Jonathan Holslag On world order and disorder

China’s coming war with Asia

Order in English, Dutch, German, Korean. Chinese translation by the Central Party School follows later!

“A terrific book,” writes Elisabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Intellectually compelling and profoundly scary,” Jonathan Eyal in Straits Times.

“Crisp and lucid,”  Peter Neville-Hadley in the Wall Street Journal.

“Strong and refreshing,” Jingdong Yuan, Sydney University.

“A very timely and readable account,” Andrew Oros, Washington College.

“Sharp… of clear relevance to strategic planners,” Paul Monk in the Australian.

“Compelling and thoughtful,” wrote Men Honghua of the Central Party School, China.

“A must-read for anyone who wants to see beyond today s headlines and get a glimpse of the more dangerous future that lies ahead,” concluded Stephen Walt of the Harvard Kennedy School

In Nieuwsuur

In Nieuwsuur

“An intellectually challenging and well-written argument by one of Europe’s brightest young Asia hands,” wrote Susan Shirk of the University of California.

In this book, China’s Coming War with Asia, published by Polity, I tried to present Asia’s most pressing dilemma in the most straightforward terms: China’s core interests are incompatible with its pursuit of a peaceful rise. So, unless China changes those interests or its neighbours compromise on theirs, Chinese diplomats will find it increasingly difficult to maintain peace and stability.

Let me introduce the main ideas briefly. What I find particularly interesting about this work, is first of all that it identifies the most pressing security dilemmas in Asia, describes their consequences, but does so without putting all the blame on China. It’s a realist take on Asia, but not a work of China-bashing.

Many of China’s great aspirations, its concerns and its claims are very normal for a rising power and often not less legitimate than those of other countries, but the consequence of what China wants can only imply a profound revision of the regional order an come as a huge challenge to its neighbourhood. China is a revisionist power by necessity, of not by default.


In good company at Hong Kong airport

That these tensions have not became more violent, the book clarifies, is not the result of China’s growing flexibility. Since the fifties, it was not China that accommodated its neighbourhood, but it was the neighbourhood that became more forthcoming to China, tolerating and even facilitating its rise.

Even China’s apparent flexibility in accepting dialogues, membership of regional organizations and different kinds of confidence building measures should does not mean that it has become a status-quo power and thus accepts the regional order. China’s diplomacy might have become somewhat more flexible; its core interests have remained remarkably inert.

Neither with regard to its economic objectives, nor with regard to its military goals, China has signaled readiness to compromise. Beijing is set to make another major push for industrial greatness, which can turn its neighbours even more into commodity suppliers. It is set to make another push also to undermine American military preponderance in the Western Pacific, an effort that might not immediately threaten the United States but certainly will threaten Asian countries.

The main question then becomes whether China will get away with it. Thanks to chequebook diplomacy and witted divide-and-rule policies, China has mollified a lot of resistance, but the gap between what China wants and what other Asian states expect it to do continues to grow. I therefore expect balancing to get bolder. If that happens in a context of more economic uncertainty and nationalism, pragmatic forces will weaken and territorial disputes will inevitably become tenser. Another great power tragedy is then just a matter of time.

The book should be interesting to both the specialized reader and a wider readership. It is built on a lot of original research, interviews and field visits. It elaborates on history and explains recent evolutions, like the growing sophistication of China’s trade policy, the responses to the American “rebalance to Asia”, etc.