- China, Latin America, and the United States:Congruent Interests or Tectonic Turbulence?
China's rapid emergence as a commercial powerhouse has sparked wide debate as to the influence that it is likely to have on the international economic system and global geopolitics in the coming decades of [End Page 215] the twenty-first century. With its 1.3-billion-strong population, apparent political stability, and impressive social discipline, is China a conservative or a revisionist force? Can existing international institutions, modestly reformed, accommodate China's interests, or will China demand a new world order? Will it be content with regional hegemony in Asia, or will it seek global preeminence? Most important, will China's seemingly inevitable rise be relatively smooth and benign, or will it spark fierce rivalry with the United States and other Western powers for systemic domination?
Some realists posit that conflict, even of a violent nature, is unavoidable between rising and declining powers, citing as examples the twentieth-century wars between Germany and the Allied powers, and between China and Japan. The transfer of dominance from Great Britain to the United States was more peaceful but facilitated by common political institutions and similar visions of the desirable international order, and by a demographic overlap that is largely absent from U.S.-China relations. Jack S. Levy argues that traditional power-transition theorists speak of a single, hierarchical, international system and neglect key issues in global-regional interactions. Specifically, he asks, Will China compromise core strategic interests of the United States at the regional level, including in the Western Hemisphere? The simple fact of geographic distance eases the dangers that China might pose to the interests of the United States or, for that matter, of Latin America.
Further, as the liberal institutionalist G. John Ikenberry suggests: "The United States is a different type of hegemonic power than past leading states—and the order it has built is different than the orders of the past. It is a wider and deeper political order than the orders of the past." In this more optimistic view, China will surely seek a greater voice in global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization; but so long as the reigning powers are flexible and accommodate legitimate Chinese interests, tensions stemming from China's rise can be managed, and China can be integrated into the existing world system as a "responsible stakeholder," in the words of former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. Ultimately, human agency matters: How will individual leaders in Beijing, Washington, Brasília, and other Latin American and world capitals interpret their own long-term interests, and how will they reconcile them with the interests of others? Will they imagine zero-sum games and thereby deepen the challenges to security inherent in an anarchic international system, or will they seek to avoid mutually destructive conflicts by adjusting to new power relations and by strengthening consensual international norms?
China's rapid entry into Latin America during the past decade has also sparked debate between those who predict conflict and rivalry and those who instead see an overwhelming complementarity in Chinese and Latin American economic interests, and few reasons for U.S. diplomats to fret [End Page 216] over a greater Chinese presence in the region. The books reviewed here offer ample evidence for both positions, but the predominant and more...