How China’s Neighbors Are Reacting to Its Rise as a World Power

Over the course of the Obama administration, particularly under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the emphasis of American foreign policy shifted from Europe and the Middle East to Asia. Asia has become an important region due to its rapid economic growth, particularly driven by the rise of China, which has experienced tremendous growth and military expansion. In addition to having the second largest GDP after the United States, China has the third most powerful military in the world, outranked only by Russia and the US. With its current rate of economic growth and large military expenditures, many scholars are studying the possibility that China will surpass the US within the next few decades.

China’s rise is a focal point of today’s foreign policy, as China could potentially supersede the US by 2030. While China’s ascent is a popular topic in Western media and among scholars, little research has been conducted to examine how China’s neighbors view the country’s increasing influence. However, a recent article published by the Journal of Contemporary China explores how East Asian countries are reacting to China’s rise.

For their study, Yun-han Chu, Liu Kang, and Min-hua Huang used data from the third wave (2010-2012) of the Asian Barometer Survey, which was administered in thirteen East Asian countries and territories. The data shows that Northeast and Southeast Asian countries differ in their likelihood of naming China or the US as the most influential player in Asia, with Northeastern countries assigning that role to China, and Southeastern countries assigning it to the US. The researchers attribute this result to the geographic and cultural proximity of the regions to China, which is positively correlated with their degree of political and social interaction. Interestingly, the two regions’ positions are reversed on the matter of China’s influence on their own country: Southeast Asian countries tend to perceive China as having a positive influence, while Northeast Asian countries perceive China as having a negative influence. This result can be understood by recognizing that Northeast Asian countries—including Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia—are concerned about the potential or real conflicts they may have with China vis-á-vis security issues, such as territorial disputes.

Many countries in East Asia depend on the US and China for security and economic partnerships. In the absence of an imminent security threat, these neighboring Asian countries tend to be more concerned with economic prosperity and therefore have a favorable attitude towards China. However, security concerns always win out over economic concerns during a threat or crisis. Thus, public opinion in these countries is predicted to be subject to dramatic shifts with the intensification of territorial disputes related to the South China Sea, East China Sea, or the provocation of North Korea. The US should be mindful of this reality throughout its China policymaking process.

Article source: Chu, Yun-han, Liu Kang, and Min-hua Huang. “How East Asians View the Rise of China.” Journal of Contemporary China, 2015.

Featured photo: cc/(Yestock, photo ID: 80442167, from iStock by Getty Images)

Jeeyoon Ashley Ahn
Jeeyoon ('16) is a staff writer for International Affairs. She is interested in international security in particular alliance and terrorism.

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