We see the first steps of a similar great power clash taking shape today in
China is usually very cautious in its foreign affairs. But of late, Beijing has been aggressively asserting maritime claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, a region bordered by Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and China.
Japan, India, South Korea and the United States also assert strategic interests in this hotly disputed sea, which is believed to contain 100 billion barrels of oil and 700 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
China has repeatedly clashed with Vietnam and the Philippines over the Spratly and Paracel islands and even mere rocks in the China Sea. Tensions are high.
In 2010, the US strongly backed the maritime resource claims by the smaller Asian states, warning off China and reasserting the US Navy’s right to patrol anywhere. Beijing took this as a direct challenge to its regional suzerainty.
Last week, Washington raised the stakes in this power game, announcing it will
permanently base 2,500 Marines at the remote northern Australian port of Darwin.
1914 All Over Again?
In the run up to WWI, an influential book was written by General Von Bernhardi titled Germany and the next War. The book manifests Germany’s frustration and militancy. Von Bernhardi proclaims that, with her scientific and intellectual achievements, Germany should have a more prominent role in world affairs, more colonial trophies with access to petroleum reserves. Germany’s GDP had passed that of Great Britain and France and they now wanted more respect. France and Great Britain were maneuvering as best they could to keep Germany (a perceived threat) out of the game. Bernhardi’s book also argues that war was not only a justifiable means to achieve that goal but even an obligation of Germany’s leadership.Sponsored Ads
And now in 2009 we witness the wide distribution of a book titled Unhappy China, which expresses China’s frustrations with their current position. The similarity in tone is uncanny. China is on its way to become the second economy of the world, yet China is not “embraced” as a member of the G8 and has almost no influence in the IMF and World Bank. China is frustrated with the West’s meddling in internal affairs and with the humiliation endured by the Olympic torch run that was, in their perception, disgraced by demonstrations.
Is Bismarck China’s Man?
Anatomy of Revolutions
The Bismarckian precedent therefore should offer little comfort to Washington and its Asian allies. A China that follows Bismarck’s example would be willing to destroy the existing international order for the sake of national unity. Skilful Chinese leadership might sustain the ensuing order peacefully for a time, if indeed the Chinese Communist Party boasts statesmen of the skill and stature of a Bismarck. But a Chinese Bismarck would divide up opposing alliances, presumably including the longstanding pact between the United States and Japan. And even if a statesman of such skill takes the diplomatic helm, it remains to be seen what kind of system would come next. No likely replacement would benefit Asian powers to the same degree as has the liberal order, which is premised on international commerce, ready access to markets, and freedom of the seas and skies. Indeed, a new Asian order could prove as brittle as the one the Iron Chancellor bequeathed to Wilhelmine Germany.