The capacity of the United States to credibly guarantee a stable international system in Asia may, in the future, become increasingly moot. In this context, China’s aggressive posturing in territorial disputes has caused widespread concern in the Asia-Pacific region.
Sensing growing opposition, however, China renewed co-operation with its neighbours. Chinese foreign policy advice is, in fact, divided between those who favour reliance on easily available shortcuts against competing powers and those, aware of binding constraints, who urge caution. Understanding the combination of aggressive and peaceful overtures that characterise Chinese foreign policy is, therefore, imperative.
In the medium to long run, just when some of China’s binding economic and military constraints are expected to relax, the remaining regional political constraints on its capacity to project power abroad will be complemented by newer constraints, as overseas strategic investments either wither along with the currently co-operative regimes or turn hostile. A rising China would, therefore, be unable to sustain aggression abroad over extended periods in the foreseeable future.
But, this does not mean that it will not be involved in aggressions at all. While instances of direct aggression, if any, will be brief, China will continue to rely on overseas forcemultipliers for as long as possible. Consequently, there are limits to what countries in conflict with China can achieve through diplomatic engagement – despite which they will face Chinese aggression, both supported and limited, by structural factors. Nimble defences should, however, be sufficient to deal with occasional Chinese aggressions.