Academic journal article Parameters

China's Military Mercantilism

Academic journal article Parameters

China's Military Mercantilism

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The People's Republic is a great power in search of a grand strategy. China's maritime adventurism reflects the fragmentation of foreign policy, and the coupling of commercial interests with military force. Without effective statecraft, PLA planning could all too easily become national policy. Creative US initiatives would help to salve historical grievances and reconcile China's disruptive ambitions with the world order.


The future of global security will be largely determined by China's response to the established international order. In recent years E nationalist rhetoric, revisionist maritime borders and regular confrontation has undermined the party line of a "peaceful rise," and threatens to inveigle US forces. Why does China menace its neighbors at sea, and what should the United States do about it?

Most arguments concerning the role of China in the international system can be reduced to two broad theoretical perspectives. The first view is liberal institutionalist: China might indulge in populist nationalism, but is not historically expansionist. It remains committed to a peaceful rise within the current international framework. The second view is generally realist: China is bent on the aggressive accumulation of wealth, power and natural resources in a quest for regional hegemony--a return to the Middle Kingdom.

This article will advance a third argument: China has identified a path to national greatness without yet comprehending what the destination might look like. In the absence of a comprehensive national strategy or theoretical philosophy, military and mercantilist imperatives are unduly influencing Chinese statecraft at sea. This trend points to the disproportionate weight of state-owned enterprises and the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) in the execution of foreign policy.

Chinese ambitions are often served by increasing chaos and the erosion of international norms. But this course is unnecessarily dangerous, threatening to isolate potential allies, alienate Taiwan, and even trigger armed conflict with Japan. This course would enmesh the United States and cripple the global economy, potentially unleashing chaos within China.

The Chinese will determine their own destiny, but Washington should encourage Beijing to consolidate, not diminish the existing international system. This article will outline ways in which the United States could work with Australia and Japan towards this end by promoting international law, managing local conflict and reducing regional tensions.

The Liberal Institutionalist Argument

Liberal institutionalists are confident the existing order can accommodate rising powers without recourse to violence. According to John Ikenberry the contemporary system is open, integrated, and rule-based; with strong political foundations, meaning China is not compelled to overthrow the United States in order to realize national greatness. Moreover, nuclear weapons have made war among great powers unlikely. Today's world order is "hard to overturn and easy to join." (1)

China's interest in adhering to international norms is based on three main principles:

1. The open market--China has generated enormous wealth from free trade,

2. The multilateral character of global institutions, which diffuse hegemony and can adapt to reflect evolution in the international order, and

3. The resilience of established rules and norms, which encourage unprecedented co-operation and shared authority.

Zheng Bijian generally endorses each of these points, noting other emerging nations have plundered their way to power by exploiting overseas resources through invasion, colonization, expansion, or even large-scale wars of aggression. He writes (in 2005) that China's emergence has been driven by capital, technology, and resources acquired through peaceful means, in accordance with the policies of Deng Xiaoping. …

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