John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, gave a talk on China last week at an event organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He predicts that China’s economic growth will lead to its military growth, which in turn, will result in conflicts between the U.S. and China in the future, be it 20 or 30 years from now.
“It’s a myth that many China scholars and policy makers think China is different from the U.S. and other European great powers,” said Mearsheimer.
He argued that when China grows more powerful economically, it will translate that economic might into military might and will try to dominate Asia, and meanwhile, the U.S., the hegemony in the West Hemisphere, “will go great length to prevent China from becoming a regional hegemony in Asia.”
Mearsheimer said his theory on the power of states in international politics is based on the following five assumptions:
- principal actors in international politics are states;
- all states have military offensive capacity;
- the intentions of the states are hard to predict and measure;
- principal goal for every state is to survive; and
- states will maximize their chance for survival.
He said these assumptions lead states to three forms of behavior, namely
- states fear each other;
- the best way for a state to survive is to protect itself; and
- the best way to do the prection is to be very powerful.
The international forum is an anarchy system, he emphasized, citing that the fittest survives.
“When China was weak, the other great powers took advantage of it,” he said. “It’s that experience of humiliation that makes it perfectly clear to China that it can’t let it happen again.”
He said the best way to ensure that is for China to be very powerful.
“To put it in slightly different terms, it’s for China to dominate Asia.”
But the U.S. and other countries in Asia will try to prevent China from dominating Asia, he said.
He stated that in its effort to maintain its hegemony, the U.S. succeeded in dismantling other great powers in history, including the Imperial Germany, the Nazi Germany, the Imperial Japan and Russia. It will try to contain China as well.
As China continues to grow and become stronger, the competition between the U.S. and China will be more intense. It will eventually escalate to conflicts, he concluded.
“Anything the U.S. does to defend itself will be offensive to China, and vice versa,” he said.
Mearsheimer disputed the theories of co-relation balancing, the importance of economic ties, and the “myth” that Confucian ideology deems China a peace loving country. He said at time of conflicts, politics trumpets everything.
“I’m not anti China or anti America,” he declared. “If I were an advisor of national security to the President of China, I would tell him to get the U.S. out of Asia. By the same token, if I were an advisor to the President of the United States, I would advise him to keep China out as well.”
He warned that “If China continues to grow as it did in the past 30 years and becomes a giant Hong Kong, it’s going to be unstoppable.”
“I hope China will stop growing,” he said to me when I interviewed him, and several times during his speech. That sounded quite anti China to me.
For more information on his theories, check out his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Golden Globe Winner Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.