Power in Transition
The absence of a central governing body is a short definition of anarchy. Despite what may be the better intentions of past world leaders, nothing of the sort has ever existed, nor does it appear to be on the way. In a anarchic system, power rules. A better part of the nation-state era is marked by the rise and fall of potential great powers, each epoch marked by pivotal conflicts that decided the fate of nations and the course of history. This, one could argue, is the natural order of things in the international system. For most of modern history, the power bearer has been America. Anytime a challenger arose to challenge her rule, the intrepid challenger was struck down. On the eastern horizon, there seems to be a new conflict taking shape.
Articles, books, and interviews detailing the rise of China, economically and militarily, are aplenty. Despite the differences in emphasis, the different opinions regarding China’s rise have a similar underlying theme: China’s rise in power, both real and potential, is redefining the international system and altering China’s perception of its role in global affairs. Articles like this one from Christian Caryl at Foreign Policy point to the shifting in China’s perception of its role on the global stage. Caryl states that China’s diplomacy-centered “good neighbor” policy of the past can no longer be equated with the more assertive China of today. Articles like these confirm that China is setting the stage for a transition from dormant rising start to assertive regional, and perhaps hemispheric, great power. “Charm Offensive” is out, power politics is in.
The question of whether China will continue to assert itself as the dominant player in East Asia is moot. The more important question is, how will this affect the global balance of power? If history is to be an accurate guide of the future, the answer may not be very pleasant. Unless China and the United States are able to find a modus operandi that allows the two superpowers to share a role as global superpower, some form of conflict is more than likely to occur.
Of the various “systemic schools of thought” one of the more bare-bones theory is set forth by A.F.K. Organski. In his Power Transition Theory, Organski posits the idea that when a dominant power (a hegemon or superpower) is challenged by a rising superpower, conflict is the end result. In other words, when the status quo is challenged by a rising power, the current superpower isn’t likely to stand by idly while the challenger assumes a new, more powerful position. China’s recent “aggression” may be a harbinger of conflict between the roaring dragon from the east and the soaring eagle from the west.