TWQ: The Emergent Security Threats Reshaping China’s Rise - Winter 2011
January 1, 2011
A steady stream of research and analysis over the last two decades has flowed from the near consensus in the U.S. foreign policy community that, in the words of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, ‘‘few countries are poised to have more impact on the world over the next 15-20 years than China.’’ Yet many of these efforts to foretell China’s future behavior have paid disproportionate attention to divining Beijing’s ‘‘strategic intentions.’’ This approach offers only limited insight into the factors that will ultimately determine how China pursues its interests and exerts global influence. It profoundly overestimates the importance of present intentions as a guide to future behavior, and severely underestimates the constraints that China’s security environment will place upon Beijing’s decisionmakers.
Gaining a handle on the likely trajectories of China’s rise will instead require a deeper understanding of the emergent threats to which Beijing will be forced to respond, regardless of its own designs. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies of privileging economic growth and noninterference are engendering a new set of potential security threats that include: 1) international terrorism; 2) foreign instability and state failure overseas; and 3) overtly anti-Chinese regimes. The result will be a refashioning of China’s foreign policy agenda beyond its traditional security concerns. Beijing is undoubtedly amassing the means to exert influence in international politics, but regardless of its strategic intentions today, its rapidly evolving threat environment will play a decisive role in determining how China brings these resources to bear. Confronted with serious questions about China’s impending effect on international security—where it will fight wars, who will be its future allies and adversaries, and whether it will jettison its current policy of non-intervention—it is necessary to look beyond intentions and toward China’s future threat environment.