Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on the Rise of China: Long Cycles, Power Transitions, and China's Ascent

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on the Rise of China: Long Cycles, Power Transitions, and China's Ascent

Article excerpt

HISTORICAL PATTERNS REVEAL THAT ECONOMIC CHANGES ARE MAJOR driving forces behind political shifts in the international system. If one economy grows much faster than others for an extended period of time, it is a significant indication of the rise of a new global power (Kennedy 1987, 2010). In this context, China's meteoric economic ascent for the past several decades has had crucial repercussions for the international system, making the implications of its rise one of the most hotly debated or discussed topics in the study of international affairs in recent years (Allison 2017; Friedberg 2011; Ikenberry 2008; Jacques 2012; Subramanian 2011). In these debates or discussions, one important question is whether China will have the capacity to exercise international or global hegemony. Another crucial question is whether the expected transitional period in international history between US system dominance and China's ascent will be peaceful or conflictual. In my definition, international or global hegemony is a state's capability to create and maintain international or global rules and order in cooperation with its allies using various means including diplomacy, coercion, and the use of force. As will be discussed in detail later, an international or global hegemon enjoys the largest share of the global economy's total output, a leading or dominant position in interstate military competition, and other capabilities and advantages.

In this article, I concentrate on these two important questions and attempt to answer them with the aid of historical and theoretical lenses. Patterns of historical events are often repeated, but not in exactly the same way. We may not find a governing law in the rise and fall of great powers or global power shifts and may have to acknowledge the existence of irregularities, anomalies, and chance effects in these processes. We can nevertheless identify certain repeated patterns and general tendencies in international political change and draw out some policy lessons by applying those patterns and tendencies to the rise of China. The article relies on long cycle and power transition theories among others because these theories focus on the recurrent historical patterns of international political change and seek to explain the causes and outcomes of the change systematically. These theories are located in the realist paradigm in a broad sense, but as will be discussed later some liberal and constructivist elements (the democratic peace thesis and the role of ideational motives) can be combined with them.

This article is organized as follows. In the first section I explore the main arguments of long cycle and power transition perspectives and draw out some useful historical and theoretical insights from them. In the second section I apply those historical and theoretical insights to the ascent of China and its impact on the international political system. I examine whether China will be able to take global political leadership. In the third section I discuss whether the rise of China will ultimately result in an armed conflict with the current system leader, the United States. To address this question, I investigate recent developments in Beijing's foreign policies along with its new rhetorical signals and the influence of China's historical legacies on its national strategies. In this section I also discuss some policy lessons that are drawn out from this research. In the conclusion, I summarize the study's main arguments.

History, Long Cycles, and Power Transitions

According to long cycle theory (Goldstein 1988; Modelski 1987; Thompson 1990, 2006), one dominant or hegemonic power has exercised global political leadership in each historical period (one or two generations) since the rise of the modern state system. For example, if we follow the model of Modelski (1987) and Thompson (2006), the following is a summary of global political leadership changes in the modern period: Portugal (sixteenth century), the Netherlands (seventeenth century), Great Britain (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), and the United States (post-World War II era). …

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