines and China must be based on this result (Washington Post 2016, “Here’s how the South China Sea ruling affects U.S. interests”).
In addition, the United States Congress also allows Vietnam, other claimants, to buy American weapons for defensive purpose (Washington Post 2016, “In historic move, U.S. lifts embargo on arms sales to Vietnam”). While the United States does not take direct military confrontation against China, it is behind the massive increasing military spending in the Asia Pacific region. It is forecasted that by 2020, defense spending in the Asia-Pacific region will climb 23 percent to $533 billion annually; and most of this money will be spent to buy American weapons. (Bloomberg 2016, “How Asia's Military Spending Growth is Outpacing the World”)
When these countries cannot counter effective against China, particularly when China built artificial islands for military purposes in South China Sea, the Obama administration stepped in. The United States sent military ships to patrol in near the Chinese newly built islands and announced that it would do this again with other countries in the region (Reuters 2016, “U.S. warship challenges China's claims in South China Sea”).
As a result of that, Japan, and Australia also announced that they would patrol in South China Sea with the US Navy, a move that neither countries dare to do before (WSJ 2016, “Australia, Indonesia in Talks Over Joint South China Sea Patrols”). Avoiding direct conflict with China, encouraging coalition against China’s assertiveness, and stepping up when it is necessary demonstrate that United States are pursuing Realist policies to challenge China.
Offensive Realism and China’s Rise:
China is seeking to become a regional hegemon, citing concern over foreign intervention. From the Chinese government’s perspective, it has historical reason to fear for its security.
Before the Western intervention in the 19th century, China was the most powerful and wealthiest in Asia, but it was also weakened by civil wars and military incursion from neighbors. The Western intervention added more pressure, making China suffer a century of humiliation in which it was exploited to the fullest.
To prevent this humiliation from repeating, Communist Leaders from Mao to Xi Jinping emphasizes the need of China to become a regional hegemon even if the means to achieve are different. Mao summed up his view with the phrase “The Chinese people have stood up” (Mao Zedong and China’s revolution: A Brief history with documents, NY 2002). The Chinese people unite under the leadership of the communist Party to fight against foreign oppression by the means of the People’s Liberation War. In other words, Mao preferred military confrontation to return China to its modern version of the past glory. Under Mao’s leadership, the Communist China defeated American backed Nationalist government, involved in the Korean War, increased border disputes with neighbors and engaged in military confrontation with the Soviet.
Under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, China emphasizes on reforming its economy to avoid escalating conflict with neighbors. Due to Mao’s aggressive use of the military to ensure its China’s security, China had several powerful enemies nearby, especially the United States and the Soviet Union. Realizing that any confrontation with these superpowers would make China independence in danger, Deng spent resources to improve Chinese economy and avoid further conflict until the time is right for Chinese Hegemon. (Kissinger 2012, 308-316)
Xi Jinping's leadership is a sharp contrast to Deng’s foreign policy. When Xi became the president of China, China’s economy already became the second largest in the world. Xi believes that the time is right to pursue the China’s Dream. To reach this dream, a strong military is required. Xi Jinping revised the PLA’s purpose which focuses on Fighting and Winning War instead of defending its sovereignty (CRS, “China modernization and its implication”). The Chinese Army and Navy has been taking several steps to upgrade its capacity to meet the security expectation. In short, every single Chinese leader since Mao has a consistent worry about China’s fate in the global politics
Literature Review 2: Sino Centrism
Since its unification in 221 BC, China viewed itself as a center of the world, which later became known as Sinocentric. (Kissinger 2014, 213). In this view, China was superior to other states in terms of military, development and culture, which China often referred as “barbarian”, and the Emperors of China rule everything “Under the Heaven”, including territories of “the barbarians”, a term that China refers to all other states.
To maintain its superiority, China devised a tributary system in which was not designed to exploit other countries but to deter them from launching invasions to China. To maximize its result, China was more likely to use deception and temptation to adversaries than using military intervention. In this sense, “the new assertiveness” or “the rise of China” in the 21st century, according to some, is nothing new but a return to the Sinocentric world before China was divided by western power in the 19th century
Sino Centrism and China’s Peaceful Rise:
Today, the concept of Sino centrism has its modern version known as the China Dream, foreshadowing the competition between the United States and China for the world leadership in the 21st century.
Liu Mingfu, the hawkish colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, details the vision of China’s Dream that emphasize on how China will replace the United States as a sole global hegemon in three stages on his book the China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era.
In the first stage, China will actively catch up with the United States by trying to take a leading role in helping to solve some global issues. In the second stage, China will be a coequal partner with the international politics, and eventually replace the United States as a sole global hegemon at the third stage.
Liu Mingfu emphasizes that China cannot realize it Dream by becoming an economic powerhouse only. No matter how rich a country is, without military capacity to secure its interest, it will become a target for other countries to take advantage just like China in the 19th century.
In other for China to become hegemon, it needs both military rise and economic rise together.
Liu Mingfu also highlights the benefit of China’s rise to the world. A successful democracy of a country requires checks and balances of its political power. To ensure democracy in the international order, China must be in the position of checks and balances of the American power.
He advocates a powerful Chinese military forces that is capable of deterring and destroying American forces are required to not only ensure China’s security, but also to benefit the entire world. To China, a powerful military will help China destroy separatist forces, which refers to Taiwan, and repel American forces out of the Asia Pacific region. The presence of China’s military force and leadership will also bring stability and prosperity to Asia with its Asian model and methods that make Asia be a rival of that of the European Union.
Finally, for the entire world, China’s Rise will bring an era of harmony by replacing American world order to Chinese one. In other words, China’s military rise is not the threat to any country, and it will make the world a better place.
Zheng Bijian, a longtime advisor to Chinese leadership, was the first person to promote the idea of “peaceful rise” (Brooking Institution, 2005). His view also provides additional support for Liu Mingfu’s argument that China will not use its military strength to threaten any countries. As China has more influence in world affairs, China is not a security threat to other countries, but a reliable and cooperative world leader to all. China will continue to use its soft power, especially its powerful economy, to promote peace and development with other countries.
As this essay mentioned earlier, the current president of China Xi Jinping is overseeing China’s military transformation while trying to assure other countries about China’s peaceful rise through economic aids and cooperation.
The vision of China Dream fits the pattern of the Sinocentric view before the 19th century. Both emphasize on China becoming the most powerful states in terms of military and economic power. Second, the modern term for “temptation” has no different meaning than the promise that China will not use its military force to maintain its hegemonic position, but by providing economic aids and stability for the prosperous world.
The international order behaves similarly to domestic politics. States compete for power just like domestic political actors compete for more resources. The more power a state has, the more influence that state has in shaping the international system. The Dominant Nation has the power to manipulate the system completely into its favors. The Great Powers have some influence while the weak powers and below almost have no impact at all.
There are two factors that dictate states’ behaviors.
One is obviously power. Every state seeks more power as explained earlier. Specifically, States does not try to achieve balance of power nor maximizing power, but a potential net gain in power.
The second factor is satisfaction of the current system. States that have more influence to the system are more content to the system than states that have less.
As a consequence, the dominant nation is much more content than great powers and below. Smaller nations, in general, are the most unhappy ones, but they are too weak to challenge much more powerful states to make the international order into their favors. That is why the international order is usually in the status quo. Nevertheless, the competition to alter the world order intensifies when a certain situation appears.
When a middle power or below rises fast and becomes a great power in such a small amount of time, the level of satisfaction of this rising power is still the same when it is a middle power. Its dissatisfaction of the system at the same time is much higher than other Great powers, yet it has the capacity to challenge the dominant nation to change the status quo. This is when the competition becomes serious and can even lead to war between the rising power and the dominant power.
For example, the reason for the World War I is that a newly unified but powerful Germany was unhappy in the system that allowed both France and Britain to have so many colonies around the world. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany increased its military capacity so fast while the resentment of the post-World War I order was still high. The result of that is the Second World War.
Therefore, based on how quickly a rising power becomes a great power and how unhappy it is for the world order, the power transition can be used to predict conflicts in the future.
Power Transition theory in US- China competition:
As the winner of the World War Two, The United States had the most influence in creating postwar order including the United Nations. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, The United States became the only superpower in the world and continued to maintain and shape the international order into its favor. The United States is the dominant nation according to the Power Transition Theory (Braun III and Lai 2016“In Case of China "US- China Competition: Asia- Pacific Land Force implication").
China, on the other hand, has recently become a rising power that is unhappy with the system. China transition can be explained by two stages. The first stage happened between 1978- 2008. In 1978, China began to implement modernization policies that successfully transform China into an economic and military powerhouse. Currently, China is in its second stage (2009 - 2050).
As China's rise becomes more assertive, making compromises between China and other countries becomes more challenging. China is trying to push for change in the international system too quickly, making the United States and China’s neighbor countries concern. At the same time, The United States attempts to push back China’s demand. Thus, the Power Transition Theory predicts this competition between the United States and China over the current world order will become much more intensifying in the future.
Summary of Literature Review Table:
Reasons to use offensive Realism:
Offensive Realism is chosen to evaluate the thesis. Offensive Realism has several advantages over other theories.
Within the school of Realism, Offensive Realism provides a more reasonable ground to decide whether the thesis or the counterargument is valid than Defensive Realism. Defensive Realism calls states to avoid being a regional hegemon due to balancing coalition. But Defensive Realism cannot provide an explanation of why the United States becomes the only hegemon without being defeated by the coalition led by the Soviet Union. It is also inadequate to explain why the same phenomenon cannot happen if China would be coequal to the United States in the next decade.
What Defensive Realism lacks is it provides no means to measure the effectiveness of the coalition against the rising power. To what extent does the coalition defeat the rising power? To what extent the rising power emerges victorious over the coalition? Defensive Realism fails to respond to these questions.
In addition, Defensive Realism provides unequal ground for both the thesis and the opposite argument. As Defensive Realism assumes that the balancing coalition will successfully weaken the rising power most of the time, using Defensive Realism will probably favor the thesis in which China cannot be equal to the American power regardless of opposite evidence. Thus, this bias must be put away by not choosing Defensive Realism.
Offensive Realism is chosen over Defensive Realism because Offensive Realism provides ground for argument for the relative strength between balancing coalition and the rising power. Offensive Realism predicts that sometimes the coalition succeeds because of the leadership, and sometimes it fails because the rising nation skillfully exploits the coalition weakness. Thus, Offensive Realism provides the fair and reasonable ground for both the thesis and the opposition.
While Defensive Realism favors the thesis, Sinocentrism overwhelmingly favors the opposition. After all, this is the set of views that is created and promoted by the Chinese government. It is not surprising that it favors China over the United States.
Even if this view has no connection to the Chinese government, from the academic standpoint, the application of this view can only use for China and no other countries in the world. In addition, the vision that Asia and the world will benefit greatly from China's military rise is too good to be true. As if this positive view about the would-be Chinese world order is to be served as a distraction, a deception for a propaganda purpose. It is a fact that Chinese strategic thinking has a strong connection to the ancient strategist Sun Tzu who encouraged deception to gain more strategic advantages. (This will be explained in detail later)
Meanwhile, the negative result of China’s military rise more likely to do the opposite of this worldview suggestion right now. The fact that China’s rise make the entire Asia Pacific region in the arms race shows that other countries perceive China’s military rise as a threat or, even worse, experience the negative result in the first place. For example, the Philippines, who never has been in sea territorial dispute with China before the 2010s, asked the United States to return due to Chinese military occupation of the Philippines’s Scarborough Islands (the Guardian 2016, “Philippines to offer US military use of eight bases”). Because Sino centrism has a strong connection to the Chinese government and its views distorts the reality in favor of China, it cannot be used in this paper.
While The Power Transition Theory is reliable, it only describes and predicts the confrontation between a dominant nation and a rising power, but not in detail how this confrontation is unfolded. At the minimum, it does not specify whether this competition only involves the two states or multiple states. At best, it may also include the alliances of both states: The American allies and Chinese allies. Only if the Power transition theory at its best, then there are not many differences between choosing Offensive Realism and the Power Transition theory because both of them describe the strength of the coalition and the rising power.
Since Offensive Realism provides the most reasonable ground and least bias among all, it is chosen for this paper.
Methodology: GO game
Table Go vs Chess
How is Chinese Strategic thinking different from American?
In July 2002, both the China Security Review Commission and Department of Defense reported that Chinese Strategic thinking and military planning is fundamentally from Western traditional thinking (Lai 2004, “Learning From the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi”).
Both reports mentioned the concept of shi which strongly is connected to Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War. The Western traditional thinking is similar to Clausewitz, which focuses on the destruction of the opponent military force which shares the same objective in chess. While the West relies on overwhelming force and decisive battles are the keys for winning war, Sun Tzu also considers the preparation for war and the aftermath of war in addition to war fighting are also part of war.
In The Art of War Sun Tzu urges ruler of a country to be cautious when deciding to go to war.
Mobilize his men
Out of anger
A general must never
Engage [in] battle
Out of spite.
He explains that anger and spite can be reversed to pleasure and joy, but a destroyed nation can never be brought back. Due to the complexity and unpredictability of war, a country’s survival is at stake if its leaders act rashly. Even if that country emerges victorious, its war casualties can easily make it an easy target for other nations to invade, making it destroyed.
Due to this grave consequence of war, victory is not only defeating the enemy in battles, but also is achieving the ultimate political objectives. To reach these objectives, a long term strategy that can effectively defeat the enemy’s is needed. A skillful strategist can defeat the enemy and achieve the political goals without fighting battles, and Sun Tzu considers this is the highest form of warfare.
It is also important to note that Sun Tzu consider an effective strategy must involve misleading and deception. A ruler must use misinformation and subterfuge to mislead his adversaries from discovering his real intention.
When Deploying troops,
Appear not to be.
By utilizing deception, the ruler can catch opponents off guard, making reaching the political goal much easier. This is also a reason why Sino Centrism is not used in this paper because it is a deception promoted by the Chinese government.
Go and Sun Tzu
For Sun Tzu, War has three stages. In stage one, politics, diplomacy and logistics are part of war preparation. In stage two, war takes places over a series of political goals. The Final stage has to do with the result of the war in regard to whether the state is destroyed or survives.
All three stages of war emphasize not only the survival of the state, but also how the state expands its influence in competition to its opponent. Thus, it makes Sun Tzu, and sequentially Go game, comparable to Offensive Realism.
Go represents Sun Tzu’s three stages of war. The objective of Go is to capture more territories than the opponent (Lai 2004).
At the beginning, the board is completely empty, allowing the players to place their stones on the board to gain territory and expand their sphere of influence in preparation for the incoming battles.
In stage two, the competition for more territories make both players engage in a series of attacks and defenses, to gain more territory at the cost of the opponent's expense. This represents the war fighting.
As the game progresses, the calculation becomes more complex as players fight in multiple areas on the board to gain an edge over the opponent. In terms of international politics, it represents the competition of two great nations over several interests.
In the final stage, both players consolidate their holding of territories which connects the final stage of war.
Go game in the competition between the United States and China
According to David Lai, the famous scholar who proposed this methodology in 2004, this is the current Go game between the United States and China. Each stone represents each move from each player in the Asia Pacific region. This Go game is in the beginning of the second stage of the game in which both players are about to directly confront the other over expanding territories and influence. If we connect all the stones into lines, we will have this:
We can clearly see that the blue line, representing the United States, is surrounding the red line, representing China. The blue line will be called the American encirclement in this essay.
According to the rule of Go and the concept of Sun Tzu, China is in danger because the United States’ stones are almost surrounding China in all sides. If China wants to be coequal to the American strength, the American encirclement must be severely weakened, broken or completely destroyed by China’s deployment of stones in the next decade.
It is noteworthy to mention that while all stones have an equal strength, leading some to question whether a stone should be considered as a country in the map. The reason for this question is that each country has different military strength, and the United States military presence is not equal in all these countries. This may lead some to consider this Go game analysis has a serious flaw.
But there is no flaw in using this methodology. First, this Go game is in the second stage which characterizes multiple direct engagement. It is not in the final stage in which both players consolidate their territories. This means, for example, the American stone in Japan is not necessary to represent the United States military presence in Japan. It represents a move that the United States made in the past in order to gain influence in Japan. When the game reaches the third stage, as both players consolidate their gains, the number of stones in each country will be different.
China, obviously, can put a stone in Japan, representing China’s increasing influence or pressure on Japan. If China has more stones in Japan than the United States or captures the United States stones, then China will gain more influence in Japan than the United States, making the American encirclement collapse in Japan. Otherwise, Japan continues to be part of the American encirclement.
To make this methodology accessible to everyone, this paper will examine the countries in which the stones place, and will place. Whether the United States or China has more stones in a certain country at the end of the game, it depends on whether the data shows that country will favor the United States or China in the next decade. For example, if the data shows that the Philippines will continue to support the United States military presence in the next decades, the United States has more stones in the Philippines in comparison to China. Thus, this essay will conclude that the American encirclement will continue in the Philippines.
How to measure/decide which side wins the debate.
As the rising power tries to become a regional hegemon, two things will happen: 1) either the balancing coalition acts effectively to prevent that rising power to reach its goal or 2) the rising power becomes a regional hegemon by exploiting the weakness of the ineffective coalition.
A coalition is effective if and only if the network of alliances, military presence and leadership are strong enough to deter the rising power. Otherwise, that coalition will be weakened or even collapse by the rising power.
In the competition between the US and China, it is well known that the US has been successfully building and maintaining a series of military bases, alliance networks around China even before the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949.
For examples, the Mutual defense treaty between the US and the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea were signed in 1951, and 1953. These three countries are among many countries in Asia that the US maintains a strong security relationship today. China used to have a system of tributary states before the Western intervention in the 19th century. Nevertheless, today China only has North Korea as an official ally.
To prove that China will not be coequal to the US in the next decades, the data must show that China cannot be a regional hegemon because of the persistent and effective coalition led by the US. At the minimum, the current American encirclement continues to sustain significantly regardless to any strategy that China chooses.
To prove the counterargument that China will be equal to the US, the data must shows that China will definitely become a regional hegemon while the American encirclement will collapse. China will be able to convince most American allies to support China’s rise or at least stay neutral in the next decade.
Another possibility is that China is able to create a Chinese encirclement in the US home region. In other words, China is able to convince most countries in North, Central and South America to become Chinese military allies or allow China to establish military bases in there.
Nevertheless, this possibility is impossible to happen. In order to carry this grand strategy, China must project its power as much as the Soviet Union during the Cold War. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided financial support, ideology doctrine, and military training to the rebels or revolutionists (depending on how you call them)in Latin America. The Soviet even attempted to bring nuclear weapons so close to Florida in the event known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Current Chinese government does not possess such capacity to project power this magnitude compared to the Soviet Union without suffering existential retaliation from the United States and her allies first.
Therefore, the only way that China can become as much powerful to the US is to significantly weaken the American encirclement.
Thesis: China will NOT be equal to American Power
Counter thesis: China will be equal to American Power
The American encirclement (network of alliance, security treaty and military bases) continue to persist, successfully containing China’s rise.
Part 3: Analysis
1/ The United States and China Competition: Japan
Japan is most likely to be part of the American encirclement against China.
China and Japan: a continuous Rivalry
Japan has been challenging the Sinocentric view for centuries, even before the Western Intervention in China in the 19th century (Kissinger 2014, 180-182). Japan fiercely resisted the Chinese tributary system, and even used its geographic advantage to foil any attempt of retaliation from the mainland or to invade China and its client states in the Korean peninsula if opportunities arose.
Between 1931-1945, Japan invaded and took control of most Chinese territories as part to become a dominant power in Asia. After losing the Second World War, Japan’s territorial gains in China were lost.
Nevertheless, Japan still views China as a natural rival and threat to its security and sovereignty. Even today, when Japan does not possess military capacity to become a regional hegemon, it still continues to work with other countries who are concerned with China’s military rise.
From the government of China perspective, Japan’s fierce resistance to in the past and Japanese-US alliance today are viewed as a continuous threat to China’s rise. Japanese attempted to invade and occupy the Chinese World in the past, especially during World War Two, convinced Chinese leaders that Japan will probably do the same when opportunity arises.
China views Japanese members of Cabinet’s visits to Yasukuni shrine, where Japanese soldiers who died during the World War Second are honored, as a provocation (UPI 2015, “China, South Korea reprimand Japan ministerial visits to Yasukuni Shrine”).
More recently, the Japanese government purchased the Senkaku Islands which China considers them as part of Chinese territory in 2012 from private owners, leading to massive protests in China (WSJ 2012, “Anti-Japan Protests Mount in China”).
In retaliation, China announced to impose an Air Identification Zone in the East China Sea that overlaps Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Korean territorial claims in the region. (Washington Post 2013, “China creates new air defense zone in East China Sea amid dispute with Japan”) These show that the rivalry between Japan and China will probably continue to exist in the next decades as both countries see each other as a security threat.
US and Japan: a resilient alliance since WWII
After the Second World War, Japan surrendered the United States unconditionally and dismantled its war machine in exchange for protection from the United States. Both the United States and Japan officially entered an alliance after signing the San Francisco Treaty in 1951, allowing the United States to garrison troops and establish several strategic military bases in Japan, especially in the Okinawa Islands. This relationship between the United States and Japan remains resilient even today.
The only and most challenge for this alliance has been the controversy of US bases in the Okinawa Islands. The Okinawan have been complaining of the United States military presence on the islands from disrupting its economy and committing crime against the native women. (CRS 2014, “The US Military Presence in Okinawa and the Futenma Base Controversy")
Nevertheless, the central Japanese government consistently supports the American bases over the Okinawan's’ concerns due to security threats from China and North Korea.
During the period between 1950s to 1979, there were several factors that almost made the United States reduce its military presence in Japan, but the reduction did not happen. In the 1950s after acquiring a military alliance with the United States, the Japanese government at that time sought independence from the United States by asking the United States to reduce its military presence across Japan.
In 1964, Japan established administration control of Okinawa, which was administered by the United States after the World War Two, under the Okinawa Reversion agreed by both governments. Most Japanese thought this Reversion means the end of the United States military occupation on the Island in the matter of time, especially when President Nixon argued that he would let Japan along with other American allies to defend their own territory themselves. (Nixon, “Address to the Nation on the War in Vietnam”)
Nevertheless, the United States military presence in Japan remained significant during this period. First, after the outcome of the Second War World, Japanese Constitution forbids Japan to have a large standing army, so Japan can only rely on the American bases to defend its sovereignty (CRS 2015, “Japan-US Relations: Issues for Congress.") Without the United States’ military presence, Japan is vulnerable to external forces.
The period of 1950s-1970s was the peak of confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. If the confrontation broke out into a hot war, Japan could face invasions or nuclear strikes from the Soviet Bloc because Japan is close to the Soviet Union, North Korea and the Communist China. That was why despite several shocks that indicated that the United States would reduce its military presence in Japan, the United States military presence remained significant in Japan during this period.
In the period of 1980s-2016s, there are several things that could reduce American presence in Japan mostly due to the peaceful period after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the crime committed by American troops in the Okinawa islands, but the United States military presence remains unchanged.
When the enduring threat of the Soviet Union was gone in 1991, Japan should have had no security concerns. In addition, the United States swiftly withdraw its troops in the Philippines in 1992 made many expected that the same withdrawals would happen in Japan soon, especially when there were several intense protests due to American personnel raped a school girl in Okinawa. The United States even expressed the willingness to withdraw its troops from Okinawa if the central government of Japan insisted.
On the contrary, the security threats to Japan continue to rise.
On August 31, 1998, North Korea fired a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean (Washington Post 2009, “TimeLine: North Korean Nuclear Program”) raising concerns in Japan over a potential nuclear attack. Japan also got into a territorial dispute with China when it nationalized the Senkaku islands in 2012.
In fact, according to the Japan’s defense white papers in 2016, regional threats to Japan are significantly increased by China’s increasing aggressiveness to North Korea’s nuclear weapons (The Diplomat 2016, “Japan’s Defense White Paper Highlights Growing Threat From China”). Japan could not handle this threat effectively due to, again, the post-war Constitution that limits the number of Japanese military personnel.
While the current Prime Minister Of Abe Shinzo has been working to change the constitution, Japan needs the United States military bases to act as deterrence and defense against China’s rise and North Korea’s nuclear ambition. In fact, the Abe administration have settled several deals and generous financial aids to the Okinawa Islands in exchange for hosting the US military bases (CRS 2014, "The US Military Presence in Okinawa and the Futenma Base Controversy")
In any case, Japan behaves in the way that is similar to Realism’s assumption about states. Japan has a concern over its survival due to security threats from the Soviet Union, North Korea and particularly China. As China continues to invest in its military modernization, the threat becomes much more apparent to Japan. Therefore, Japan will continue to host American bases and work with other countries to counter China, just like in the past 70 years.
Prediction of The United States and China Competition in Japan
Due to the enduring limitation of the Japan constitution and security threats to Japan’s security, offensive realism predicts that the American military presence in Japan will remain significant in the next decades. The rivalry between China and Japan will remain hostile. The United States- Japan military alliance will persist, so will do the part of the American encirclement in Japan.
2/ US and China Competition: The Korean Peninsula
Both the United States and China fought a brief war over the Korean War 1950-53. In the beginning, North Korea supported by the Soviet Union successfully launched an invasion to the South, but the United States sent troops and military support to the South Korean government and pushed North Korea back under the UN resolution.
China feared if North Korea was destroyed by American forces, it would put the United States so close to its border. As a consequence, the Chinese sent its troops to support North Korea, and the Korean Peninsula remains divided today with no official peace treaty between both sides. In regard to the competition between the United States and China, the Korean Peninsula will continue to be divided between North Korea, a Chinese ally, and South Korea, an American ally, in the next decades.
China and the Korean Peninsula:
China sees the unification of Korea is a threat to its security. As unified Korea means that China will have a powerful rival in both economics and military. The worst situation is either caused the North Korean government collapse or, less likely, the United States and South Korea somehow defeat and destroy North Korea. The outcome could be a disaster to China since the United States could deploy military personnel and possibly nuclear warheads so close to Beijing, the capital of China.
Thus, China prefers North Korea to serve as a buffer zone between China and the United States (CRS 2016, “North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation”, 8-10). That is why in no circumstance, China will let any international sanctions and military intervention happen to North Korea due to North Korea’s nuclear ambition.
China’s firm position on North Korea put South Korea in a mixed position. On one hand, South Korea wants to increase economic relationship with China. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye spent her first three years in office to improve relations with China hoping that China restrict and prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
Despite that, China has very little influence on North Korea. During the Obama administration, North Korea carried five nuclear tests, some of which were successful, and successfully launched a satellite to the space. Having technology to launch a satellite means that North Korea has the capacity to produce a delivery system for its nuclear warheads. This means that North Korea now possesses the capacity to launch nuclear warhead to South Korea and any American allies in the region.
Since China does insignificantly to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, President Park faced several critics over her ineffective policy to China especially after the January 2016 nuclear test (CRS 2016, “U.S.-South Korea Relations”, 30-32). While President Park spoke to Obama and the Japanese president Abe within hours after the event, China refused to speak to her until February 5th (CRS 2016, “U.S.-South Korea Relations”, 30-32). This began to make the relations between two countries worse while South Korea continues to rely on American troops and bases to protect it from existential threats from North Korea.
Nevertheless, China did not react kindly to South Korea’s attempt to secure itself from North Korea. In 2016, after finding that China has little influence on North Korea’s nuclear ambition, South Korea allowed the United States to begin to deploy the Terminal High Attitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system battery in its territory. While the system provided nuclear security to South Korea, and Japan from North Korea’s potential nuclear attacks, China viewed this could be used as a threat again China’s nuclear deterrence.
China fears that, in a future event of conflict between China and the United States, the United States can use THAAD system to destroy any nuclear missiles launched from China while China does not have a reliable missile defense to stop nuclear missiles strike from the United States. Thus, China reacts to the South Korea’s decision by putting more tariff tax on South Korean goods, reducing tourism and denying visa, citing that the THAAD causes the regional instability, but not the North Korea’s nuclear test (the Diplomat 2016, “The Real Answer to China's THAAD Dilemma”).
It is hard for South Korea to seek better relationship ties with China in the future.
This means in the next decades, North Korea will remain as a China’s ally, while South Korea will seek other international actors to protect itself from a nuclear annihilation.
The United States and South Korea:
The United States has been an ally to South Korea even since both countries fought on the same side during the Korean War; and this military relation continues to consolidate over the North Korean nuclear threat. Since the Clinton Administration, the North Korean nuclear Proliferation has been a serious threat to the United States interest.
The United States has tried to put several sanctions on North Korea over the last two decades, but they are ineffective for two reasons. First, North Korea insists that it never gives up its nuclear ambition because it fears an American led invasion. (CRS 2016, “North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation, 8). Second, China does not want to see American bases near its border after the North Korean government collapse.
Most attempts to prevent North Korea from having nuclear weapons through China’s cooperation have been fruitless. In addition, North Korea’s hostile attitude toward the United States, South Korea and Japan justifies the fear the North Korea would use nuclear weapons or proliferate it to American adversities in other regions if given a chance. Therefore, the United States and South Korea continue to need each other in regard to North Korea’s nuclear threat and other regional security issues.
The most challenge to the United States and South Korea alliance has been the historical controversies between South Korea and Japan. The Japanese brutal occupation of the Korea Peninsula, especially in the issue of the “comfort women'' is still an issue to South Korea. To make matters worse, the Japanese government officials’ visits to the controversial Yasukuni is also a source of bad relations between the two countries.
Nevertheless, since 2012, the relations between the two countries have improved significantly. The Japanese Prime Minister Abe recognized some war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers and offered some support to the still living Korean “comfort women” (CRS 2016, “U.S.-South Korea Relations”, 29-30). In exchange, the South Korean government allows bilateral activities between the two countries while the relations with China are getting worse.
In any case, even if the relation between South Korea and Japan gets worse, it is unlikely that it will affect the United States military presence in South Korea due to the fear of a nuclear strike from North Korea outweighing the controversy with Japan.
Prediction of the United States and China Competition in the Korean Peninsula:
The Korea Peninsula will continue to be divided. North Korea needs China to shield it from any further international sanctions and potential invasion from the United States and her allies. While China needs North Korea to serve as a buffer zone between China and the United States military bases in South Korea.
Meanwhile, South Korea will continue to support the United States military presence to deter and protect it from North Korea’s aggression. While South Korea does not pursue a goal to contain China, the United States can still use its bases in South Korea to take any action against China’s assertiveness in time of need. Therefore, the American encirclement in South Korea will continue to be significant in the next decades.
3/ US and China Competition: Taiwan
Taiwan calls itself the Republic of China which established a government in China in 1911. After the World War Second, the Republic of China fought the Chinese Civil war and lost to the Communist Party of China. As a result, the Republic of China fled the mainland to Taiwan. The Communist Party of China established the People’s Republic of China in the mainland after the war and claimed that the Republic of China ceased to exist.
Today, China insists that the Taiwan region belongs to China under the One China Policy. Taiwan, on the other hand, does not recognize the People’s Republic of China’s legitimacy in China (CRS 2014, “U.S.-Taiwan Relationship: Overview of Policy Issues”, 3-4). Both countries try to convince the international community of their legitimacy. While Taiwan tries to use its economic and financial power to make other countries recognize its independence as a sovereign state, China used its influence, especially its position in the United Nation Security Council, to make other states not recognize Taiwan.
The United States signed the Sino-American Mutual Defense treaty with Taiwan in 1955 to protect Taiwan from invasion of the People’s Republic of China (China for short). With the American military help, Taiwan was able to defend its island during the First and Second Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Nevertheless, when the United States formally recognized the People’s Republic of China, the United States also ended the mutual defense treaty with Taiwan.
While the United States agrees with the One China policy, it has a different version than China. The United States prefers Taiwan and China to settle their differences in a peaceful and diplomatic manner as the United States considers Taiwan only to have “unsettle” status (CRS 2014, “U.S.-Taiwan Relationship: Overview of Policy Issues”, 4-5).
In fact, the United States still sells weapons and provides the island security even though the security treaty expired.
China and Taiwan:
For Taiwan, China will continue the biggest military threat in the future. Ever since the Chinese Civil War, Taiwan faced China’s military aggression three times in all three Taiwan Strait Crises.
In addition, China’s modernization of its Navy cast some serious concerns to the island’s security. As mentioned earlier, one of the most important part of China’s military rise is to defeat the insurgent forces in Taiwan, to bring Taiwan back to the mainland’s control through brute force (CRS 2016, “The Chinese Military: Overview and Issues for Congress”)
In Taiwan, this sense of insecurity triumphs any potential economic and trade benefits from the mainland. Even if the previous president of Taiwan Ma tried to bring closer economic ties with China, most Taiwanese opposed his policy (CRS 2014, “U.S.-Taiwan Relationship: Overview of Policy Issues”, 6-8). In fact, President Tsai Ing-wen won decisively the 2016 election decisively because of her strong stand against China (Reuters 2016, “Taiwan opposition wins presidency, China warns against independence move”).
Therefore, Taiwan will continue to consider China as an existential threat in the next decade.
The United States and Taiwan:
Taiwan will continue to be a strategic partner with the United States to counter China’s rise. While the United States does not establish official relations with the Taiwanese government, the United States is the only country that provides protection to Taiwan.
Even if the United States officially ended the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan in 1979, the United States demonstrated the largest forces since the Vietnam War to deter China’s aggression during the Third Taiwan Strait crisis 1995-1996.
As the United States undergoes its Pivot to Asia, the United States includes Taiwan as one of its key partners in the region.
Therefore, Taiwan will remain part of the American encirclement against China’s rise in the next decade.
4/ US and China Competition: The Philippines
China and the Philippines:
The Philippines has a long-standing maritime dispute with China. Tension between China and the Philippines began to rise in the mid-1990s when China seized a small atoll, known as Mischief Reef, from the Philippines’ control (CRS 2014, “The Republic of the Philippines and U.S. Interests”, 16-19).
When China broadened its claims in the South China Sea as part of China’s military rise, it caused great concern to the Philippines’ territorial integrity. Both countries have several clashes especially in April 2012 over the Scarborough Shoal. In this incidence, the Philippines sent its vessel to arrest several illegal fishing vessels from China. In response, China sent its military ships to the area, leading to the standoff between the two countries.
Despite the agreement that both countries withdrew its vessels from the area to reduce the tension, Chinese ships returned, allowing China to effectively control the Scarborough Shoal. In addition, since February 2013, China sends military vessels to isolate and force the Philippines to give up the Second Thomas Shoal.
In response to China’s encroachment in the South China Sea, the Philippines brought the maritime dispute to the Arbitral Tribunal Court in Hagen under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in January 2013. In July 2016, the court ruled in favor of the Philippines by rejecting all China’s almost all historical claims in the South China Sea.
China responded to the court rule by suggest that it has no legal binding to China (Reuters 2016, “China vows to protect South China Sea sovereignty, Manila upbeat”) In another move to counter China’s aggression, the Philippines also formally asked the United States to return to its former naval bases in January 2016, to counter China’s military incursion.
Due to the longstanding maritime dispute with China which results in the Philippines losing its territories to China, the Philippines most likely will not stand neutral or in favor of China in the next decade.
The United States and the Philippines:
The United States has a long relationship with the Philippines. Both countries fought on the same side during World War Two. After the war, the United States granted independence to the Philippines in 1946. Few years later, both countries signed a mutual defense treaty in 1951.
Although the Philippines asked the United States to close American naval bases in 1992, the current Chinese encroachment makes it reverse its decision. Under the threat of China’s military rise, the Philippines will continue to work with the United States to contain China in the next decade.
The only recent and unique challenge to the United States- Philippines alliances are the unpredictable nature of the new Philippine’s president Duterte who has threatened to end military cooperation with the United States in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits from China (voanews 2016, “Duterte Threatens to Cut Off Ties With US Again”).
Despite his bold statements, Duterte insists that he not trade the Philippine’s territorial integrity for Chinese investment because it would make him impeached by the Supreme Court (International Business Times 2016, “Supreme Court Justice warns Duterte could be impeached if Philippines concedes Scarborough Shoal to China”).
In addition to that, even if Duterte insists that the United States reduce its military presence, he emphasized that he would not end the mutual defense treaty between the two countries. This indicates that the security threat from China is still an eminent concern of the Duterte Administration. This also leads to an observation that Duterte is trying to acquire security benefits from the United States and Economic benefits from China at the same time. More importantly, even if the United States reduces its military presence under the Duterte Administration, it would take very little time for the United States to come back if Duterte or any future Filipino president requires as demonstrated in 2012.
In other words, the Philippines most likely to be in the American led coalition against China.
5/ US and China Competition: Vietnam
China and Vietnam:
Not only Vietnam has a maritime dispute with China, but both countries have more than a thousand years of rivalry. Ever since regaining independence from China in 938, Vietnam resisted Chinese influence and repelled several Chinese invasions.
The most recent major military conflict happened in the Vietnamese-Sino War in 1979. Both countries claim victory, but China suffered significantly higher casualties than Vietnam. In addition, China failed to achieve its political goal which was to force Vietnamese troops out of Cambodia.
Today, even though both China and Vietnam has the same Communist political system and close economic ties, the mistrust and rivalry does not end. In fact, Vietnam is one of the most vocal voices against China’s Claims in South China Sea. Most Vietnamese view China’s rise as a serious threat to their sovereignty integrity. Recent confrontations between both countries in the South China Sea justifies this view.
Despite both countries holding several meetings to manage their maritime dispute, in 2014 China sent an oil rigs to the place within Vietnam’s Economic Exclusive Zone and China did it again in 2015 (The National Interest 2015, “South China Sea Boils: China Sends Oil Rig Near Vietnam Again”). This surprise move from China led to the most widespread and intense anti- China protests in Vietnam.
In addition to that, China is also working to finish an artificial island in the disputed water for military purpose which can be used to embolden China’s encroachment in the region (CNN 2016, “South China Sea: China building more islands?”). Like the Philippines, Vietnam also concerns about China’s illegal fishing fleet accompanied by Chinese military ships that frequently harass and attack Vietnamese fishing boats even within Vietnam’s Economic Exclusive Zone.
In the meantime, Vietnam has been working with other countries who are involved in disputes with China. This includes more cooperation with Japan, the Philippines, and India. In addition to that, it is well known that Vietnam has increased its military spending to buy weapons from other countries and upgrade its military to counter China. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Vietnam will work in China’s favor in the next decade.
The United States and Vietnam
While both countries fought in the bloody Vietnam War, the relation between the two countries has been improved remarkably. After the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995, Vietnam appears to welcome US presence in the region, especially after China stepped up territorial claims in South China Sea.
Though there is no security treaty between the United States and Vietnam, The United States has recently allowed the Vietnamese government to purchase defensive weapons from the United States and opened the possibility of allowing the US to return to its former strategic Naval base in Cam Ranh Bay. (The Navy Times 2016, “U.S. deepens military ties with former foe Vietnam”)
As the result of that, it is likely that Vietnam will work with the United States to contain China in the next decade, making the American encirclement around China expand to Vietnam.
6/ US and China Competition: Laos and Cambodia
Despite being China’s neighbors, both Laos and Cambodia have not faced any security threat from China since the end of the Vietnam War.
In fact, both have been enjoying China’s generous economic aids. In regard to the maritime dispute in the region, not only Laos and Cambodia prevent other countries in ASEAN from giving speeches that condemn China, but they also openly support China.
When the international court at Hagen ruled in favor of the Philippines in the sea dispute with China, both countries supported China's statement suggesting that the Hagen Court does not have legal basis.
They also block any discussion in the ASEAN related to the sea disputes with China. In addition, the United States has very little influence on Laos and Cambodia and is not a security threat to these countries.
Therefore, in the next decade, Laos and Cambodia will not join the American encirclement against China.
7/ US and China Competition: Singapore
Though Singapore is a small country, it is an economic power house in South East Asia.
Currently, Singapore tries to act as a balancer between American and Chinese influence in the region. Singapore formalized a security cooperation with Washington in 2005, allowing the United States to maintain a naval base there and to access to Singaporean resupply system. This cooperation is vital to the United States as the Changi Naval Base is the only base in South East Asia that can dock an American aircraft carrier (CRS 2013, “Singapore: Background and U.S. Relations”, 3) During the Obama Administration, security cooperation between Singapore and the United States also significantly increases with more military exercises between both countries.
Relationship with China is also vital to Singapore as a healthy relation with China promotes economic development in Singapore. There are several high-level official meetings between Singapore and China even though Singapore maintains an extensive diplomatic tie with Taiwan (CRS 2013, “Singapore: Background and U.S. Relations”, 4). In the meantime, Singapore may want to avoid conflict with China. However, Singapore has been standing up against China’s assertiveness, but it also tries to avoid pushing too far to the point of damage the relation with China.
Singapore will most likely to maintain the balance between American and Chinese influence in the next decade.
Nevertheless, the fact that the United States can use a strategic naval base in Singapore means that the United States can use it to reinforce the American encirclement to contain China regardless of the diplomatic ties between Singapore and China.
In addition, assuming that Singapore has to take side in the conflict between the United States and China under the pressure of both China and the United States, Singapore would probably pick the United States due to the security treaty signed in 2005.
8/ US and China competition: Thailand
Thailand enjoys its relations with both China and the United States.
China and Thailand:
There has been a long history of cooperation between Thailand and China. In fact, diplomatic ties between Thailand and China is much better than China’s relations with other countries in the region.
During the Cold War, both China and Thailand shared several security interests in the region. By the time the United States withdrew from Vietnam, Thailand normalized diplomatic relations with China as both worked together to contain Vietnam’s influence in South East Asia. The relation also improved when both countries condemned Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia in the 1970s. Thailand began to purchase advanced weaponry from China, and continues to do so occasionally (CRS 2015, “Thailand: Background and U.S. Relations”, 11).
In the 21st century, Thailand has no territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea or faces any military threat from China. Both countries also held military cooperation as well as joint military exercise together recently.
In regard of China’s territorial disputes with other ASEAN countries, Thailand took initial steps to make China and ASEAN to ratify code of conduct in the South China Sea, but Thailand was forced to step down due to the military coup in 2014. The instability caused by the military coup combined with the recent passing of its longtime monarch in 2016 hinders Thailand’s position in the international politics (CNN 2016, “Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies at 88”).
The United States and Thailand:
While China and Thailand are in good relationship, the relation between the United States and Thailand is even much more strategic in comparison.
Thailand is a long time military ally to the United States in South East Asia. In 2012, both countries celebrated 180 years of cooperation. Thailand enjoys military cooperation, and joint military exercise with the United States. Nevertheless, the two military coups in 2006 and 2014 damaged some of the military cooperation (CRS 2015, “Thailand: Background and U.S. Relations”, 5-7). The United States has a statutory obligation to withhold aids to any military group that participates in a coup against a democratic government. After the 2014 coup, the United States ceased some military exercises and training with Thailand. Despite all of this, the military relation is still resilient.
The United States military alliance with Thailand is much more powerful than the relations between Thailand and China.
Thailand even allows the United States, but not China, to access to its strategic military airbase in Utapao (or U-Tapao). Utapao air base is the most valuable military asset in the region as it has the capacity to be an effective military command center in time of war. (CRS 2015, “Thailand: Background and U.S. Relations”, 6) Not only does this air base allow very large military aircrafts, like C-130s, to operate, it is also near a deep sea strategic port. During the Afghanistan and Iraq War in 2001 and 2003, despite Thailand remained neutral, the United States used the Utapao air base to carry airstrikes in these two countries.
Because of the access to the strategic Utapao air base, the United States could maintain its encirclement to contain China in Thailand. It does not matter much whether Thailand becomes friendly or neutral with China. As long as the United States is allowed to use the airbase, China’s military rise cannot drive the American influence out of Thailand, unless China determines to risk its good relation with Thailand.
9/ US and China competition: Burma
Among countries in Asia, Burma’s political future is the most unpredictable in regard to the competition between the United States and China.
For China, Burma had been a long traditional ally before the country started its political reform in 2011. China has several security interests in Burma. It most concerns the stability of the region near its border as the military conflicts between Burmese government force and insurgent force often take place. For years, China has been the largest source of economic and military investment in Burma. Burma still purchases large amounts of weaponry from China. (Clapp 2015, “China’s Relations with Burma: Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China’s Relations with Southeast Asia”) In addition to that, it is China who protect Burma from any harmful sanction from the United Nations Security Council. Thus, China was almost certain that this special diplomatic relation would continue.
Nevertheless, in 2011, Burma began its military reform. To China’s surprise, Burma aims to adopt western liberal democracy as the most important objective. To make matters worse, in September 2011, president Thein Sein announced a halt in Chinese major investment in building Myitsone Dam project, signaling a change in Burma’s attitude toward China (Washington Post 2011, “Chinese-funded hydropower project sparks anger in Burma”).
At the same time, Burma also tried to expand its diplomatic relation to the United States despite a long history of American sanction on Burma. Under the Obama administration, the United States eased most sanctions on Burma to support the Democratic transition. (CRS 2013, “U.S. Policy Towards Burma: Issues for the113th Congress”, 18-19). China perceives this move as an attempt from the United States to encircle China and acts more cautiously toward Burma.
Nevertheless, the United States and Burma have not signed any security agreement yet nor plan to do so in the future. Therefore, it is difficult to predict whether Burma will be part of the American encirclement or will stay neutral, for there are no reliable and resilient factors to predict the outcome. But one thing is pretty clear that China is losing its control over Burma.
10/ US and China competition: Malaysia:
Malaysia is one the four countries with maritime dispute with China in the South China Sea.
China’s claim overlaps Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone which creates some security concern to the country (CRS 2015, “Malaysia: Background and U.S. Relations”, 13). Chinese illegal fishing fleet accompanied by Chinese naval ships frequently disrupt Malaysia’s fishing and oil related activities even in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Malaysia. This raises some serious concerns to Malaysian politicians.
While Malaysia tries to address China’s encroachment, it avoids making the matter more intense in comparison to Vietnam and the Philippines. It focuses on making China and Asia to work on the Code of Conduction in the South China Sea in the meantime.
Nevertheless, Malaysia has become active in military cooperation with other countries inside and outside the Asia-Pacific region. For example, Malaysia is a member of the Five-Power Defense Agreement along with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdoms. Malaysia also established a direct communication between its naval port with the Vietnamese Southern Command in 2013 in case of emergency happen in the region (CRS 2015, “Malaysia: Background and U.S. Relations”, 14). This demonstrates that Malaysia has some concerns of its sovereignty as China continues to impose its military presence in the region.
On the contrary to the relation with China, Malaysia and the United States maintain a close defense cooperation since the 1990s. This defense cooperation improved during the Obama administration as the United States began to increase its military presence to counter China’s rise. While this cooperation focuses on War on Terror instead of China, there are a lot of military training and joint exercises between the two countries in recent years (CRS 2015, “Malaysia: Background and U.S. Relations”, 15-16). The Malaysian government also allows the United States naval ships to dock and resupply in its territories.
If China continues to step up its aggression in the region, Malaysia will step up its confrontation against China by increasing more military cooperation with other countries. Therefore, Malaysia is likely to join the American led coalition against China in the next decades if the situation gets worse.
US and China competition in India:
China and India:
India and China has a long-standing of hostilities and rivalries. In the few decades after India gained independence, India fought and lost a brief war with China, even though both on the Soviet Union side in 1962. Even today, India continues to see China as the number one threat to its security (CRS 2013, “U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues”, 8-13).
India views China’s rise as a threat because it perceives that China uses most of its economic gains to upgrade Chinese military capacities to gain domination in Asia region. Second, India considers Chinese increasing influence to most of India’s neighbors Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as a threat to Indian sphere of influence (CRS 2013, “U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues”, 23-28). In addition, Chinese encroachment on India’s territories undermines its territorial integrity.
To counter China, Indian defense strategy focuses on preparation for multiple front confrontation to China. As India grows confidence in its military capacity to deal with Pakistan, it devotes more resources to build its military forces that capable to deter China from launching military attack, thus allowing India to maintain the balance of power in Asia (CRS 2013, “U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues”, 21-22).
In addition, India has been trying to improve strategic relationships with China neighbors to counter the Chinese encirclement of India. Indian has bilateral security partnership with Japan, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia most of whom are really concerned about China’s military rise. While there are still many disagreements between India and the United States, both countries agree to make the goal of maintaining balance in Asia as a priority. This means that in the future, India will probably either join or lead a coalition against China.
The United States and India
The relation between the United States and India has been improved significantly from the hostility during the Cold War.
During the Cold War, several factors that created a hostile environment (CRS 2013, “U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues”, 1-3). First, India favored the Soviet Union over the United States while the threat of war between the two superpowers were imminent. The United States considered India as a potential threat to American security interests in the region. Especially, when India was determined to acquire and test nuclear weapons without being in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In addition, from India’s perspective, the United States’ close relation with India’s main rival Pakistan, who was also developing nuclear weapons, caused great concerns to India’s security at that time. Since India was a victim of colonialism under the British rule, there was also a strong anti-colonialism sentiment toward the United States and American allies.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, India and the United States slowly normalize diplomatic ties. Without the Soviet Union’s economic support, India realized that its economy would collapse, so it needed trades to countries outside the Soviet bloc (CRS 2013, “U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues”, 1-3).
For the United States, the collapse of the Soviet meant that there would be no ideological obstacle to prevent western ideas such as free trade. Still, this relation is limited. The United States still had some concerns related to India’s test nuclear weapons in 1998; and India feared its autonomy being threatened by trading with the United States and American allies.
In the 21st century, the relation between India and the United States improves remarkably even though there are still some disagreements. In 2000, president Clinton visited India, making this the first time an American president visited this country. Additionally, the Clinton Administration pressured Pakistan to de-escalate tension with India over the disputed region of Kashmir and eased some sanctions related to India’s nuclear tests (CRS 2013, “U.S.-India Security Relations: Strategic Issues”, 2-4) During the George W. Bush administration, the two countries signed several treaties to become a global partnership that increase the cooperation in many important issues including security, missile defense and civilian nuclear program.
As China’s rise becomes a more imminent threat to the balance of power in Asia, both the United States and India realize the need for cooperation to counter China’s aggression across Asia. Based on this trend India will probably be part of the American led coalition to contain China's rise since both countries shared security threats from China.
The United States and China Competition: Beyond Asia Pacific region.
In global politics, most countries in the world are in favor of the American world order. According to the Economist Special Report on America's foreign policy, of the 150 largest countries by population, 58 are American military allies. 41 are lean toward the United States (the Economist 2013, “Special Report on the America’s Foreign Policy”). 25 are neutral and only 31 lean against the United States. Even if China wants to challenge the United States hegemon, it only has the support of 31 countries, at maximum, in comparison to nearly a hundred countries (58 + 41 = 99) in favor to the American side. Thus, the odds will continue in favor of the United States in the competition.
To make matters worse, China has no reliable ally that is capable to challenge the United States together. Of all Chinese allies: North Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Pakistan and Russia. Only Russia could provide a significant support to Chinese military capacity.
Nevertheless, Russia would probably abandon China if China decides to directly confront the United States. Underneath their cooperation to frustrate the United States in the United Nation Security Council, Russia has several concerns Chinese population near its Far East region. The Far East Region has been known to have several valuable resources such as oil, natural gas, gold, diamond and timber. (Huffington Post, “Why the Russian Far East is so important to China”) Nevertheless, the Russian population is only a few millions compared to about 100 million of Chinese live near its border. In addition to that, while China and Russia settled all border disputes, China can use its historical claim to expand its border to the Russia Far East. After all, using historical claims, regardless whether they are true or not, to justify China’s encroachment on neighbor countries' sovereignty is nothing new.
Another reason that Russia may abandon its strategic partner with China if China challenges the United States directly is because Russia is a declining power. The massive reduction in the oil price, military adventurism in Ukraine and Syria, and Western Sanction cripple Russia Economy severely. While Russia’s economy does not collapse yet, soon it may run out of cash, leading to President Putin to lose political power over Russia. Even if Russia talks tough and acts tough, it is trying to make other countries to ease some sanctions over Russian military adventurism (Reuters 2016, “Russia revels in Trump victory, looks to sanctions relief”) If Russia is dragged into military confrontation to the United States by China, that will dramatically weaken Russian status as one of the world great powers in addition to losing its power in the United Nations Security Council. As the result of that, China is unlikely to gain enough support to challenge and to be coequal to the United States in the next decades.
Data analysis and Conclusion:
Most countries in Asia Pacific regions in this essay behave like Offensive Realism predicts. They demonstrate a tendency to join an American led coalition to contain China due to fear for their own security. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia and India have their economic benefits tied to trading with China, but as China’s encroachment becomes their main security threat they actively choose the United States for security treaty in addition to military cooperation among them. In other words, their sovereignty, integrity and potentially their survivals triumph over everything else.
Countries that are trying to stay neutral or staying in the good side of China also have a single similarity. They do not have any territorial dispute with China yet. Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and to some extent Singapore do not face Chinese military threats and have no military pressure from the United States to pick sides. This allows them to stay neutral as long as it takes without suffering any significant risks like other countries in the region while enjoying the benefit of trading with China.
Nevertheless, Thailand, Singapore and to some extent Malaysia also seek or rely on defense treaties with the United States rather than China. Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia even allows the United States to use their strategic military bases and access to their resupply system to operate in the Asia Pacific region and beyond, but they do not grant China the same level of military support. This privilege alone is enough to support the American encirclement around China regardless these countries’ relations to China. Thus, China will be much more likely to be contained in Asia, making it unable to become equal to the United States in the Asia Pacific region.
Even beyond the Asia Pacific region, China is unlikely to gain significant support from other countries to confront the United States. The United States enjoys the overwhelming support from most countries around the world while China’s allies and strategic partners are unreliable to challenge the United States on the global stage. The data demonstrate that the opposition to the Thesis will not happen. Thus, it further consolidates the thesis that China’s rise will not make China to become equal to the American power.