- China Rising: Peace, Power, and Order in East Asia
Recently, China’s ascent has drawn the attention of many scholars and policy-makers in East Asia and the United States. Current and previous assessments of China’s rise follow one of three major frameworks: realism sees China as a revisionist power in the existing (U.S. preponderant) world order; liberalism optimistically predicts Chinese integration into a globalizing world; and, constructivism—and rationalists to some extent —denies any structural determinism since, according to the theory, state interests are constantly being made and re-made. The common problem of these existing frameworks is, however, the ahistoricity of their theoretical foundations: all three theories fail to look into the historical development of the region and account for the ethnocentrism that projects normative [End Page 190] views of international relations based on the European experiences of Westphalian sovereignties (p. 18).
It is with this acknowledgement of the limits of mainstream international relations theory that David Kang’s new book challenges these frameworks with the intention to interpret East Asian international politics through an innovative perspective that smartly refuses methodological dogmatism. Starting with the clear question, “why have East Asian countries accommodated rather than balanced China’s rapid economic, diplomatic, and political emergence over three decades?” (p. 4), he emphasizes the unique constellation of state identities in the region that are deeply informed by the long history of the Sinocentric tributary system in which “the dominant state is essentially benign, the smaller state would prefer an accommodating stance that allows it to benefit from warm relations with its neighbor” (p. 19). With the shared perception by China’s small neighbors that Beijing’s identity is not oriented toward expansion and aggression but toward stability and status quo (p. 80), the recent rise of China provides East Asian states assurance about stability in the region instead of fear (p. 71) and gives them a good reason to increase and improve their relations with China rather than engage in military balancing (p. 75).
South Korean foreign policies toward China, contrasted with her policies toward Japan and the United States, are discussed as supportive evidence for Kang’s arguments. Due to the largely positive national narrative about Korea-Chinese relations “based more on ancient history than any critical appraisal of the current Chinese regime” (p. 109), South Korea has expressed little fear regarding China’s rapid growth, its authoritarian regime, and mounting military capabilities, which can be taken in contrast to its stated concern about potential Japanese remilitarization (p. 104). Instead, without altering existing security arrangements based on the U.S.–ROK alliance, South Korea has actively cultivated its economic and political ties with China and “even is willing to let China take the lead on some regional issues, such as how to resolve the second North Korean nuclear crisis” (p. 125). Like South Korea, none of the Southeastern states has taken the measures to proactively counterbalance China’s rise. Even Vietnam, which had sustained uncomfortable relations with China until recently, is “accommodating and even emulating China across a range of areas, from the military to the economy to culture” (p. 145). Japan, the only state that has the capability to build up considerable counterbalance measures against China, is still maintaining an ambiguous stance toward the rise of China. This is primarily due to the reality that Japanese security and foreign policy have never drifted away from the framework of the U.S.–Japan alliance (p. 168) and that “the United States has not decided [End Page 191] how to view China or what overall U.S. policy toward it should be” (p. 192).
In spite of the numerous strengths and trenchant insights clearly presented in this book, there are two major issues that need to be clarified or improved. First, the causal relation between state identity and the nature of a regional system is somewhat confusing. When Kang suggests that “all identities are being constantly reinterpreted and defined, both by the myths people create to explain their...