IR Theories and the Future of U.S-ChinaRelations
Table of Contents
I. Introduction 3
II. The U.S-China Relations 4
III. Realism and the Future of the U.S-China Relations 4
IV. Constructivism and the Future of the U.S-China Relations 10
V. Liberalism and the Future of the U.S-China Relations 14
VI. Conclusion 20
VII. Reference List 21
The dominance of the United States and the riseof China are the two main factors that make the relationship betweenthe two countries debatable. Therelationship between these two countries is conscious in the worldbecause of the economic strength of the two countries and thesignificance of their political influence. In addition, the Chineseeconomy is gaining strength that places the populous country as apotential superpower (Sutter,2013:21). This fact makes therelationship between the countries a subject of scrutiny by politicalanalysts. This paper will explore this relationship using theinternational relations theories.
Therefore, this paper will adopt Realism,liberalism, and constructivism as the international relationstheories to analyze the relationship between the United States andChina. The application of the theoretical perspectives provides anappropriate conceptual framework through which the U.S-Chinarelationship can be analyzed and predicted (Weber, 2004:15).Thetheoretical frameworks help inthe determination of the type of relationships existing betweencountries and predict such relations in the future (Jackson& Sorensen, 2013:21). Thefocus of this paper will be on the application of the internationalrelations theories to predict to the relationship between the U.S andChina. This paper will explore how well these theories can be used topredict the future of the US-China relations.
This essay will assert that the internationalrelations theories provide an understanding of past events andpredictions on some future events. Therefore, the discussion in thepaper will explore the use of the theories in understanding theUS-China relations. In addition, this paper will examine thearguments by liberalists, realists, and constructivists, payingparticular attention to the disagreements within these traditions. Inexploring the US-China relations using these theories, this paperwill support the arguments with empirical evidence from the past andpresent cases of the relationship between the two countries.
II. The U.S-China Relations
The relationship between the United States andChina is a complex type of international relations because of theirinfluence in the world and the way they view each other. Over time,each country has viewed each other as an adversary as well as astrategic partner (Sutter,2013:12). The view of each otheras an adversary arises because of the suspicion that each country isseeking to dominate over the other or dominate the world economy.However, the two countries view each other as strategic partners whoshould cooperate with each other. On January 9, 2011, the leaders ofthe two countries, President Obama and President Jintao proclaimedtheir cooperation and commitment to growing a comprehensive positiverelationship (White House, 2011:1).
However, the U.S and China have had differentrelationship circumstances that are defined by the foreign policiesthey adopt. Most of the relationship statuses are defined bypolitical and economic events in the world where each of thesecountries takes different perspectives (Sutter,2013:221). While these twoleaders pronounced commitments, they have recorded strainedrelationships. One of the causes for strained relationships arisesbecause of the blame game for climatic conditions (Sutter, 2013:225).Another case of conflict is the Chinese interests in militarizationthat are aimed at countering the U.S military strength (Pennington,2014:1). Such cases show how the relationship between the twocountries has been strained because of the activities and policiestaken by the two nations.
III. Realism and the Future of the U.S-ChinaRelations
According to Burchill, realismtakes a proposition of evaluating relationships between countriesbased on the current facts and a set of existing set of beliefs(Burchill et al, 2005:24). Realism ismetaphysically entailed by any form of the verifiable fact or truththat corresponds to the facts(Jackson & Sorensen, 2013:43).In international relations, the appropriate application of realism isbased on current verifiable facts about the relationship between acountry with others (Jackson& Sorensen, 2013:44).According to realists, countries will have better relationships ifthey have current verifiable benefits, interests or anticipated gainsin the future.
One important aspect of realism is that it isthe ontological thesis that the world exists independently of howpeople think about it or describe it(Jackson & Sorensen, 2013:25).This means that the U.S-China relations can be independentlypredicted based on the way their past and present relations are, andnot how people think. However, the type or nature of depends on thespecific circumstances that relate to the two countries (Sutter,2013:12). Therefore, a realistperspective can be explored depending on issues being considered andthe prevailing circumstances (Sutter,2013:12). In regard to theU.S-China relations, the application of the realism can be used topredict its future if the appropriate perspectives of the realistsare considered.
According to realists the relationship betweenthe U.S and China will be cordial and cooperative in the future. Thisis because China will be seeking to gain financially from therelationship with the most powerful and developed economy in theworld. According to Wohlforth, the US is currently the most powerfulstate and no state, or combination of states, can overcome its power(Wohlforth, 1999:21-37). Instead of trying to balance the US’spower, most states find that joining the US is a better option aschallenging US interests will have no gains (Wohlforth & Brooks,2002:28). Thus, realist optimists claim that if China wants tocontinue to prosper more, it will have to avoid confrontation withthe US. This is because a conflict could only lead to the distancingof China from the international market, which will cause its economicgrowth to weaken (Chambers, 2002:69-76).
More particularly, the realist pessimists tendto wrongly mix capabilities with intentions, which is why theybelieve that China’s aims are expanding. Realist pessimists makeassumptions based on the past, which may not necessarily apply toChina because of its unique history with the US. However, realistoptimists refuse to believe that China’s aims are expanding, andclaim that it has very limited goals. As Randel Schweller (1999)notes, rising power’s ambitions differ due to their differentstances regarding the status quo. He also points out that thesepowers vary dramatically when it comes to their willingness to takerisks (Schweller, 1999:18-22). Today’s China is very different toCold War China that was determined to spread communist valuesindeed, today’s China has let go of many of its communisttraditions (Johnston, 2003:23-27). If the impressive economic growthcan be put aside, it can be clearly seen that its aims are very‘conservative’ (Ross, 1997:33).
The current interests of the two countries canbe used as a realist evidence of predicting the future of theChina-U.S relations. While the US is interested in the Northeast andmaritime Southeast Asia, China is interested in Central Asia andcontinental Southeast Asia (Ross, 1999:89-93). Thus, Ross concludesthat their interests will not overlap, which means that there will beno reason for the escalation of conflict, except perhaps with KoreanPeninsula, Taiwan, and the Spratly Islands (Ross, 1999:89-93).Assuming that issues over these three areas can be peacefullyresolved, there is little chance or a reason for the US-Chinarelations to deteriorate. The main issue with this peacefulresolution is that it is a mere assumption.
The future relationship will also be shaped bythe Chinese interest in dominating the Asian economic and politicalrealm. Some realists have pointed out that before China’s fall thecountry had been the dominant force in Asia. Thus, as China grows andadapts to its rising power, it might be tempted to seek its pastposition in Asia (Mosher, 2000:26). Consequently, if China’s aim isreally to ‘maximize its influence within East Asia relative to theUS’, then confrontation between the US and China is certain becausethe US has opposed ‘the dominance of either half of Eurasia by ahostile power or coalition’ for the past century (Kissinger,2001:112). However, realist pessimists do not take into account thatthe past offers us lessons, and therefore it is very unlikely thatChina will adopt an aggressive foreign policy.
Even if some realist pessimists do not believethat China, displacing the US in East Asia will cause tensionsbetween the two powers, it is hard to ignore the friction that couldarise due to the security dilemma (Jervis, 1978:169-172). Tibetand Taiwan are perfect cases for this issue because China has beentrying to control them for decades, and because the US cannot ignoreits duty as the international security watchdog, thus, it is bound tocondemn China’s actions. This could make China feel intimidatedcausing it to increase its soldiers and bases, which in turn willlead to more American soldiers and more disapproving speeches, whichwill automatically create a vicious inescapable cycle (Christensen,1999:70-79).
Accordingly, the US may feel the need to deployforces to Japan in order to prevent China from attacking it, however,this will aggravate the Chinese people, as they will feel that the USis trying to surround them (McDevitt, 2000:179-184). Similarly, theChinese may misinterpret the US’s attempts to increase theiralliances in Asia as directed at China and as aggressive towards itsinterests. Along similar lines, if China attempts to strengthen itsrelationship with other countries in the region the US will probablyview this as evidence of expansionist aims (Christensen, 1999:56-63).
Realist optimists argue that the two powers canbe predicted to be relatively restrained in the future because of thepossession of nuclear weapons. According to Goldstein, nuclearweapons offer a strong reason for the expectation that the dangersassociated with China’s arrival as a full-fledged great power willbe limited’ (1998:70). He also argues that the US and China havealready entered into an ‘established relationship of mutualdeterrence that provides not only a robust buffer against generalwar, but also a strong constraint on both limited war and crisisbehavior’ (Goldstein, 1998:70). Other realist optimists such asRobert Ross and Michael McDevitt claim that because of theirdifferent geographical interests, the US-China relation will continueto be peaceful (Ross, 1999:85 McDevitt, 2001:101-105).
While some realists agree on the positiveUS-China Relations, others take a pessimistic look at thecircumstances between the two countries. According to realists, thehistory is nothing but a ‘vicious circle’ because of the‘persistence of international anarchy’ (Friedberg, 2005:17).Still, not all realists agree on the future of the US-ChinaRelations despite the dominant group believing that conflict isunavoidable, some realists believe that China’s growth will notthreaten the stability of the world order. There are two types ofrealists the optimist realists and pessimist realists (Jackson& Sorensen, 2013:51). In thecase for US-China Relations, both optimist and pessimist realistsbase their argument on three grounds China’s power, China’saims, and the security dilemma. This section will first look atrealist pessimists’ argument and then at realist optimists’argument.
According to realist pessimists, the mostimportant factor to take into account when looking at the future ofthe US-China relations is China’s rising power. Since its economicreforms in the late 1970s, China has been rapidly growing and itsgross national product (GNP) has more than doubled (Yeh, 2001:71-83).Furthermore, China’s economy is also growing in terms of its massand potential – a larger part of the population is now involved inthe market and productivity levels have impressively risen (Maddison,1998:95-99). Accordingly, many realist pessimists claim that Chinamight regain its position as the world’s largest economy as soon as2050 (Wilson & Purushothaman, 2003:9).
The accompanying China’s economic growth isits military development during the past decade, China’sexpenditure on military equipment has dramatically increased (BBC,2015). Currently, China is capable of engaging with importedsophisticated weapons and is expected to start exporting excessweapons soon. According to realist pessimists, this rapid growth inthe economy and defense sectors could intimidate the US yet, AliceBa argues that some ASEAN states still think of China’s power asvery limited, especially relative to the US (Ba, 2014:148-149). Thisimplies that pessimists have stretched the truth in order to provetheir point, but what they have proven is that their theory does notcover all the forces shaping the future of the US-China relations.
According to realism, the current facts andtruths can be used to predict the future. In the regard to China andthe U.S, the current dominance of the latter and the rise of theformer can be used to predict their future relations as two world’sleading economies (North and Choucri, 1975:51-57). The rise of Chinaas an economic power will influence the nature of the futurerelationship between China and America. According to Robert North andNazli Choucri, rising powers are usually inclined to challengeinternational institutions and boundaries, this is mainly becausethey feel that these institutions were placed while they were weak,and therefore they did not have a say in their establishment (Northand Choucri, 1975:51-57). This will cause collisions between therising power and its counterparts, which are rarely solvedpeacefully.
There are two ways of dealing with thisproblem. First, the dominant power can attempt to destroy the risingpower’s growth by using force or secondly, it can try to engageand incorporate them into the already existing international order(Schweller, 1999:9-16). Powers usually choose to take the second pathas it is more peaceful unfortunately, this rarely works becauserising powers often have demands that are either absurd, so theycannot be met, or are met too quickly by the dominant power, so therising power gets greedy and demands more.  In fact, even whenthe demands are not irrational, powers are regularly reluctant tocompromise, thereby aggravating the rising power’s government.
From a realist point of view, it is possible toarrive at a relatively optimistic conclusion regarding the future ofthe US-China relations on realist grounds. The perspectives of thetwo groups of realists the realist optimists and the realistpessimists, can be used to predict the US-China relations. Realistoptimists believe that China’s power is not growing as rapidly assome people think that China’s aims are modest and thatinternational institutions will guide the US and China away frommisinterpretations that could occur as a result of the securitydilemma (Segal, 1999:27-33).
IV. Constructivism and the Future of theU.S-China Relations
Constructivism claims that the nature andstructure of international relations are constructed in historicaland social terms and not as a result of human action or consciousfeatures of interstate politics. Weber (2004) argues that the socialstructures and action of the states define their identities in theprocess of identifying and reaching their interests in theinternational arena. Jacksonand Sorensen (2013) argue thatthe continued processes that each state engages into by practicingsocial interaction and integration leads to social construction ininternational relations. Therefore, constructivists take thestructures of international relations between the United States andChina to be determined by human association that leads to sharing ofideas between the two(Jackson & Sorensen, 2013).This means that the identities and the interests of the U.S and Chinaare constructed by common ideologies formed by the interactionbetween the two countries.
Constructivism suggests that there are twoclear rules for constructivists that the structures of humanassociation are determined primarily by shared ideas rather thanmaterial forces and ‘that the identities and interests of purposiveactors are constructed by these shared ideas rather than given bynature’ (Wendt, 1999:1). This leads constructivists to argueamongst themselves about the future of the US-China relations. Someconstructivists believe that despite US fears and recurring speechesregarding China’s growth and the threat that it poses China willnot see itself as an enemy of the US (Friedberg, 2005:34-38).However, other constructivists believe the opposite (Friedberg,2005:34-38). This section will look at constructivist optimists’argument and then constructivist pessimists’ argument.
In regard to the US-China relations, it isimportant to look at the different perspectives of the constructivistoptimists and the constructivist pessimists. Constructivist optimistsbelieve that because interactions construct our views of one another,new interactions in the global economy between the US and China willlead both states to alter their negative view of one another (Wendt,1994:384-397).  According to constructivists, as long as theviews of the two countries are based on the interactions rather thanmaterial objects, then they can always be changed. Additionally,constructivist optimists point at China’s increasing participationin international institutions as a sign of it moving away from itsprevious beliefs on the importance of military conflict (Wendt,1992:412). This, to them, suggests that the US will see China under apositive light.
According to constructivist optimists, the ColdWar ended in the 1980s because of interactions between the US andUSSR’s scientists and defense experts. Furthermore, the Chineseculture is also changing and slowly becoming more liberal every day,this according to Johnston and Evans, reflects that China is becoming‘more sensitive to social incentives’ and more terrified of‘appearing to be the pariah’ (Johnston & Evans, 1999:265).This further strengthens the optimists’ view that China’sincreasing involvement in international institutions and its desireto be accepted in the international community will generate morestability in Asia (Johnston and Evans, 1999:291-312). Yet, it can beargues that China is covering its strong communist beliefs in orderto gain power and be able to turn on the Unites States.
On the other hand, constructivist pessimistsbelieve that already exciting social structures between the US andChina are based on mistrust, tension, suspicion and that theirrelationship is weighed down by a conflict-ridden past. Indeed, Wendt(Wendt, 1995) states that ‘sometimes social structures so constrainaction that transformative strategies are impossible’ (Wendt,1995:80). Accordingly, constructivist pessimists worry that it maytake decades in order for the US and China to construct a positivedomestic image of each other, if they ever do (Berger, 2000:420).Wendt also notes that once beliefs and expectations are established,it becomes ‘an objective social fact that reinforces certainbehaviors and discourages others’ (Wendt, 1992:411).
In addition, constructivists view the actionsor gestures of countries as the determinants of the human interactionthat shape the inter-state relations (Burchill et al,2005:43). These actions can be interpreted topredict the relationship between the two countries. For example,China’s evasion of international agreements – on proliferation ofarms and weapons of mass destruction – has reflected to the US theidea that its aims do not coincide with China’s (Shambaugh,2000:110). Following this, the US condemned this evasion, which ledto China being sanctioned (Shambaugh, 2000:110). The Chineseinterpreted this as an attack on their right to have a strong defensesector, which not only strengthened nationalism in their politicaldiscourse but also solidified Chinese leaders’ suspicions of theUS’s strategy to undermine them (Shambaugh, 2000:111). By the sametoken, China’s detention of US spy plane’s crew in 2001 fornearly a week also hardened the US leaders’ distrust for China.
In addition to previously constructed views,constructivist pessimists also worry about what they call ‘speechacts’. According to Nicholas Onuf, ‘speech acts are the act ofspeaking in a form that gets someone else to act. Whether a speechact accomplishes anything depends on if the recipient responds towhat they hear’. He also notes that the more the speech act isrepeated the more people are affected by it (Kubalkova et al.,1998:65-66). Therefore, continuous speeches, by both the US andChina, promoting the idea of the other as the competitor willeventually become a ‘convention’, which will then become a ‘norm’or a ‘rule’ (Kubalkove et al., 1998:66-71).
Moreover, constructivism can be used tointerpret the speeches by the two countries about each other, topredict their future relations. Some constructivist pessimists gofurther to say that the US is turning China into an enemy by repeatedspeeches that will likely be misinterpreted (Bowring, 2009:8).Furthermore, it is important to note that reports are not the onlysource of misinterpretations presidential candidates,vice-presidents, military leaders, and presidents have alsocontributed, quite strongly, to this (Cordon, 2011:2-3). While theseexamples may appear one sided, it is important to remember that Chinais also doing the same thing. Thus, constructivist pessimistsconclude that because of distrust and misinterpretations, conflictbetween the US and China is inevitable (Bowring, 2009:8).Nonetheless, constructivist pessimists have forgotten that just likethere are negative speeches and reports, there are a lot of positiveones. This suggests that constructivism is uncertain as well, andthat it only accounts for certain aspects, not all aspects of thereal situation.
V. Liberalism and the future of U.S-ChinaRelations
Liberalism is a theory that is based on theprinciples of liberty and equality among all countries (Burchillet al, 2005:46). Liberalism takes countries asentities concerned more with absolute gains and not individual gainsin relation to other countries. Liberalists in internationalrelations try to explain the reason for the lack of cooperation amongdifferent countries (Jackson& Sorensen, 2013:62).According to liberalists, the US and China will only cooperate ifthere is a joint profitability arrangement that is established bycompromises to create mutual gains. However, liberalism does not ruleout dominance because countries may seek individualistic gains whenthe pursuit for mutuality fails. Therefore, the application ofliberalism can be used to understand and predict the future of theUS-China relations.
A large percentage of Americans are liberalsbecause they pursue liberalism as an ideology that promises peace,cooperation and consideration between countries (Doyle,1997:251-260). However, when it comes to the future of the US-Chinarelations, not all liberals believe that a conflict is evitable. Toexplore the view of liberalism in regard to the conflict, it isimportant to look at the two main classes of liberals liberaloptimists and liberal pessimists. The optimistic liberals argue thatthe pacifying power of economic interdependence, internationalinstitutions, and democratization – the ‘Kantian triangle’, asBruce Russett and John Oneal call these three factors – are enoughto ensure peace (Doyle, 1997:275-300 Russett and Oneal, 2001:15).However, liberal pessimists emphasize the internal structures of theUS and China and their interactions with each other to show thatconflict is very likely (Moravcsik, 1997:523).
Liberal optimists believe that bilateraleconomic exchange between the US and China will lead to stronger,more stable relations (Friedberg, 2005:12). They rely, as explainedabove, on the ‘Kantian triangle’ to structure their argumentconcerning the future of US-China relations. Norman Angell’spredictions in The Great Illusion,according to liberal optimists, havecome true, as it is more expensive to conquer a country militarilythan economically, thus there is no reason to go to war (Angell,1910:32). Optimist liberals therefore believe that the best way ofmaintaining a peaceful world is by further integration of China andChinese companies into the international market (Rosecrance,1999:155).
The liberalists view that the mutuality of thefinancial ties that the U.S and China have predicts a continuedrelationship between the two countries. The economic exchange betweenthe two powers has increased dramatically since the late 1970s(US-China Security Review Commission, 2002:38-39). During the past 15years, we have witnessed China cumulatively invest US$36 billion(Russel, 2014). Moreover, ‘between 2000 and 2011, US exports toChina grew by 542 percent compared to 80 percent export growth withthe rest of the world’ (Freeman, 2012:181).
Another point that Liberal optimists note isthe rise of capital flow from the US into China (US-China SecurityReview Commission, 2002:47) this according to some liberals does notonly increase the interdependence between the two states, but alsoassures China that the US is not trying to go to war with it.Moreover, China is increasingly opening its markets to foreign goodsand capital, which means that the US and China will become moredependent on one another (Friedberg, 2005:13 Hormats et al., 2001).This will increases the amount of people that will benefit frompassive relations between the US and China, thus, they will promotepeace.
According to the optimist liberals the rationalconclusion is that an ‘outbreak of conflict’ is highly unlikelybecause of the economic benefits. According to them, there ‘wouldnot only be a loss of access to export markets, but also loss ofaccess to inputs’ (Foot, 2014:137). These two markets, according toJohn Ravenhill, are crucial for international competitiveness and caneasily be affected by conflict (Ravenhill, 2014: 358-369).Nevertheless, optimist liberals also believe that the more Chinabecomes integrated into the international market, the more itsinternal systems will change and become westernized (Friedman,1999:155). Economically, China has accepted capitalism, butpolitically China remains a strong communist country. However, itcould be argued that optimists have neglected the role of competitionand greed, which are the concepts on which capitalist markets arebuilt this competition could lead to conflict. Thus, this point isquestionable due to its limitations.
Liberal optimists further believe that therelationship between the United States and China will be positivebecause of the ole of the peacekeeping instruments in internationalinstitutions. Apart from the economic interdependence among nations,liberal optimists believe that numerous international institutionscan be considered instruments of peacekeeping (Friedberg, 2005:13).They believe that these institutions increase transparency betweenstates, which in turn increases trust amongst them due to decreaseduncertainty of intentions and increased capability of committing tointernational laws and plans (Martin and Simmons, 1998:734-737).Liberal optimists note that during the past 30 years, there has beena ‘proliferation of regional institutions in East Asia’(Friedberg, 2005:13). These institutions involve different analystsand scholars, who facilitate military discussions and officialsecurity discourses (Lampton, 2001:169).
In addition, during the past decade China hasrequested entry into several international institutions, such as theWorld Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Nuclear Non-proliferationregime (Lampton, 2001:165-176). China is also becoming increasinglyactive in the United Nations (Lampton, 2001:163). Thus, the more theUS and China communicate through international organisations, themore they will trust each other (Economy, 2004:102). In fact, liberaloptimists often take it further to say that China’s participationin these institutions will diffuse its power making the global ordermore stable (Okensberg and Economy, 1999:15-17).
Similarly, the more China participates, themore it will feel that it has gotten its old respect back as a greatpower, thus it will seek to continue to participate in theseinstitutions. This desire will lead China to avoid taking decisionsthat might cause conflict with the US (Johnston and Evans, 1999:245).Once again, optimists have omitted to take into account the tensionsthat the United Nations could create between the two powers due totheir conflicting interests, which they could easily pursue by usingthe veto vote (Weber, 2004:23). Thissuggests that although liberalism can give us some insight, it cannotbe used to foresee the future of the US-China relations.
Liberal optimists believe in democracy’spower to bring about peace. Although, they believe that democraciessometimes behave aggressively or wage war on non-democracies, theybelieve that democratic states do not go to war with each other(Russett, 1993:11). Consequently, they believe that the probabilityof conflict between the US and China will decrease dramatically ifChina was to become a democracy. A democratic China would, accordingto them, seek peaceful resolutions for Taiwan and Tibet (Foot,2014:135). Unfortunately, they observe that China’s path towardsdemocracy is still very long (Pei, 1995:70-73). Still, they arguethat economic growth will bring around democracy in China as itcontinues to engage with Western democratic countries (Rowen,1996:64-67). To support their argument they often point to China’sincreasing social westernization. They believe that China will becomemore comfortable with Capitalism and thus will leave behind theremains of its communist thought (Friedman, 1999:155).
Likewise, embracing capitalism will lead to afree, unbiased media and eventually to the freedom of allinstitutions because capitalism depends on ‘free flows ofinformation’ (Friedberg, 2005:15). Moreover, economic freedom,according to President George W. Bush, ‘creates habits of liberty.And habits of liberty create expectations of democracy’ (Bush,1999). As the years go by, China will realize that it will only reachthe same level of prosperity as the US if it becomes democratic(Brown, 1996:40). As it does, liberal optimists expect that the US’srelations with China will stabilize.
Unlike liberal optimists, liberal pessimistsclaim that conflict between the US and China is inevitable. Theybelieve that China is an authoritarian state that is slowly becomingdemocratic however, they worry about the confrontation that mighthappen during this transition (Friedberg, 2005:29). Democratizationcreates a power vacuum that draws in political competitors, whosometimes use nationalism as a way of appealing to people thereforedemocratizing states are more prone to adapting aggressive foreignpolicies than democratic or authoritarian regimes (Mansfield andSnyder, 1995:8-12).
In a similar way, liberal pessimists worry thatChina’s government is increasingly using nationalism and promisesof continuous prosperity to appeal to citizens. The fundamental issuewith this, according to pessimists, is that if the economy was to‘falter’, then the Chinese government will have to rely more onnationalist appeals to stay in power (Friedberg, 2005:30). This couldlead to China adopting an aggressive foreign policy, especiallytowards Japan and the US, which in turn could lead to open conflict(Zhao, 2000:33-37). And even if China were to become a democracy,liberal pessimists argue that a democratic China may still behaveassertively.
Liberal pessimists have also taken into accountthe possibility of China not becoming a democratic state. Theybelieve that if China remains an authoritarian state and the UScontinues to promote democratic policies across the globe, thenconflict between the two powers is certain (Friedberg, 2005:31).According to Michael Doyle, ‘the very constitutional restraint,shared commercial interests, and international respect for individualrights that promote peace among liberal societies can exacerbateconflicts in relations between liberal and non-liberal societies’(Doyle, 1983:325). This is primarily because relations betweenliberal and non-liberal regimes are often accompanied with suspiciondue to ‘the perception by liberal states that non-liberal statesare in a permanent state of aggression against their own people’(Doyle, 1983:326). Thus, it could be argued that the disagreementover human rights violations between the US and China is not merelyminor annoyances in their stable relationship: they illustrate agreater problem that cannot easily be ignored.
At the same time, liberal pessimists are alsoconcerned about the possible creation of a malicious cycle of ‘mutually reinforcing suspicions and fears’ that may develop as aresult of tensions between the US and China (Friedberg, 2005:33).They are worried that if China continues to take actions thatsuppress Chinese people and threaten Taiwan and Tibet, such as:persecuting religious groups, unjustified detention, or restrictinginternet access then the US will have to condemn these human rightsbreaches (Landor, 2007:25). Consequently, bolstering China’ssuspicion that the US’s ‘engagement’ is merely a policy used toundermine and overthrow China’s progress (Shambaugh, 1996:56-57).
Similarly, some liberal pessimists believe thatthere are groups in China and the US that would benefit from tensionsbetween the two powers. Such groups will therefore be inclined topromote aggressive policies that may lead to confrontation (Saunders,2000:59). However, they forget that similar groups will benefit froma stable relationship between the US and China that the US has tocooperate with China if it wants China to continue to supportdeveloping countries and that China needs the support of the US inorder to establish itself as a super power in the region (Harwitt,2013:361-362). Neither liberal optimists nor liberal pessimists havetaken all factors contributing to the future of the US-Chinarelations into account. This has caused both of them to developquestionable arguments that do not provide us with valid predictions.
Over the past years, the United States ofAmerica has dominated as the super power, especially after thecollapse of the Soviet Union. At the same time, the China has risenin terms of economic power, political ideology and militaryabilities. As a result, the future of the relationship between thetwo countries is at the center of debate by many internationalobservers. The theories of international relations of realism,liberalism, and constructivism give varied perspectives on the futureof the relationship between the United States and China. Despite thevaried views by each, these theories can be used to predict thefuture of the US-China relations.
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