The Investment Scientist

Will China Rise Peacefully?

Posted on: October 20, 2013

ImageTwo days ago I went to listen to a geopolitical lecture given by Professor Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago.

Professor Mearsheimer is a geopolitical realist. He has an intriguing theory about global political order which states that there is a 75% chance that the US and China will come into conflict.

I care about this subject because, being a Chinese American, I know that my life would not be too pleasant should that come to pass.

Professor Mearsheimer’s theory is based on the assumption that the global order is anarchic, by that he means there is no higher authority above states, and that each state will fight for a better position in the order.

The US, now being number 1, is not going to willingly give up the top spot, and China, if given the opportunity, is not going to settle for second best.

Professor Mearsheimer explains how the US became #1 in the first place:

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1. By establishing itself as a regional hegemon that dominates its neighbors with an insurmountable power gap.

2. By pushing European powers out of the western hemisphere.

3. By roaming the world without the need to worry about its own backyard.

Professor Mearsheimer believes that China is taking steps to establish itself as regional hegemon like the US did a hundred years ago, however the US isn’t about to let that one fly. Thus the “pivot”, or the moving of military assets to the Pacific.

There are a lot of caveats to Professor Mearsheimer’s theory though. The biggest of which is that China does not yet have a shot at becoming #1; his theory may only apply if China keeps growing like crazy for another twenty years. But at least 50% of economists believe that China will stall in its current growth path, and it will have its hands too full with issues at home to be thinking about vying for the top spot.

The other caveat which the professor doesn’t think is important, but I’m inclined to disagree, is that the US economy and the Chinese economy have become quite the Siamese twins over the years. This may sound like a joke but unless China feels like footing the bill, the US can’t afford to take China out for a night of dinner and a little romantic artillery exchange. And if China becomes openly hostile with the US, it can surely say goodbye to the 1.3T it has lent to the US already.

No doubt there will be a lot going on along the general contour of the good professor’s theory, but open military conflict? I don’t think so.

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3 Responses to "Will China Rise Peacefully?"

Hello Michael,
I would like to point out that, for the most part, individuals are rational look out for their own interests and the interests of their society but people as a group can behave irrationally, especially when led by sociopaths who are capable of only self-interest. (Need I give examples, both geo-political and geo-financial?) I hope that you are correct, but fear that Professor Mearsheimer may be. Given that both states have nuclear weapons, the question may not be “if?”, but “how bad?”. I have been pleasantly surprised at final outcomes in my own lifetime, e.g. Russia and USA’s cold war, but many people died even during their protracted proxy conflicts. Regards, Jerry

Today’s news about the astonishing statement made by kids on TV show towards China might shed some new light on this discussion.

I have found this kid on youtube has better grasp of China than the good professor from Univ of Chicago:

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Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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