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Can China, US avoid tragedy of great power politics? [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2012-5-28 16:30:54 |Display all floors
Global Times | May 27, 2012 19:05

John Mearsheimer


Editor's Note:
In his book on offensive realism, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001), John Mearsheimer (Mearsheimer), professor of political science at the University of Chicago, set out to prove the inevitability of security competition among great powers. Is he right in believing that China will pose a threat to the US? What actions can both sides take? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wen interviewed Mearsheimer on these issues.  

GT: China raised the concept of a "peaceful rise" in 2003. What has changed now?

Mearsheimer: China is becoming more developed and more powerful. In 2003, China was not powerful that it could challenge the US. Now I think most Chinese have the sense that not only China is continuing to rise, but the US is on the decline.

Therefore, the question that I raise whether China can rise peacefully is an important real world issue. It is not an intellectual question like it was in 2003. The global balance of power has shifted enough in the intervening nine years.

GT: China has been peaceful over the last decade. Does this prove you wrong?

Mearsheimer: It is too soon to tell whether I am right or wrong.
The question whether China can rise peacefully is a question which is good to be settled in 10, 15, or 20 years. It cannot be settled now.

China still has to rise a lot more before its position becomes a real challenge to the US.
I also think one reason that the relations between the US and China have been very good is because the US has been busy with fighting the wars in Middle East, and therefore has been motivated to keep the peace in East Asia. We made it very clearly to Taiwan, for example, that it couldn't make any trouble with the Chinese mainland.

But there are also indicators of the potential for real trouble between the two countries, such as the conflicts over the South China Sea. The recent arms sales to Taiwan are another example.

GT: The two countries have managed to control their conflicts before. Can this continue?
Mearsheimer: There are powerful incentives for China and the US to manage those troubles. And the US and China are also working to prevent war. But the point I would make is China's behavior will become different. The US is still far more powerful than China, so China is making efforts not to make waves.

But when China becomes more powerful, it will take greater risks, the US and China's neighbors will be more scared about China, and they will push back more forcefully in those situations.

GT: Is the US in decline, and China's rise unavoidable? What will happen in the next eight years?

Mearsheimer: I think it is not clear that China is continuing to rise. I am not saying that China is going to stop growing quickly, or the US start to do so. All I am saying is it is difficult to predict the future of either country's economy. And there are many Chinese scholars and US scholars who believe China is going to slow down.

I think China, in all likelihood, will be more powerful in 2020 than it is in 2012, but that in the next eight years, it will have a handful of crises, and China and the US will work hard to prevent them getting worse.

In the East China Sea, I won't be surprised if the Japanese and Chinese governments clash over the islands. Both Taiwan and Korea pose dangers. But I think over the next five years or eight years, there is very unlikely going to be an armed conflict involving the US and China. I think both China and the US have the deepest interest in making sure there is not a war.

GT: How many people in the US agree with your views?

Mearsheimer: Within the government, 25 percent agree with me, 50 percent disagree with me, the other 25 percent are sympathetic, but they are not sure. The basic logic that I lay out will be checked in the end.

And I do think there are a lot of people who believe both the US and China can manage their differences. Among academics, probably 10 percent agree with me, 75 percent disagree with me, and 15 percent are not sure but are somewhat sympathetic.

GT: What suggestions would you give to the Chinese government?

Mearsheimer: At present, it needs to make sure that it doesn't talk in bombastic ways and scare its neighbors and the US.

From the Chinese point of view, the best thing it can do at this time is not to cause trouble in the security level or the military level. Just keep quiet and keep growing economically. They should understand economic might is military might.

This is not the time for China to throw its weight around in East Asia, such as in Taiwan, or the South China Sea. China should wait for a time when it is much more powerful. And I think in early 2010, China misbehaved. It was too aggressive. And it scared everybody in its neighborhood. It needs to reassure its neighbors.

GT: What advice would you offer to the US?

Mearsheimer: Asia is replacing Europe as the most important region of the world for the US. For most of US history, Europe has been the critical strategic region. But that world has gone away.

And Europe is in fact like a museum these days. It is much less important to the US than in the past. Asia, because of the rise of China, is much more important for the US from the strategic perspective. We should stop fighting wars in the Middle East, which benefits China, and try to strengthen its influence in this region.

GT: Can the US recover from its widely perceived decline?

Mearsheimer: I came of age during the Vietnam War. From 1965 to 1975, we were humiliated. And many people of that time believed that the US was in decline because of that war. But the truth is what happened in Vietnam had zero effect on the balance of power.
What happened in Iraq and is happening in Afghanistan will also have zero effect on the balance of power. What matters in the balance of power is the rise of China. That is what matters.

So where is the trouble today with the US on the foreign policy front? It's our stupid foreign wars.

What matters is whether China will continue to rise, and whether the US economy will recover and continue to prosper.

I don't know what the answers to both questions are, because I am not an economist. But the US has huge human capital. And I believe it's very flexible and adaptive economy will eventually recover and do very well.

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