The rise of China and America's Asian allies

5 May 2014

Summary: In this lecture at ANU, Professor Stephen Walt explains why China's rise will lead to increased security competition in Asia and explores the implications of this trend for United States alliance relations in this region.

Sino-American competition is inevitable because the world's two strongest powers invariably cast a wary eye on each other. Moreover, it is in China's long-term interest to reduce the U.S. security presence in Asia. The U.S. will resist such efforts, however, because it does not want China to become a "regional hegemon" or establish a dominant "sphere of influence" in its immediate neighbourhood. Assuming Chinese power continues to grow, therefore, security competition between Washington and Beijing will be nearly impossible to avoid. Indeed, evidence of a growing rivalry is already apparent.

The United States is already moving to shore up its alliance relations throughout Asia, but managing these relations will be a much more demanding task than managing NATO was during the Cold War. The distances are vast, which magnifies problems of collective action, and America's Asian partners are increasingly torn between their economic ties with Beijing and their security relations with Washington. There are also lingering resentments between key U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan, which makes it harder for Washington to lead a powerful balancing coalition. This situation will place a premium on diplomatic skill and in-depth regional expertise, and the United States and its Asian partners will have to work hard to avoid a number of significant pitfalls over the next few decades.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard. He previously taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago, been a Resident Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Contributing Editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Professor Walt is the author of The Origins of Alliances (1987), Revolution and War (1996), Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (2005), and co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007).


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