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The "China Threat" Issue: Major Arguments

Author(s): Denny Roy


Source: Asian Survey, Vol. 36, No. 8 (Aug., 1996), pp. 758-771
Published by: University of California Press
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THE "CHINATHREAT"ISSUE
Major Arguments
Denny Roy
The futureof Chinais perhapsthemostpressingquestionin whatis becomingtheworld'smostimportant
region.The possibility
of a "Chinathreat,"
has becomea hotlydebatedtopic. This article
therefore,
has twomainobjectives.First,it surveysthemajorarguments
on bothsides
of the"Chinathreat"
to achievea balancedrepresenissue,makingan effort
tation. How one respondsto thesearguments
obviouslydependsin large
measureuponone's politicalorientation,
thatis, "pro-China"
or "anti-China."
Less obvious,butperhapsequallyimportant,
is the questionof theoretical
The article'ssecondpurposeis to showthata usefultheoretical
orientation.
in
distinction
can be made betweentwo classes of argument:arguments
whichthe intentions
of strategists
and policy makersmatterand those in
whichtheydo not. In additionto thesemainobjectives,thisarticlemakes
somegeneralpolicyrecommendations
forpowerscontemplating
howto best
respondto China's growingstrength.
Simplystated,the"Chinathreat"argument
maintains
thatan increasingly
powerfulChina is likelyto destabilizeregionalsecurityin the nearfuture.
This idea became highlytopical as China's economyposted exceptional
growthin theearly1990s. As manyanalystsnoted,a developedeconomy
could potentiallyturnChina's huge populationfroma weaknessinto a
and giveChinathebasis forworld-class
and technological
strength,
military
itcouldmakeChinaa superpower.The alarmist
capability.In short,
edgeof
muchof thiscommentary
was based (sometimesexplicitly,
sometimesnot)
on antipathy
towardtheChineseCommunist
Party(CCP) regimethathas
in 1989 by theTiananmenmassacre,which
deep rootsbutit was re-ignited
dramatically
endedtheSino-Western
honeymoon
of the 1980s duringwhich
Deng Xiaopingwas heldin highesteembecauseof his economicliberalizationprogram.
DennyRoy is ResearchFellow in theStrategicand DefenceStudies
NationalUniversity.
Centre,Australian
? 1996 by The Regentsof theUniversity
of California

758

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DENNY ROY

759

and
tookshape,theChinesegovernment
As the"Chinathreat"argument
its apologists,includinga fair numberof Westernscholars,formulated
The "Chinathreat
counter-arguments.
issue,"as I use thetermhere,includes
of thedebatehas perhapsreachedits
bothsetsof arguments.The intensity
apogee withthepublicationof AmericanjournalistCharlesKrauthammer's
Chinaas a "bully"
characterized
essayand theChinesereply.Krauthammer
a
stratto expanditsreach,"andproposed two-pronged
that"triesrelentlessly
cultivating
by
China
to
"contain"
strive
egy. First,theUnitedStatesshould
U.S. (and Chinese)enemies,Vietnamand
withformer
securityagreements
a strongalliancewithJapan,even if thismeans
Russia,and by maintaining
overlookinga few inequitiesin the U.S.-Japantraderelationship.At the
Partyregime
theCommunist
sametime,Americashouldworkto undermine
pubChinesedissidents,
by supporting
and promotepoliticalliberalization
China's humanrightsabuses,and opposingBeijing'sefforts
liclycriticizing
extremeprescription
prestige.' Krauthammer's
to accumulateinternational
metan equallyextremeresponsetwo weekslaterin theChineseLiaowang
Liaowangdenounced
a "Cold War knight,"
weekly. CallingKrauthammer
and "an idiot'sgibberish."2
"preposterous,"
his "ravings"as "arrogant,"

forViewing
Arguments
Chinaas a Threat
in recent
Militarybuildup. Chinesedefensespendinghas risensignificantly
manyanalyststo
years(a 21% increasewas budgetedfor1995),prompting
fundingis increasingwhenexternalthreatsto thePRC's
ask whymilitary
modernization
China's military
are at an all-timelow. Furthermore,
security
has includedacquisitionof weaponssystemsthatboostthePeople's LiberatoprojectpowerbeyondChina's shores-RustionArmy's(PLA) capability
refuelingtechnology,
inflight
sian Su-27s, RussianKilo class submarines,
carriers.
in buyingor buildingone or moreaircraft
interest
and a continuing
is not the PLA's strongsuit and since China's armed
Since transparency
sources(e.g., armssales,
forcesget muchof theirfundingfromunofficial
of civiliangoods), some of theestimatesof Chiand marketing
production
nese armsspendingrunhigh. A Randstudy,forexample,used thepurchasfigureof $140 billionfor
approachto arriveat thestunning
ingpower-parity
China's 1994 defenseexpenditures.
Manyobserversinferfromall thisthatChinaintendsto builditselfintoa
to enforcea regional
presumably
by earlynextcentury,
superpower
military
hegemony.Masashi Nishiharaof Japan's NationalInstitutefor Defense
"WhyWe MustContainChina,"Time,July31, 1995,p. 72.
1. CharlesKrauthammer,
SWB), FE/
2. Liaowang,August14, 1995, BBC, Summaryof WorldBroadcasts(hereafter
2382, August15, 1995,p. Gi1.

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760

ASIANSURVEY,VOL. XXXVI,NO. 8, AUGUST1996

Studiesspeaksformanywhenhe accuses Chinaof "increasingits military


dominant
positionin Asia bytaking
to establisha militarily
powerandtrying
whentheUnitedStatesandRussiahavecut
situation
advantageofthecurrent
back theirarmedforcesand defensebudgets."3Even Singapore,whichbeof relationswithBeijing,
pro-Chinaafteritsnormalization
cameoutspokenly
expressesconcern. "In Asia, China's risingpower and armsbuilduphas
PrimeMinisterGoh ChokTong said recently."It is imporstirred
anxiety,"
even insecusenseof discomfort,
tantto bringintotheopen thisunderlying
ambitionsof China."4
rity,aboutthepoliticaland military
Observations
thatChina's armedforceswill notattainseriouspower-proassuagethesefears.
do notnecessarily
jectioncapabilityin thenearfuture5
The pointis notwhatChinacan deploynow,butin a decadeor two,witha
base. In a recentPentagonwar
muchadvancedeconomicand technological
game thatenvisioneda Sino-U.S. naval war in theyear2010, theChinese
side reportedly
routedtheAmericanforces. This resultstemmedfromassumptionsthatChinese defensespendingand technologicalprogresswill
enablingthePLA to "leapfrog"U.S. military
continueto grow,eventually
capabilities.6
CCP values. It is oftenclaimedthatnormssuchas politicalliberalization,
multithefreeflowof information,
increasedhumanrights,
democratization,
law,
thepeacefulresolution
of disputes,respectforinternational
lateralism,
and responsible
areon theincreasewhileauthoritarianism,
globalcitizenship
indifference
to worldpublic
unilateralism,
nationalism,
state sovereignty,
opinion,and theuse of forceto settledisputesor changethepoliticalstatus
againstthe
quo are on thewane. If so, Chinaoftenappearsto be swimming
tide. Beijing has long generatedbad feelingamongmanyoutsidenations
discussionof
withitspoorhumanrightsrecord,itsresistanceto multilateral
threats
to
expansiveChineseclaimsin theSouthChinaSea, and itspersistent
use forceagainstTaiwan. Some of China's recentbehavior-theMischief
Reefincidentin theSouthChinaSea, themissiletestsoffthecoast of TaitoPakistanmissiletechnology
sales ofnuclear-capable
wan,andcontinued
have hardenedtheseviews.
International
3. MasashiNishihara,"JapanHas Cause to WorryAboutChineseAmbition,"
Herald Tribune,July12, 1994,p. 3.
"A Resurgent
ChinaSetsOffAlarmsOver 'Containment',"
4. Quotedin MichaelRichardson,
Herald Tribune,July7, 1995,p. 1.
International
Parameters,
"Does ChinaThreatenAsia-PacificRegionalStability?"
5. KarlW. Eikenberry,
Trends,no. 51, Novem25:1 (Spring1995),p. 28; RobertS. Ross,"An EnemyofConvenience,"
D. Pollack,China's Air
ber26-27, 1994,p. 1; KennethW. Allen,GlennKrumeland Jonathan
(Santa Monica,Calif.: RAND, 1995),p. 179.
Force Entersthe21st Century
30-February
6. BarbaraOpall,"ChinaSinksU.S. in SimulatedWar,"DefenseNews,January
5, 1995,p. 1.

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DENNY ROY

761

AustralianscholarAnnKentnotesa "gap in valuesbetweenChineseand


deAustralians."Whatshe says aboutAustraliaappliesto theindustrialized
mocraciesin general:"Australialeads theworldin pushingfortradeliberaland deception.
isation,whileChinesetradepracticeis riddledwithprotection
whileChina is theonly
of armscontrolefforts,
Australiais in theforefront
majorpower in the worldexpandingits militaryand the least inclinedto
in securitypolicy." In a similarvein,GeraldSegal asserts:
multilateralism
to thestatusquo of anyimportant
"Today's Chinahas theleastcommitment
frommostof itsneighpower. It wishesto occupyTaiwanandtaketerritory
butwithout
borsin East Asia. It wishestojoin theWorldTradeOrganization
or otherrulesthatbindall
mechanism
beingboundby thedisputesettlement
othermembers.It wishesto have access to our marketsbutnotto provide
access to itsown. It wishesto sell dangerousweaponsaroundtheworldand
to thelikesof Iran." A Far EasternEconomicReview
dangeroustechnology
editorialcomplains: "Too oftenChina's actionsappearfoundedon the assumptionthatits neighborsare, if not enemies,at least obstacles.. . . In
short,Chinaneedsto learnwhatitmeansto be a good neighbor."AndLarry
M. WortzelwritesthatBeijing"seemslockedinpre-coldwar,almostturn-offorregionalhegemony."7
modes of quasi-imperial
competition
the-century
towardthe
of hostility
In sum,manycriticsaccuse theChinesegovernment
A powerful
to promotepeace andprosperity.
modemvaluesthatarethought
thepillarsof
agendacouldonlyundermine
Chinawiththesameanachronistic
regionalstability.
Greatpowers behave like greatpowers. Froma simplegeopoliticalperspective,qualitativechangesin Chineseforeignpolicyshouldbe expectedif
powerto a superpower.Paul Dibb argues
Chinagrowsfroma medium-sized
muchstronger
Chinawill upset
thatthemereemergenceof an economically
by China's
thecurrent
of powerin Asia and sparkrealignments
equilibrium
China'sproductive
capaneighbors.8At itspresentrateofeconomicgrowth,
bilitiesand totalwealthwill soon outstripthoseof the otherAsia-Pacific
powers,and increasedrelativecapabilitiesmakeit feasiblefora risinggreat
As a weakerpower,
power to exertmore controlover its surroundings.
China's dependenceon the favorof its neighborshas been comparatively
7. AnnKent,"China: On theRise or on theMarch?"CanberraTimes,July29, 1995,p. 17;
Los AngelesTimes,August7,
GeraldSegal, "We Can ShapeChinaas a CongenialSuperpower,"
1995, p. B5; "China Complex,"Far EasternEconomicReview(FEER), July20, 1995, p. 5;
Status,"Orbis,38:2 (Spring1994),
Great-Power
LarryM. Wortzel,"ChinaPursuesTraditional
p. 157.
8. Paul Dibb, "The Cold War May Be Over butFrictionRemainsin Asia," TheAustralian,
June6, 1995,p. 17. See also Dibb,"Towardsa New Balance of Powerin Asia," AdelphiPaper
of StrategicStudies(London),1995.
Institute
no. 295, International

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762

ASIANSURVEY,VOL. XXXVI,NO. 8, AUGUST1996

high;as a greatpower,Chinawill behaveboldly,moreinclinedto forceits


will uponothersthanto consultwiththem.
If Chinafulfills
itsexpectedpotential,
it will soon be a powerin theclass
PacificWarJapan,
of 19thcentury
Britain,theSovietUnion,Nazi Germany,
and 20thcentury
useditssuperior
powerto
America.Each ofthosecountries
establishsomeformof hegemony
to protectandpromoteitsinterests.There
is no convincing
reasonto thinkChinaas a greatpowerwilldepartfromthis
role in theregion,
pattern.If theopportunity
arisesto establisha dominant
China can be expectedto seize it. This would notnecessarilyinvolvethe
countries
butwouldmean
physicalconquestand occupationof neighboring
theuse of varioustypesof coercionto maintain
an environment
favorableto
China's interests,
and notnecessarily
to anyoneelse's.

Argument
AgainstViewing
Chinaas a Threat
positionbeginswith
Constraints
againstassertivebehavior. The anti-threat
theargument
thatChinamightnotbe able to developintoa "threat"
evenifit
wantedto. Externally,
withtheir
theChineseare boundby interdependence
markets
and suppliers.Havingtrieditbothways,theCCP is nowconvinced
thatstronglinkswiththeoutsideworldwillbestfacilitate
theall-consuming
goal of economicdevelopment.This requiresthatChina have a peaceful
relationship
withits neighbors,
as seriousmisbehaviorwould destroythe
andopportunities
foreconomicdevelopment.
necessary
politicalenvironment
has insistedthat
GeneralSecretary
JiangZemin,amongotherCCP officials,
an aggressiveor hegemonicChina is out of the questionbecause "China
for its developenvironment
needs a long-lastingpeacefulinternational
ment."9
fortheforeseeable
Seriousinternal
problemswilloccupyChina'sattention
such
unfeasible.
One
problemis rising
future,
makingforeignadventurism
crime.GregAustinwritesthatwithDeng's economicreforms,
publicorder
insideChinahas deteriorated
to suchan extentthatthe"PLA willbe obliged
notexternal,security."Anto focusits attention
and resourceson internal,
is pollution.
otherkindof crisiswithpossibleforeignpolicyrepercussions
JamesL. Richardsonsays China's massive environmental
degradationis
likelyto precludeaggressiveexternal
policiesin one of twoways: one,stopping and reversing
thecurrent
arrayof damagingpracticeswouldconsume
vast resources,undercutting
fundingfor an expansionof power beyond

9. JiangZeminspeechin Malaysia,"China'sPolicyTowardEast Asia,"November11, 1994,


textin Heping(Peace), no. 36-37 (March 1995),p. 4.

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DENNY ROY

763

China's borders,or two, ignoringthe problemwill eventuallyjeopardize


China's economicbase.10
Benigntrackrecord. Pre-modern
China was whatmoderntheorists
might
terma regionalhegemon.If a society'shistorical
and culturalpatterns
influence its presentand futurepolicy-making,
theforeignrelationsof imperial
Chinamighttellus something
aboutwhatto expectwhenmodernChinareturnsto thestatusof a top-rank
power.ButChenJianarguesthatunliketheir
Westerncounterparts,
Chineserulerswerehistorically
non-imperialistic,
decliningto conquersurrounding
"barbarian"
countries
evenwhentheyhad the
meansto do so. The onlyreal instancesof territorial
expansion,he argues,
occurredwhennon-Chinese
Mongolsoccupiedthethrone.Explainingwhy
he did not considerChina a threat,MalaysianPrimeMinisterMahathir
Mohamedsaid: "If youlook at thehistory
ofChinatheyhaveneverinvaded
neighboring
countries."11
Yan Xuetongassertsthattraditional
Chinesemorality
guarantees
a strong
China will be a benignChina. "China's traditional
cultureregardsit as a
shameto grabeconomicinterests
which
by force,"he says. Chinesegongfu,
"has a greatinfluence
andpoliticalcircles,"includesa
uponChina'smilitary
code of honorteachingthatmartialartsshouldbe used "forimproving
health
and self-defence,
not forbullyingand humiliating
the weak." Traditional
moralityteachesthatlike gongfu,war musthave a just purpose. Conseto use
quently,whentoday'sChineseleaders"makea decisionon whether
force,theyare to a greatextentrestrained
by . . . the normof righteousness."12

ChineseForeignMinisterQian Qichenhas also reliedon Chinesetradition


forevidenceof Beijing'spacificintentions,
usingtheConfucianadage,"do
notdo untoothersthatyou do notlike othersto do untoyou" to strengthen
Yan
his claimthat"Chinawill neverthreaten
or invadeotherscountries."13
of the 15thcentury
suggestsa strongChina will be reminiscent
journeysof
the regionand
Ming DynastyofficialZheng He, who traveledthroughout
beyond,takingwithhima powerfulforcethatcould have easilysubjugated
of China's PublicOrderCrisis,"Survival,37:2
10. GregAustin,"The StrategicImplications
"Asia-PacificSecurity:WhatAre theReal Dan(Summer1995), p. 7; JamesL. Richardson,
gers?"in Coral Bell, ed.,Nation,Regionand Context:Studiesin Peace and Warin Honourof
ProfessorT. B. Millar (Canberra:Strategicand DefenceStudiesCentre,AustralianNational
1995).
University,
11. Chen Jian,"Will China's DevelopmentThreatenAsia-PacificSecurity?"SecurityDialogue,24:2 (June1993), p. 194; GregSheridan,"MahathirBackflipon Our Asian Role," The
Australian,May 15, 1995,p. 1.
International
Contemporary
12. Yan Xuetong,"China's Post-ColdWar SecurityStrategy,"
Relations,5:5 (May 1995),pp. 6-7.
13. "Give China 'Time and Space'," FEER, May 25, 1995,p. 30.

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764

ASIANSURVEY,VOL. XXXVI,NO. 8, AUGUST1996

thepeoples he met. Instead,Zheng"triedhis best to disseminateChina's


and presentedthemwith appliances,
civilizationto the local inhabitants
seeds,books,utensils,silk,etc."
Militaryspendingnot excessive. While manyoutsidersare disturbedby
are quickto
anti-threat
commentaries
improvements,
China's recentmilitary
modernization
a
points. CCP leadersgave military
noteseveralmitigating
priorto the1990s,askingthePLA to be patient.As a
relatively
low priority
weaponsstockpileis outdated.Now that
result,thebulkof China's current
theChineseeconomyis takingoff,and withthelessonsof theGulfWarstill
fresh,Beijingis movingto shoreup a neglectedarea. Moreover,in purchastheChineseare merelyfollowingthepattern
ing modernweaponssystems,
set by theirneighbors
throughout
theregion.
school can manipulatestatisticsas deftlyas the ChinaThe anti-threat
are stillmodestrelative
threatschool. China's officialdefenseexpenditures
analystsalso
to thoseoftheUnitedStatesorevenJapan,andmanyanti-threat
spending
percapita,takingadvantageofthediluting
liketo calculatemilitary
effectof China'shugepopulationwhenmakingcomparisons.Some Chinese
of therenminbi
against
and thedepreciation
scholarsassertthatif inflation
thedollarare factored
in,officialChinesedefensespendingshowsa decline
"buildup"can be just
from1991 to 1995.14 Overall,China'sallegedmilitary
modernizaas plausiblyinterpreted
moderate,
and long-overdue
as a routine,
tion.
criticshavequestioned
Anti-China
prejudice. As partoftheircounterattack,
whoare
notonlythearguments
butalso themotivesofthe"threat-mongers,"
oftenallegedto carrymean-spirited
prejudicesor an ignoblehiddenagenda.
whocriticizeChinais racism.
An obviouspossiblechargeagainstWesterners
writes:"In
thereis thefearof theOther.GaryKlintworth
More generally,
our mind'seye, we have thatNapoleonicimageof China as an awakening
and avowedly,the
non-democratic
Chinesedragon.... It is non-European,
last communist
leftin the world." Anotherpossible sourceof
stronghold
Austinasserts
or professionalself-interest.
anti-Chinabias is institutional
andmilitary
claimsaboutChina'sintentions
thatexaggerated
builduparepart
levelsof defencespendingin theface of
to propup continued
of "an effort
severebudgetary
pressures."ManyChinesescholarsmakethe same point.
ShenQurong,forexample,writesthatpeoplewhosee Chinaas a threat"are
lookingfarandwideforan enemyon purpose,fortheirold enemyhas disap-

p. 10.
14. Yan, "China'sPost-ColdWar Strategy,"

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DENNY ROY

765

pearedwiththe end of theCold War and the disintegration


of the former
SovietUnion. It seemsthatthesepeoplecannotgo withoutan enemy."15
Finally,and perhapsmostfrequently,
is thechargethatmanyWesterners,
particularly
Americans,
areloatheto see Chinagrowfromthesemicolonized
"sickmanof Asia" intoa powerful
politicalandeconomicrival. The United
States,accordingto thisview,wantsto keep Asia underitsdomination,
and
thiscalls fora weak China. RallyingsupportamongChina's neighborsfor
an anti-Chinaallianceis anothertactic-along withhumanrightscriticism,
"peacefulevolution,"
and thecampaignto preventBeijingfromwinningthe
rightto hostthe2000 OlympicGames-to "pin down thedevelopment
of
China." Mockingdiscussionof a "Chinathreat"in theU.S. newsmedia,a
commentary
bytheofficialXinhuanewsagencysaid,"it seemsthatonlythe
UnitedStateshas therightof development,
whileChinadoes not. Chinahas
to remainpermanently
poor and backwardand bow to thesubjugationand
of big Westernpowers."16
exploitation
Securitybenefits
outweighdangers. GaryKlintworth
critiquesthe"China
threat"positionby arguingthatan economically
developedChinaoffersthe
whilethepotential
regiondefinite
security
benefits,
dangersof a strongChina
areunlikely.An economicorpoliticalcollapsein Chinacouldupsetregional
stability
by sendingout largenumbersof Chineserefugeesor by tempting
otherpowersto invadeChina. A strong,unifiedChina on theotherhand,
wouldprecludethesedangers,whileprovidinga potentialcounterweight
to
Japanor Russia. A unilateralChinesedriveforhegemonyis not a strong
withmoderbecausea richerChinais morelikelyto democratize,
possibility
atingeffectson Chineseforeignpolicy,and to becomemoreeconomically
withits neighbors.Given the two scenarios,a developed,
interdependent
betterthana weak China.17
powerfulChinawouldserveregionalsecurity

Responses to a GrowingChina

debateon howtherestof theAsiaThe Chinathreatissuehas also generated


Pacificregionshouldrespondto China's expectedemergenceas a great
power. Threegeneralpositionsare discernible:appeasement,
enmeshment,
of containment.
and Krauthammer's
favoredstrategy
AustralianJournalofInterna"GreaterChinaand RegionalSecurity,"
15. GaryKlintworth,
48:2 (November1994),p. 223; GregAustin,"A New Cold War in Asia?" ANU
tionalAffairs,
in Northeast
Reporter(Canberra),June14, 1995, p. 4; Shen Qurong,"SecurityEnvironment
Relations,2:12 (DecemInternational
Contemporary
andSensitivities,"
Asia: ItsCharacteristics
ber 1992), p. 18.
ChineseAmbassadorto Britain
to Economist,
16. The quotationis in Li Wenzheng,"Writing
of 'China's Threat',"People's Daily, August19, 1995, p. A3; Xinhua
RefutedtheArgument
Herald Tribune,August24, 1995,p. 4.
quotedin International
"GreaterChina,"pp. 211-12, 219.
17. Klintworth,

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766

ASIANSURVEY,VOL.XXXVI,NO. 8, AUGUST1996

in muchof SoutheastAsia, holdsthat


The appeasement
position,prevalent
by
influenced
or even significantly
cannotbe hindered
China's development
be
shouldtherefore
outsidecountries.China's emergenceas a superpower
is to
accepted,and thebestway theregioncan prepareforthiseventuality
avoid makingChina angry. Singapore'sSeniorMinisterLee Kuan Yew
in China,saying
theirinvestment
againstcurtailing
warnedWesterncountries
force,bitterand
thiswould make the country"a xenophobic,chauvinistic
hostileto theWestbecauseittriedto slowdownor abortitsdevelopment."1
advocatesChineseintegration
approach,appeasement
Like theenmeshment
Unlikeenorganizations.
political,economic,and security
intointernational
abouttheability
positionis pessimistic
however,theappeasement
meshment,
of outsidersto shape China, and places its faithin Chinese self-restraint
behaviorbyBeijing.
ratherthanoutsidepressureto ensuregood international
economicprogresscan producethe desiredchangesin China
"Ultimately,
betterthanthreatsand sanctions,"says SingaporeanPrimeMinisterGoh
notgovernment
decree,willbid up wages in
ChokTong. "Risingaffluence,
that
of itslaborforce.A country
conditions
Chinaand improvetheworking
has a stakein global tradeand economicgrowthwill have an interestin
laws and standards.Over time,a successfulChina,
upholdinginternational
supis likelyto becomea fervent
and inventors,
withits wealthof scientists
rights."19
property
porterof intellectual
The enmeshment
seeks,in GeraldSegal's words,to "tie China
strategy
whichis predown." Also knownby themorevague term"engagement,"
enmeshment
employseconomicincentives
ferredby the U.S. government,
and disincentives
to extractdesirablebehavior.Tougherthanappeasement,
and low-levelcoercion. Segal's preinvolveshardbargaining
enmeshment
Chinato open itseconomyfurther
includesstepssuchas requiring
scription
Trade
World
demandingreOrganization;
as a conditionforentryintothe
as
thepriceof
transfers
of Chinesearmsand nucleartechnology
striction
to Chinese
economic
aid
nations'
linking
access to developed
technology;
assistancein meetingspecificgoals
progressin humanrights;andproviding
suchas
in whichtheChineseand theoutsideworldhave a commoninterest,
enmeshdamage. Unlikeappeasement,
reducingpiracyand environmental
moldChinaintoa shapethe
mentpresumesoutsidepowerscan significantly
of a centhecontinuation
outsideworlddesires.20In thatsense,itrepresents
tury-old(and largelyunsuccessful)Americanprojectto producethe ideal
StraitsTimes,May
18. Han Fook Kwang,"Asia Will Focus on DefenceIf US Withdraws,"
16, 1993,p. 1.
19. Quotedin FEER, "Give China 'Time and Space'," p. 30.
Forexample,JosephS.
statements.
in U.S. government
appearsfrequently
20. This sentiment
security
affairs:"Pacificpowerand presence
ofdefenseforinternational
Nye,assistantsecretary
stage and outcomescan still be influenced-thisis whywe choose to
is stillin a formative

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DENNY ROY

767

China: prosperous,
democratic,
andresponsible
(i.e.,pro-U.S.)in itsinternationalbehavior.
The enmeshment
schoolbelievesit is premature
to treatChina as an enemy;whether
a strongChinawillbe a constructive
partner
or a trouble-maker
is stilluncertain.Advocatesof containment,
however,expecttheworstand
see no pointin delayingthecountermeasures
whileChinacontinuesto grow
stronger.It is better,
in theirview,to getstartedwithCold War Two immediately.The containment
viewarguesthatChina'strading
partners
arestrategically short-sighted,
helpingto create what may well develop into a
superpowerthatcould ultimately
threatentheirinterests.21Fears about
angeringor isolatingChina are misguided;China will behavebadlyin any
case, andifgranted
anylatitude,
theChinesewillonlytakeadvantageof itto
betterpositionthemselves
formoreassertivemovesin thefuture.Insteadof
worrying
aboutoffending
China,therestof theworldshouldmaketheChinese fear to rock the boat. The heartof the containment
strategy,as
Krauthammer's
articlemadeclear,is therecruitment
of alliestojoin a coalitiontobalanceChinesepower.Manyhavespeculatedthatan assertiveChina
will rejuvenatethetroubledU.S.-Japanrelationship.An anti-Chinese
containment
strategy
wouldalso providea newrationaleforthemaintenance
of
U.S. forcesin East Asia.

theArguments:
Analyzing
The Questionof Intentions

wouldagreewiththeassertion
that"China'sintentions
ManyChina-watchers
are perhapseven moreimportant
thanits capabilities."22This view,howof
Whetheror nottheintentions
ever,shouldnotbe accepteduncritically.
greatpowers(or buddinggreatpowers)matter,
is, indeed,a keytheoretical
can be divided
issue. The arguments
advancedforor againsttheChinathreat
of the
whichconcerntheintentions
intotwo categories:"soft"arguments,
whichdownplaythe
and "hard"arguments,
Chineseand of theiradversaries,
but
of intentions,
significance
dealinginsteadwithcapabilitiesor anticipated
unintended
consequences.
In thecase of softarguments,
theproblemwouldbe solvedif one of the
involvedchangeditsattitude.Humanvolitionis pivotal.
partiesimmediately
The arguments
aboutwhatkindof foreignpolicytheChineseleadershipinChina Sets Off
"A Resurgent
engageChina" (my emphasis). Quotedin MichaelRichardson,
Herald Tribune,July7, 1995,p. 1.
International
AlarmsOver 'Containment',"
Se21. DennyRoy,"ConsequencesofChina'sEconomicGrowthforAsia-PacificSecurity,"
as
his positionsomewhat,
curityDialogue, 24:2 (June1993),pp. 189-90. Roy latermoderated
Security,19:1 (Summer1994),pp. 166-67.
in "Hegemonon theHorizon?"International
22. FrankChing,"China'sMilitarySpursConcern,"Far EasternEconomicReview,May 11,
1995,p. 40.

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768

ASIANSURVEY,VOL.XXXVI,NO. 8, AUGUST1996

and economiccapabilityare soft;the


tendsto pursuewithits new military
turnson whether
theregime'sintenpresenceor absenceof a Chinesethreat
on bothsides aboutthemotivationsare benignor malign.The arguments
also fallinto
spendingand modernization
tionsunderlying
Chinesemilitary
of Chineseforeignpolthiscategory.So do thedebatesaboutthecharacter
irredenversusforce-prone,
icy-"peaceful" and "neverseekinghegemony"
towardinternational
norms.The Chinese
tist,domineering,
and indifferent
as well,becauseit
is a softargument
counterattack
againstWesterncriticism
relationsis illegitimate
alleges thata basic obstacleto good Sino-Western
hostility
towardChina.
Withthe hardarguments,
by contrast,
outcomesare not expectedto be
from
butare logicallyextrapolated
affected
by variations
in humanattitudes
(allegedly)objectivecircumstances.The argumentthatan economically
assertiveis a
becomemoreunilaterally
powerful,
unitedChinawillinevitably
politicalforceswill determine
hardargument
becauseit presumesstructural
CCP leadThe insistenceof current
thegeneraldirection
of policy-making.
ersthatthefuture
China,evena strongChina,willnevertryto dominatethe
are sincere,overregionmeanslittleor nothing;even if thesestatements
away.
whelmingforceswill sweep suchsentiments
The firstis that
arguments.
The hardcategoryalso includestwono-threat
China is constrained
frombeingassertivebecause of its internalproblems
andbecauseitis heldhostagebyitsparamount
interest
in economicdevelopment.The secondis that,on balance,a developedChinaimprovesregional
security
by precluding
morelikelydangerssuchas refugeeoutflowsand inChinesedisorder.Bothof
vasionsby neighboring
statesexploitinginternal
of
thesearguments
presumethathumanvolitionin general,andtheintentions
in particular,
are neutraland constant;theymerelyride the
policy-makers
flowof externalevents.
issue dividingforeign
The intentions
questiontapsintoa largertheoretical
drivenby nathat
is
Some
assume
foreign
policy primarily
policyanalysts.
andthatanystate's
of system-level
tionalleaders'assessment
considerations,
primary
foreignpolicyobjectiveis to maintainor enhancepowerrelativeto
the state'smostthreatening
otherstates,particularly
potentialadversaries.
suchas domesticpoliconsiderations23
Otheranalystsbelievethatunit-level
foreignpolicy. The latteraptics,history,
culture,and ideologydetermine
proachis dominant
amongSinologists.Some analystshavetriedto combine
forsomodelsthatsacrifice
bothapproaches,
parsimony
explanatory
crafting
in largemeasurebecauseso
The issueremainscontroversial,
phistication.24
see KennethN. Waltz,Theory
factors,
versusunit-level
23. For a discussionon system-level
Politics(New York: McGraw-Hill,1979), especiallychs. 4 and 5.
ofInternational
24. An exampleis Bruce Cumings,"The PoliticalEconomyof China's TurnOutward,"in
SamuelS. Kim,ed., Chinaand theWorld(Boulder,Colo.: WestviewPress,1989),esp. p. 206.

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DENNY ROY

769

makes
muchof thePRC's foreignpolicyappearsto be overdetermined-it
perspectives.
Regainingcontrol
sensefrombothunit-level
and system-level
popuof Taiwan,forexample,wouldincreasetheBeijingregime'sterritory,
military
lation,and wealthwhile at the same timeremovinga significant
of theCCP faction
rival,butit wouldalso enhancethedomesticlegitimacy
could plausiblyexplainBeithataccomplishedit. Thus,eitherperspective
jing's strongreactionto Lee Teng-hui's1995 U.S. visit.
are largelyirreleFroma systems-level
perspective,
the"soft"arguments
vant. All countrieshave basicallythe same intentions:to maintainor, if
Theirforeign
policiesaim to
possible,increasetheirsecurity
andprosperity.
and dangersin the internapursuetheseobjectivesbased on opportunities
policiesamongcountries
arebased
tionalenvironment.
Variationsin foreign
not on differing
relativecapabilities.All states
intentions
but on differing
wish to controltheirenvironment
but thisis feasibleonly forthe strong.
Increasedeconomicand military
capabilitiesbroadenthe rangeof options
andlowerthecostsof usingforce.Therefore,
in thecompetition
amongconflictingnationalinterests,
strongcountriesare inevitablytemptedto force
theirwill upontheirweakerneighbors.Furthermore,
since strongcountries
arepotentially
to eachother,theirinterrelations
tense
aregenerally
dangerous
unlesstheyare allies againstanother,morethreatening
power. Fromthis
itis to be takenforgranted
thatChinawilluse itsneweconomic,
standpoint,
andmilitary
to dominateitsregioninsofaras possible,
technological,
strength
and thattheUnitedStateswill seek to thwartthegrowthof thisnew rival.
Any two otherstatesin thepositionsof China and theU.S. wouldbehave
becauseit is theinternational
systemthatdrivesforeign
policy,not
similarly
a particular
baggage.
state'sculture,ideology,or historical
If intentions
don'tmatter,
poor Sino-U.S.relationswouldseem likelyas
long as theU.S. remainsa greatpower,as long as China is perceivedas a
thirdpartyemergesto drivethemtorisinggreatpower,and no threatening
arecorrectto labelChinaa
getherin a security
alliance. Americanstrategists
and Chinese
"threat"
in thesenseof a likelyaspirantto regionaldominance,
For China's neighbors
fearU.S.-sponsored
containment.
strategists
correctly
and potentialadversaries,
theworstis to be expected.The onlyquestionfor
politithem,assumingChinacontinuesto growrapidlyand to holdtogether
cally,is how to prepareto meetChina's bid forhegemony.
On theotherhand,evenassumingthatthebasic goals of nationalgovernmentsare security
and wealth,itis possibleto envisageforeign
policyorientationsin particular
statesas rangingfromaggressiveto conciliatory.If so,
a
Undersomecircumstances,
the"soft"arguments
becomevitallyimportant.
statemayjudge thatan assertiveforeign
policywillbringthegreatestsecurityand/orprosperity.In such a case, the state'sbehaviorwill growmore
assertiveas itsrelativecapabilitiesincrease.In othercases,however,a state

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770

ASIANSURVEY,VOL.XXXVI,NO. 8, AUGUST1996

maydetermine
thatitsinterests
are bestservedby a non-threatening
posture
(e.g., postwarJapan). The keyissue,then,is whether
thegovernment
of a
strongstatebelievesa domineering,
coerciveapproachwill fulfillits goals
betterthancooperation
andcompromise.This maybe called "intention"
but
it is reallya matter
ofperception.Factorsuniquetoparticular
societies,such
as worldviewand historicalexperience,
maystrongly
influence
thisperception. In someinstances,
thestate'sforeign
policymightnotbe comprehensible withoutaccounting
fortheseunit-level
factors.

Conclusion:Respondingto
the Possible"Threat"

thetheoretical
of intentions
Understanding
significance
exposessome of the
underpinnings
of thearguments
involvedin theChinathreatissue,and may
help students
of Chinaand of international
affairsdetermine
forthemselves
thatsome of thesearguments
are moresubstantial
thanothers.The distinctionbetween"soft"and "hard"arguments
also carriesimportant
ramificationsforpolicy.
The implication
of thesoftor intention-intensive
arguments
is thata range
of possibilitiesremainsopen forfutureChineseforeignpolicy. The postDeng successioncrisismayindeed,as manyobservershave speculated,explain muchof China's recentprovocativebehavior.OfficialChinesestatementsabouttheregime'sacceptanceof interdependence
and lack of interest
in establishing
a post-ColdWar hegemony
to
mightbe consideredovertures
be builtupon insteadof propaganda.If intentions
are malleable,the goal
shouldbe to createand maintain
peaceful,cooperativeintentions.
Apparent
rather
CCP belligerence
senseof insecurity
mightstemfroma fundamental
thanfroma desireformaximumdominance.If so, concessionsaimed at
makingChinafeelmoresecuremightreciprocally
spawna moreaccommodatingattitudein Beijing. ScaringChina, on the otherhand, would be
counterproductive.
Takingthesoftarguments
seriouslyleads one to excludethetwoextreme
forresponding
to a growingChina. It is possiblethatBeijing's
strategies
is therefore
intentions
arerelatively
long-term
strategic
benign.Containment
thepossibility
of a constructive
unattractive
because it forfeits
relationship,
movingdirectlyto a worst-casescenariothatmightotherwisebe avoided.
shouldalso be rejected;thereis no needto givethegameaway
Appeasement
whileBeijing's intentions
remainuncertain.A mildformof enmeshment,
withemphasison rewardsrather
thanpunishments,
wouldseemthemost,and
reallytheonlysatisfactory
option.The objectivewouldbe to convinceBeijing thatconciliationpays and heavy-handed
unilateralism
does not-to
"zoneofpeace" nowoccupiedbyNorth
bringChinaintothemuch-theorized
America,WesternEurope,Japan,Australia,and New Zealand.

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DENNY ROY

771

Based on thehardarguments,
whichpresumethatpolicy-makers
follow
geopoliticalimperatives,
theChinesewill likelybehavemoreassertively
as
theygrowstronger
and will probablyconcludethattheyhave moreto gain
fromdomination
thanfromcooperation.If sucha trenddevelopsunchecked,
it will eventually
makethemitigating
hardarguments
(thata strongChina
represents
moresecurity
benefits
thandangersandthatChina'smilitary
is not
presently
capableof seriouspowerprojection)obsolete.
Fromthisstandpoint,
therangeof appropriate
policyoptionsis limitedto
containment
at one end and a hard-nosed
formof engagement
at the
outright
other.The latteris preferable
becauseit wouldallowpoliticaltensionsto be
low levelforthetimebeing,whileat thesametimelaying
keptat a relatively
thegroundwork
forbuildingan anti-China
security
coalitionifthisprovesto
be necessary.A gatekeeping
approachwouldbe ideal: generalsupportfor
Chinesedevelopment,
withrewardsfordesirabletypesof Chinesebehavior
through
increasedinternational
assistanceandrecognition,
butwithcriticism
andpunishment
forundesirable
behavior(e.g.,Japan'sreduction
ofeconomic
aid aftertheChinesemissiletestsin theEast ChinaSea). A concurrent
campaignof peacefulevolution(i.e., subversion)wouldalso be consistent
with
thisapproach.
Althoughthisarticlehas avoidedtakinga clearpositionon eitherside of
the China threatissue,it does yielda clear conclusionon the questionof
responsesto a growingChinaby theotherAsia-Pacificpowers: of thethree
possiblestrategies
describedabove,Segal's enmeshment
is preferastrategy
ble to containment
or appeasement.Withinthe generalframework
of enwithBeijingmight
meshment,
thereremainssignificant
leeway;negotiations
be generousor demanding.It is significant
thatbothhardandsoftarguments
lead to similarpolicyrecommendations.
is a sensiThe enmeshment
strategy
ble compromise
in thefaceof uncertainty.
It neither
trusts
undulyin a rising
norincreasestensionshastilyandunnecessarily;
majorpower'sself-restraint,
nordoes itprecludetougher
actionin thefuture.Rather,it offersthechance
and disina structure
of incentives
to "discipline"Chinesebehaviorthrough
of theinternational
economicand politcentivesthatis a naturaloutgrowth
ical tiestheChinesenow welcome. The desiredmessageshouldbe thatthe
worldwelcomesand will assistChina's development
as long as China remains peacefuland cooperative,but bullyingor defianceof international
and theemergenceof an
normswillresultin decreasedgrowth
opportunities
alliance.
anti-China

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