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East Asia and the "Constrainment" of China
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66Constrainment99 of China I T h e remarkable economic growth in East Asia depends on further modernization of political and social systems throughout the region. Stability and growth also depend on the development of an international system that restrains non-status quo powers and develops mechanisms for managing and resolving conflicts short of war. There is little doubt that the single most important state in East Asia is China: a China that collapses in chaos, or is aggressive in the region, can wreck the prosperity of the region. Is regional security in East Asia impossiblewhen China is strong?Is regional insecurity especially likely when a rising China is insecure about whether it can sustain its rise, and whether others will allow it to rise? How should other states deal with the state that may be the single largest force for change in the global balance of power? Sadly, the debate on these questions is often unsophisticated. On the one hand the dominant ”engagement” school argues that China can be neutered as a challengeto the status quo, by giving it incentivesto join regional and global society.The engagement school believes that there is no need to think in terms of a balance of power because stability will be provided by states anxious not to lose the benefits of economic interdependence.’ There is another school of Gerald Segal is a Senior Fellow at the International Institutefor Strategic Studies, Director of the Economic and Social Research Councils Pacific Asia Programme, and Co-chairman of the European Council for Security Cooperation in Asia-Pacific. This work is the result of extensive interviews in nearly every country in East Asia in 1994-95. All interviews were on a confidential basis. But the author would like to thank the following people for commenting on all, or parts of an earlier draft of this article: Sidney Bearman, Barry Buzan, Bates Gill, Paul Godwin, Harlan Jencks, Ellis Joffe, Gary Klintworth, Michael Leifer, Paul Monk, Jonathan Pollack, Michael Swaine, David Shambaugh, Allen Whiting, and the anonymous reviewers for International Security. 1. For example see Kishore Mahbubani, “The Pacific Impulse,” Survival, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring 1995); James Richardson, ”East Asian Stability,” The National Interest, No. 38 (Winter 1994-95); Morton Abramowitz, “PacificCentury: Myth or Reality,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 15, No. 3 (December 1993). Some of the engagement school is struggling with ways to add a dose of realism.See the notion of ”conditional engagement” and “virtual alliances”as discussed in a study program on China currently underway in the Council on Foreign Relations. I am grateful to Jim Shinn of the Council for an opportunity to see the work in progress. International Security,Vol. 20, No. 4 (Spring 19961,pp. 107-135 0 1996by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 107 International Security 20:4 I 108 thought that China must be “contained.” The containment school argues that the balance of power in East Asia is becoming dangerously unstable.2 The notions of “engagement” and ”containment” are left over from the Cold War, and for that reason alone they are insufficient categories of analysis for the special problem of coping with a rising China. Instead, this article argues that engagement is a vital, necessary but insufficient policy towards China. China is a powerful, unstable non-status quo power.3 Those states whose interests are in conflict with China should defend those interests by constraining China where they can. Formulating a policy of ”constrainment” requires an assessment of whether China’s neighbors and powers further afield are strong enough to resist China. I argue that they are, but that it also requires the will to do so. The evidence presented below suggests that most states lack the will to constrain China. A careful look at recent trends, and especially responses to China’s activity in the South China Sea, reveals that China is not constrained by concerns that it might damage its increasingly important economic interdependence with East Asia. I identify the risks of a policy that engages China through interdependence but does not also constrain its undesired behavior, and suggest the possibilities for the success of a more constraining policy. China...