Abstract

The greatest issue facing statecraft today is the assimilation of China into the system of the great powers. With uncertainty in the international system increasing concurrently as China transitions through critical points along its current power trajectory, this essay seeks to provide foreign policy makers intimately involved in U.S.-China relations with a broader understanding of the distinction between Chinese engagement and appeasement by comparing applications of the principles of relative power change embedded in Power Cycle Theory to China’s troubled past and historic cases of large-scale conflict. The most exigent issue facing statecraft today is the assimilation of China into the system of the great powers. When China’s long-accelerating rise on its power cycle suddenly inflects into decelerating rise, a discontinuity in its expectations regarding its future foreign policy role and security is likely to occur. Political uncertainty will cloud decision-making throughout the system. By comparing historical applications of the principles of relative power change embedded in Power Cycle Theory to China’s future power trajectory, policy-makers can observe the challenges China is likely to face. Six lessons stand out. 1. No state is immune to structural change, 2. Rising states seek a larger foreign policy role, but this role cannot come at the expense of others, 3. The most recent systems transformation in 1989 holds clues to the management of a future transformation, 4. The bounds of the system will force China to contend with much slower relative power growth, 5. This abrupt encounter will shatter China’s future foreign policy expectations, and lastly, 6. Dynamic equilibrium reveals that China is not “the challenger” and the US is not “the hegemon.” Weighing these lessons, policy-makers will, without slipping into appeasement, recognize the danger of shying away from engagement.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-4724
Print ISSN
1945-4716
Pages
pp. 73-87
Launched on MUSE
2012-05-10
Open Access
No
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