Many of the headlines concerning East Asian politics have covered North Korea’s recent threats and the China-Japan territorial dispute in the East China Sea. In fact, Australian National University Professor of Strategic Studies Hugh White predicted a coming war in East Asia this year in a column for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Several experts discussed Professor White’s argument and how such a potential war would progress.
Professor Hugh White bluntly commented, “don’t be too surprised if the US and Japan go to war with China next year” in his December 26, 2012 column in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Professor White summarizes the situation as a face-saving dilemma for China, Japan and the United States stating, “This will be difficult, because any concession by either side would so easily be seen as a back-down, with huge domestic political costs and international implications.”
According to Professor White, a Chinese back-down would persuade the Chinese public that China is not the rising power its government proclaims to be. For Japan, any concession on the disputed islands would show the world that Japan accepted “China’s right to push them around” and that Washington was helpless. For the United States, a back-down would signal that the new leader in the Pacific was no longer Washington, but Beijing.
Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College Jennifer M. Lind said that Professor White’s argument was “far from [an] off-the-wall argument.”
She compared the situation to the rise of Germany before the two world wars and the rise of the Soviet Union before the Cold War.“There is a core argument in international relations theory that when there is a rising power and an established “hegemon” (meaning a country with a predominance of power in the world system), this is a particularly dangerous time in international relations.”
Professor Lind continued, “Historically, such situations (the rise of Germany before WWI, the rise of Japan in Asia, the rise of the Soviet Union, the rise of Germany(again) have been associated with military crises and even great-power war.”
However, fellow Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College Daryl Press commented that if push came to shove, the United States would be unwilling to “wreck its relations with China and fight a maritime war over the Islands.”“So if Beijing is obstinate, China probably can force the U.S. and Japan to accept China’s provocative actions.”