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ASIANPERSPECTIVE, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2008, pp. 171-182. Commentary DOES CHINA'S RISE THREATEN THE UNITED STATES? Jinghao Zhou Power Transition? Since the Chinese government launched its reforms, the economy has been taking off with extraordinary speed for almost three decades. If the economy continues to grow at such astro­ nomical levels, China will be in position to surpass the United States in the next few decades. China's rise has an immediate impact on every aspect of Western societies, both in opportuni­ ties and in challenges for other countries. In world history, "There have been two great shifts of power on the world stage during the past five centuries: the rise of Europe following the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the United States after its Civil War."1 Power transitions usually come with international conflicts. Rising powers want to gain more authority in the global system, and declining countries are afraid of loss of their dominant position. Thus, conflict, even a war, between a rising power and a declining power is likely to happen. In this sense, Westerners worry that historical tragedies will repeat between the United States and China. Many Americans think that China's rise is weakening Western societies and fostering fears in the United States and the AsiaPacific region, while China is using Western capital to build up 1. Li Yi, Structure and Evolution of Chinese Social Stratification (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2005). 172 Jinghao Zhou its strength,2 As early as 1997, Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro in their book The Coming Conflict with China argued that war between China and the United States was a distinct possibility. In 2005, Robert D. Kaplan contended that whether or not there will be a Sino-American war is no longer a question. The only ques­ tion, he wrote, is how the United States should fight China.3 John Mearsheimer warned that "The United States and China are like­ ly to engage in an intense security competition with considerable potential for war."4 Fareed Zakaria goes further, saying that "When a new power rises it inevitably disturbs the balance of power."5 Susan L. Shirk, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, suggests that "China needs to reassure the United States that China's rise is not a threat and will not chal­ lenge America's dominant position."6 China is rising, I maintain, but China's rise does not neces­ sarily threaten the United States. The typical power transition is not inevitable, because "not all power transitions generate war or overturn the old order."7 Whether or not China will threaten the United States will be determined not by China's economic strength but by the essence of China's political system. An eco­ nomically strong China is not a threat, but the collapse of China would inevitably disturb the global peace, especially for devel­ oped countries. In March 2007, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said that Washington should not fear China's growing defense spend­ ing, should not fear that Beijing's overseas investments will 2. Jeffrey A. Bader, John L. Thornton, and Richard C. Bush III, "Confronting the China Challenge," The Baltimore Sun, April 20, 2007, online at www. 3. Robert D. Kaplan, "How We Would Fight China," Atlantic Monthly, April 28, 2005, online at 4. Quoted in John Ikenberry, "The Rise of China and the Future of the West," Foreign Affairs, vol. 87, No. 1 (January-February, 2008), pp. 23-37, online at / the-rise-of-china-and-the-future-of-the-west.html. 5. Fareed Zakaria, "The Rise of a Fierce Yet Fragile Superpower," Newsweek, December 31, 2007-January 7, 2008, online at 81588. 6. Susan L. Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 9. 7. Ikenberry, "The Rise of China and the Future of the West." Does China's Rise Threaten the United States? 173 destabilize the dollar, and should not even fear the successful anti-satellite missile test that the military undertook in January 2007.8 In order...


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