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The history of modern Europe teaches that when one power re places another conflicts tend to ensue. Over the past years, people have trotted out the same old platitude that the 21st century will belong to China. Numerous books such as William H. Overholt‘s The rise of China have expressed breathless enthusiasm over Asia’s rising powers.1 Others such as Bernstein’s and Munro’s The Coming Conflict of China have foreseen disaster as just around the corner.2

Amongst IR academic circles, extensive research has also been carried out by scholars divided on how the rise of China will impact on the future of the international system. Scholars such as Mearsheimer and Mastunduno have both tackled the question from similar viewpoints, producing different predictions and prescribing differ ent policies for the US.3 However both scholars would agree that in order to understand the Chinese phenomenon two questions are foremost. For realists we need to first identify whether China can be classified as a status quo or revisionist power.4 The second, and contingent on the first, is thus what policies the world’s current superpower, the US should pursue to preserve its preeminent position in the global order vis-à-vis China and also to ensure that China’s rise is a peaceful one. A recent book ‘Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India and Japan will Shape Our Next Decade’ by Emmott gives a more nuanced account of how power is shifting eastwards then many other scholars. Emmott offers a sober assessment of the opportunities and dangers of Asia’s rise which occupies something of a middle ground between the alarmists, such as Bern stein and Munro, and the celebratorists, such as Overholt.

For Emmott, the issue at hand is not the rise of China itself but rather the rise the Asian region more generally. The problem as Emmott highlights in his opening chapter is that ‘there is no one entity called Asia and that the term is little more than a Western construct.’5 The Asian today is not a united one gripped by Pan Asian ideals akin to post WW2 Europe but more a continent divided between three great power rivals, India, China and Japan similar to balance of power politics that characterised Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. As Emmott notes it, ‘the rise of Asia is not going to pit Asia against the West, it is going to pit Asians and Asians.’6 Indeed for the first time in its history Asia will have three big powers simultaneously. This might not matter so much if they liked each other or were somehow compatible but as Emmott shows throughout the book they are not.

In discussing this new balance of power in Asia the author acknowledges that China is likely to emerge as the most powerful, but not powerful enough to dominate. He compares China to Brit ain at the beginning of the 19th century where, despite being the most powerful, it was unable to dominate. While on the surface each power may appear friendly to each other, the reality for Emmott is that this friendship is only ‘skin deep and instead all are manoeuvring to strengthen their own positions and maximise their long-term advantages’.7 Each is playing a great game in pursuit of resources and influence. With rapidly rising military budgets in all three states Emmott, while not referring to the situation as a fully-fledged arms race, sees Asian states pursing a ‘strategic insurance policy race.’ The situation is reflective of the term security dilemma where the actions by a state intended to heighten its security will lead to other states responding with similar measures. The examples of balancing behaviour are aplenty in chapters three, four and five where Emmott goes into detail about each country’s domestic system and foreign policy actions. From this we can see the Emmott’s neo-realist outlook he considers foreign pol icy actions as responding to constrains in the international system rather than an outcome of bargaining by different groups within the state.

First up is Japan which the author views as extremely worried about China’s rise and has made every effort to form anti-Chinese coalitions where possible. The most notable development in recent years has been the changing relations with India, brought together by an acceptance that my ‘enemy’s enemy is my friend.’ As part of this anti-Chinese coalition Japan has made India the biggest recipient of Japanese aid since 2004, financed much of the costs of the Delhi underground railway system, is planning a new freight transport route between Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai and pushed for India to be included in the new Pan-Asian grouping, the East Asia summit, despite the fact that it is plainly not in East Asia. One statistic that really stands out is that despite years of economic stagnation the Japanese economy remains larger than the Chinese and Indian economies combined. Emmott, already the author of a number of books dealing with Japan, seems most confident predicting its future outcome than the other two. He foresees the country as overcoming its currents problems thanks to a ‘stealth revolution’ of quiet reforms partly inspired by a deep lying fear of China catching up.

India may have embraced China as a Third World partner in the 1950s, but the wars of the 1960s over their shared border quashed any positive sentiment. The border issues remain outstanding and unresolved to this day. Emmott twice repeats in the book a quote from an Indian government official ‘China and India both think that the future belongs to us, we can’t both be right.’8 He is also quick to praise Bush for spotting the shifting regional balance and embracing India as a counterweight to China. Referring to the US India nuclear agreement, ‘an act of grand strategic importance,’ Emmott foresees a solid future relationship for the US and India. The reason will not be solely through the recognition of a common enemy but we can also see a liberal/constructivist perspective to Emmott’s analysis when he discusses how shared democratic systems of governance make them closer allies. For the first time we begin to see a constructivist viewpoint from Emmott as he goes beyond material factors and shows how ideas and values matter in addition to interests.

According to Morgenthau, ‘the policy of a status quo power aims at the distribution of power as it exists at a particular moment in history.’9 While revisionist states for Schweller are those that ‘value what they covet more than they possess and will employ military force to change the status quo and extend their values.’10 Emmott’s analysis of China in chapter three lies somewhere in between.

For readers it is apparent that the enmity between all three is rooted in history and that serious issues remain. One Japanese government official interviewed by Emmott said that Japanese Chinese relations have always been characterised by mutual hate. ‘We have hated each other for 1,000 years; such deep rooted hatred is unlikely to change in the future.’11 In the potential catalysts for conflict, as laid out in chapter 8, Emmott also lists five flashpoints that could serve as a catalyst for a future war: the Sino-Indian border, Tibet, Korea, the East China Sea and the Senkaku/Diaoyatai islands, Taiwan and Pakistan. Of these he sees Pakistan as ‘the likeliest of them all to see sparks fly.’12

While adopting a predominantly neo-realist balance of power perspective throughout Emmott does place great emphasis on identity. As he contends, a sense of Asian identity within these countries is almost impossible to pin down. One of the key problems is that the great powers identity themselves primarily in terms of nationality. This important aspect of international relations is social, not material. He hopes that greater regional integration will work towards an Asian identity but remains very cautious that the gains from the economic sphere will trickle into the political. Such views on identity contrast with that of Kishore Mahbubani whose recent book The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the Eastargues that a truly continental identity is emerging from Asia’s economic success.13 Emmott agrees about Asia’s economic integration but does not see it transferring into politics. As he notes, competition generally in economics has ‘overwhelmingly positive results’ but ‘in politics we cannot be sure.’14 By separating the two spheres so sharply Emmott provides the more compelling argument. Add the lack of an Asian identity to the vastly different political models, cultures and economics, and one can see that a sense of regional integration is a grand aspiration, and at best a long way off.

In the final chapter Emmott, in true journalistic style, sits on the fence somewhat and offers two scenarios of what the future may hold for Asia. As he admits, the most benign scenario will see that by 2020, the 3 powers between them will be the world’s largest mar ket, the largest economic entity and a force for global prosperity The less desirable option would see one of the many flashpoints erupt; escalating into a regional and possible global conflict. The chief problem, as Emmott concludes, is ‘the fear and suspicion of China. It is not going to go away.’ Thus, with this in mind, he offers nine recommendations on how to best ensure peace.

From these a neo-liberal/neo-institutionalist side to Emmott be gins to emerge. We can see that he is a strong believer of the European model of reducing international tensions and communication through trade. He also calls on Asia to develop an Asian counterpart for both the EU and NATO, the first being an economic union to be constructed around the East Asian summit and the second a security pact based around ASEAN. From this we can gather that Emmott believes that under the correct circumstances co-operation is certainly possible under anarchy and that the great powers while rivals will be satisfied with absolute gains rather than pursue solely relative gains. Emmott also calls on the US to offer its support for regional Asian institutions, thus he advocates a similar role to the US in post war Europe.

Such recommendations stand in sharp contrast to offensive realists such as Merschiemer, who have called on the US to contain China. In an article in Foreign Affairs in 2001 he offered an alternative realist strategy to the one’s proposed by Emmott and Mastunduno arguing that ‘[t]he United States has a profound interest in seeing Chinese economic growth slow considerably in the years ahead.’ However such containment strategies are increasingly unworkable in this era of globalisation with long-term interdependence for rising as well as established powers.15 By trying to inhibit Chinese economic progress the US would openly flaunt its long standing commitment to free markets and global institutions. Indeed such a strategy would undermine the basis for US power which rests on the global system. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, policymakers in Washington have struggled to define the strategic framework for the US relationship to China but have always continued down the path of engagement. Emmott rightly argues this should continue.

His recommendations also include plenty of advice for each of the 3 powers and picks out one issue which each needs to address. India should make peace with its neighbours and strengthen economic ties with the others. Japan should come to terms with its WW2 activities and establish a commission to consider compensation for wartime slavery and forced prostitution. China should become more transparent with its armed forces and reduce the un certainty as to other’s intentions that is central in understanding the tragedy of the security dilemma.

One drawback to Emmott’s analysis is that he neglects Russia’s role in Asia. Indeed, his geopolitical analysis would have been much stronger if he had not ignored Russia as an Asian power. Many Indians see Russia as an important part of the strategy to contain China. Also, despite good current relations, Russia’s fear of Chinese encroachment could turn things on its head. A recent visit by Medvedev to the Kunashiri Island one in a group of disputed islands seized by Moscow during WW2 led to a diplomatic dispute which highlighted just how involved Russia is in the region.16

International relations never has a sole drive or explanation and this is applicable to Asia as a region: the new power game between India, China and Japan is not going to shape everything that hap pens during the next few decades but it will shape an increasing amount of what happens and indeed has already done so. There are numerous books that examine the countries individually but the value of rivals lies in Emmott’s interchangeable knowledge of all three. Indeed once you look at Asia through the prism of the balance of power game, many things start to make more sense. Emmott’s book offers an excellent insight and some much needed nuance about an increasingly important part of the world too often left out in the parsimonious neo realist theories. The catastrophic decisions made by European nations a century ago still live in memory. Let’s hope that Asia manages to cope with a shifting balance of power better than Europe did.

Notes to Pages 259-264:
1 William Overholt, ‘The rise of China: How economic reform is creating a new superpower’, (WW Norton and Company, 1993), published where?
2 Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro ‘The Coming conflict of China’, 1997, Knopf.
3 Mastunduno: ‘Preserving the Unipolar Movement: Realist Theories and U.S. grand Strategy after the Cold war’: International Security, Volume 21, Number 4, Spring 1997, p 49-88. Johnston, Alistair, Iain, ‘Is China a status quo power’, International security, 27: 4, 5. Mearsheimer, John, ‘The future of the American pacifier’, Foreign affairs , volume 80, no 5, Septmember/ October 2001.
4 Merscheimer offers a different perspective. In his view if a state has the economic potential to become a hegemon, it will become a hegemon. The state’s strategic intentions are simply judged by its relative power.
5 Emmott, Bill, Rivals: How the power struggle between China, India and Japan will shape our next decade’, London, Penguin Books, 2009: 15.
6 Emmott: opt cit: 12.
7 Emmott: opt cit: 9.
8 Emmott: opt cit: 122.
9 Hans Morgenthau. Politics among nations: the struggle for power and peace, 5th edition: 74.
10 Randall Schweller, ‘Bandwagoning for profit: bringing the revisionist state back in’, International security, Volume 19, No 1: 105.
11 Emmott: opt cit: 87.
12 Emmott: opt cit: 214-249.
13 Mahbubani, Kishore ‘The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East’ Public Affairs, January 2008.
14 Emmott: opt cit: 35.
15 Garnett (reference) similarly sees the US as having little option but to engage China in this era of globalization, he refers to such limited strategic options as the ‘strategic straightjacket’.