This New York Times piece, on a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, concludes that US power in the Western Pacific will slowly be eroded by China’s growing military might. But
At the same time…China’s economic interdependence with the United States and the rest of Asia would probably prevent it from becoming a full-blown, cold-war-style foe, or from using military force to try to drive the United States from the region.
Curiously, I see more of a case for a break in the US-China interdependence. But more on that some other time.
As for Japan, the options will grow more stark, the CEIS report says:
The report found that in most projections, Japan would probably respond to China’s growing power by clinging more closely to the United States, as it has done recently during a heated argument with China over the islands in the East China Sea that both countries claim.
At the same time, despite the stance of its hawkish new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s fiscal troubles and political paralysis will probably prevent it from significantly bolstering military spending, as some in Washington have hoped it will do to help offset China’s increasing capabilities, the report said.
In the most extreme instances, the report predicted, doubts about the ability or commitment of the United States to remain the region’s dominant military power could one day grow strong enough to drive Japan to more drastic measures, like either embracing China or building its own independent deterrent, including nuclear weapons.
Far be it from me to question the CEIP, but the notion of Japan embracing China seems a bit of a stretch. In a strategic sense, the geography supports a Japan-China cooperation, of course, but if Japan’s culture-apart identity is any guide, a China-Japan link up seems highly unlikely. So important is Japanese self-identity that it has not allowed the immigration that would have helped its economy decades ago. I can’t image that culture turning and “embracing China.”
But who knows what the future holds? I don’t see the US retreating from Asia any time soon and I don’t see the economic trajectories assumed today as etched in stone, either. Economy-shifting technology may begin to advance again in a meaningful way for industry. Also, surely, at a certain level the US could benefit from giving into an isolationist streak and focusing on its own. My thought about China is that it’s not a mature enough modern-day political unit to promise peace in Asia.
Also, I doubt the conclusion in the report that “for the foreseeable future, China would not follow the former Soviet Union in becoming a global rival to the United States.” Not sure where the reporter or the authors of the report are getting this notion from. Maybe it’s just retail-level rhetoric. But China seems to motivate itself by becoming the next number one.