China Wants to Rise Peacefully, But So What?
Image Credit: White House Photo

China Wants to Rise Peacefully, But So What?


Back in April I bemoaned the United States’ obsession with trying to convince China it isn’t seeking to contain it. Not only does Beijing not believe this nor will it ever, but Washington’s assurances that it won’t contain China are useless until it first defines what China and its own regional objectives are.

For example, I have little doubt that the U.S. will not try to contain China if Beijing aspires to be America’s junior partner in upholding the current U.S.-led regional order. However, if China’s objective is to administer the state of California, then of course the U.S. is going to try to contain it. Without some frame of reference, the U.S.’ assurances about containment are just rhetorical devices being used to avoid having the kind of serious strategic discussions that could prevent a U.S.-China conflict.

Truth be told, China is guilty of the same thing. Whereas the U.S. assures China it is not trying to contain it, Beijing endlessly assures everyone that it seeks to rise (and develop) peacefully.

I have no doubt that this is true. There is little evidence that Chinese leaders are sadistic individuals who enjoy violence for violence’s sake. Thus, so long as they are able to achieve “victory without bloodshed” in pursuing all their objectives, we should not expect Beijing’s rise to lead to any sort of armed conflict.

The issue is that China’s rise is almost certain to be resisted by its neighbors and the U.S., if only because resources are limited while states’ desires are infinite. Thus, Beijing’s rise will have to come at the expense of the status, honor, possessions, power, etc. of other states.

This is best seen in terms of China’s overlapping territorial claims with its neighbors. Both China and the Philippines desired the Scarborough Shoal, but only one state can own it.

In territorial disputes and other areas, if every state acquiesces in China’s taking of whatever they both claim, then Beijing is indeed likely to rise peacefully. But in the far more likely case that other states put up fierce resistance, then Chinese leaders’ interest in rising peacefully will have to be weighed against their desire to acquire what they believe their status as a rising power entitles them too.

What would Chinese leaders decide in different contingencies is thus crucial. If the history of other great powers is any guide, China is likely to be willing to exercise coercion or resort to force to achieve its major objectives.

For example, the U.S. in the 19th century wanted to become the regional hegemonic power of the Western Hemisphere without having to fight any European powers. Thus, when Napoleon offered to sell Louisiana at an absurdly low price, even a president as anti-expansionist as Thomas Jefferson graciously accepted. Similarly, when England’s need to handle a rising Germany back in Europe forced it to abandon its colonies in the West, the U.S. saw no reason to attack London on its way out. But when Spain selfishly clung to its few remaining colonies in the West, the U.S. ultimately deemed it worth going to war to forcibly remove Madrid.

Instead of abstract declarations about rising peacefully, then, Chinese leaders would further the cause of peace much more if they described what they value more than rising peacefully and are actually willing to fight violently to achieve.

September 1, 2013 at 23:18

China will surely in control of Tibet and Xinjiang.  The Chinese land mass and population is so many times larger than Japan.  China will survive while Japan just disappears

August 28, 2013 at 04:34

I express myself in your own words so you can understand better and appreciate the stupidity of what you said.

Kim's Uncle
August 27, 2013 at 14:31


It is part of China's Maoist education!  They are not aware it and it makes them sound like fools but they do it anyway so no wonder people laugh at China and things Chinese.  

August 27, 2013 at 01:13

Mutually Assured Destruction applies. Just as Japan can be reduced to a slag heap, the same could be done to China. Worse, Japan doesn't need to carpet the whole of China. Just the populous eastern half. Once done, Tibet and East Turkmenistan will do their part on the western half. So no. Nukes won't help at all.

August 27, 2013 at 01:10

Fravel Taylor's work was published in 2008, it seems. It doesn't cover the events since then.

Mc Arthur was too kind to Japanese war criminals
August 26, 2013 at 09:32

Your statement “leaving other nations no coast at all” is over- exaggerated, China alway reiterate that they won’t block any vessel sailing through their part of the SCS, and also, they are willing to hold talk to settle the disputes,it’s Phillipines and Japan that refuse the road to peaceful it because they think they have the big and muscular brother behind them, so they are fearless to pick fight?

Mc Arthur was too kind to Japanese war criminals
August 25, 2013 at 16:40

If claiming of 10% of the SCS is deemed arrogant and aggressive to you, how about the US which own 70% of it and had built 3 island chains around China’s boundaries in SCS?
I am not a Chinese and I live in SEA but I know the Chinese living on both sides of the Strait Of Taiwan share the same territorial view, be it Diaoyu or Nansha’s Huangyuan.only difference is Taiwan,under the leadership of president Ma,doesn’t have the guts to fight for their rights as he wants to be a good boy in the eyes of uncle Sam

August 25, 2013 at 00:49

Are you a Chinese parrot? Imitation is the highest form of flattery!  LOL

August 24, 2013 at 11:38

Contain, by US policy, means to manage China's rise so as to prevent it from taking over US's supremacy and to serve US's interest. US was not a world power before and during WWII,  After WWII, US took over the responsibilities of the European powers to save guard or took over their interest in their colonies, preventing the colonies from setting their own future.  That is "at the cost" of other nations. The strategic boundaries was set unilaterally, not for the mutual interests of the nations within that boundaries and is exclusive to some countries outside that boundaries. That is, it is not set according to the rule of law.  Countries have been observing the destructions and human calamities US is creating to the countries in the Middle East.  They don't want that to happen to them or in their backyard.

August 24, 2013 at 10:25

The biggest bully is America.  See how America order other nations to do this and that.  threaten other nations for this and that.  China has strengthen itself to the point that the big bully USA dare not fly spy planes over China or sail war ships close to Chinese coast at will.  China has no fear of a nuclear Japan. If Japan dare to use nuclear weapons, its limited territorial land cannot withstand a total destruction with a few nukes.

August 24, 2013 at 10:14

It is immature to say that China behaves like an immature teenager. Look at the  phobic paranoic America , keep saying "our leadership is in danger,in danger" to the developing countries and at the same time act like arrogant ethocentric bullies creating economic disasters and social destructions in other countries and enter military alliance with subservient client nations to save guard its leadership. Each nation has the right to develop as strong as they can.   What is wrong with that!!!!

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