The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The China Debate

June 21, 2005

Robert Farley’s posted the first of a six-part series on the future of Sino-US relations. If the quality of the first post is any indication, the whole series will be an excellent primer on the debate, as well as a terrific analysis of the key issues at stake. My only concern so far is that Robert may be relying too much on “straight-line” projections: in taking current trends and extrapolating them into the future.

For example, Robert is entirely correct (as I noted previously) that China’s stopped making noises about recovering territory and influence it lost during the “century of humiliation.” But if we’d extrapolated trends from the early 1990s, when the Spratly dispute was at its height, we might have reached entirely different conclusions about the risks of growing Chinese power.

In general, Robert is right to note that the situation in East Asia is starkly different from that in Europe at the start of the Cold War. Analogies from that period are not likely to be very useful. Most of IR theorists recognize this, which is why the comparative cases tend to be with late nineteenth-century Germany and other examples of rising powers powers that were neither clearly revisionist or clearly oriented towards maintaining the status quo. One key question is whether China can continued to be “socialized” into the current order, either through normative socialization or through the use of selective incentives.

I promise to post more substantive reactions to Robert’s arguments in the future. I suspect we’ll agree on a great deal, and my general caveat is that I have no specific expertise on the subject.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.