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Hegemon on the Horizon? China’s Threat to East Asian Security DennyRoy I Northeast Asia has been relatively peaceful for the past forty years. The post-Cold War era, however, will bring new security challenges to the Asia-Pacific region. Perhaps the most serious of these challenges involves China’s expected emergence as a major economic power in the near future. While a developed, prosperous Chinese economy offers the region many potential benefits, it would also give China the capability to challenge Japan for domination of East Asia. China’s recent economic growth signals a change in East Asia’s distribution of power and draws renewed attention to Chinese foreign policy. What are the consequences of Chinese economic growth for regional security?’ I argue that a burgeoning China poses a long-term danger to Asia-Pacific security for two reasons. First, despite Japan’s present economic strength, a future Chinese hegemony in East Asia is a strong possibility. China is just beginning to realize its vast economic potential, while Japan’s inherent weaknesses create doubts about the ability of the Japanese to increase or sustain The author is grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. The views expressed herein are the author’s own, and not necessarily those of his employer. Denny Roy teaches in the Department of Politico! Science at the National University of Singapore. 1. There are a few recent studies which mention, but do not analyze in detail, the possible threat posed by a stronger China. See Gerald Segal, ”The Coming Confrontation Between China and Japan,” World Policy lournal, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer 1993);Zakaria Haji Ahmad, “Japan and China in Pacific Asia’s Evolving Security Environment,” Global Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 1(Winter 1993), pp. 27, 28; A. James Gregor, ”China’s Shadow Over Southeast Asian Waters,” Global Affairs, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer 1992); and Nicholas D. Kristof, ”The Rise of China,” Foreign Affairs,Vol. 72, No. 5 (NovemberiDecember 1993).Kristof hints at two theoretical assumptions that might provide a basis for understanding China’s external behavior in the future: he writes that China has “a sense of wounded pride, the annoyance of a giant that has been battered and cheated by the rest of the world.” China will “seek a more powerful role, because that is what great powers are supposed to do” (pp. 70, 72). His conclusions, however, are very general: he says China may try to ”resolve old quarrels in its own favor,” including attacking Taiwan, but also that Chinese foreign policy will not be aggressive or irresponsible (pp. 59, 70-72). William H. Overholt briefly, but directly, examines the impact of a wealthier China on regional security; Overholt, China: The Next Economic Superpower (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), chap. 6. Overholt, however, emphasizes the positive consequences of a developed China, not the potential dangers. International Security, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Summer 1994), pp. 149-168 01994 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 149 International Security 29:Z 1 150 their present level of economic power. China also faces less resistance than Japan to building a superpower-sized military. Second, a stronger China is likely to undermine peace in the region. Economic development will make China more assertive and less cooperative with its neighbors; China’s domestic characteristics make it comparatively likely to use force to achieve its political goals; and an economically powerful China may provoke a military buildup by Japan, plunging Asia into a new cold war. Asia’s Future: China or Japan as Number One? With the United States apparently committed to a drawdown of its global military forces, the Asia-Pacificregion seems to have a vacancy for a successor hegemon. Many analysts expect Japan to inherit this mantle on the basis of its impressive economic strength and influence.2Nevertheless, two formidable obstacles stand between Japanand hegemony: the instabilityof Japanese economic strength and the weakness of Japan’s armed forces. Japan’s inherent economic vulnerabilities amply justify Frank Gibney’s term “fragile s~perpower.”~ The fragilities include Japan’s lack of natural resources and consequent dependence on foreign supplies of raw materials...


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