Mr. Mearsheimer is a persuasive speaker, often invited to speak on world issues. John has written many books and essays on his theory based on realism. He has given many lectures now available on YouTube, including, "Why China Can Not Rise Peacefully?" given at the Center of International Policy Studies at University of Ottawa (10/20/2012) and "Realism and the Rise of China", a Harper Lecture Series at University of Chicago (12/18/2013). John's lectures often drew a large audience and a lengthy Q&A session. Mr. Mearsheimer has a large group of followers especially among the U.S. Military industry complex, thus his theory is quite influential on foreign relation policy makers. His writings and talks on China Rise issue raised serious concerns on the outcome of a rising China and implied an adversary hegemony relation between the U.S. and China possibly leading to war, these discussions certainly deserve to be reviewed and commented in this column.
Mearsheimer's recent speeches and essays have often addressed the question, Whether or Not China Can Rise Peacefully?’ His answer is no! He draws that conclusion based on his theory with the following five assumptions: 1. States are principal actors with no higher authority, 2. All States have offensive military capability, 3. No State can be certain of other States' intentions, 4. State's principal goal is survival, and 5. States are rational actors. He then deduces three behaviors based on these five assumptions. First, fear, State will fear each other. Second, self help, State will quickly figure out that State must rely on self help. Third, the best way to survive is to be the most powerful, to be a regional hegemon since global hegemon is too difficult to achieve. Mearsheimer often cites historical facts to strengthen his arguments and he admits he has been frequently challenged; one notable challenge is the effect of nuclear weapon, whether it will have deterrent effect in the hegemony theory. On this point, he will use the 25% uncertainty in his theory to gloss it over.
Mearsheimer refers to history particularly American history to illustrate the appetite of the U.S. to be a hegemon: applying the Monroe doctrine to her advantage; thirteen colonies murdered native Indians, the U.S. stole from Mexico, and she did gun on Canada and Canada feared the US appetite of conquering. Therefore, Mearsheimer thinks that the U.S. foreign policy is very much like his theory. Regarding how is China going to be, he makes the following statements: China remembers her weak state in history; she wants to be 20 or 50 times more powerful than Japan. China wants her own Monroe Doctrine remembering the Cuba Missile crisis. China would like to push the U.S. away from Asia just like the U.S. had pushed the Europeans away from America. The US response has been following the theory of hegemony, the U.S. would not tolerate the existence of other regional hegemon to exist, hence 'pivot' to Asia. China's neighbors also think and behave according to the hegemony theory, so Japan and India jumped into bed with the U.S. and so did other ASEAN countries because of fear. China sees the neighbors and the U.S as encirclement threatening her survival, she will increase military spending. Then the arms race spirals up, Japan offers weapons to other small Asian countries, the U.S. even sells frigates to Taiwan certainly not with the intention to help China and Taiwan to unite.
When one hears Mearsheimer's arguments he selected to support Mearsheimer’s theory, it seems to be very persuasive. However, from a foreign policy point of view, one must go deeper in thoughts from assumptions (its logical basis) to facts (comparing opposing facts) and to conclusions (considering both angels and Devils' advocate). I would like to tread such a thought process on Mearsheimer's five assumptions, the relevant facts related to the rise of China and critique his conclusion - China cannot rise peacefully, implying hegemonic confrontation leading to war, possibly WW III.
On his first assumption that State has no higher authority, there is definitely fallacy in it. Aside from moral higher principle (faith power realists tend to ignore), there is the United Nation. Granted, that the UN has not progressed rapidly and effectively but nevertheless it has made significant progress since WW II. The powerful nations may tend to exhibit hegemony behavior, but there are consequences to bear and real constraints even the strongest nation would fear. The U.S. might have felt occasionally there wasn't any higher authority than the White House and US Congress but in reality, particularly over long term, as the world is progressing to democracy and global integration, a higher authority would definitely emerge, hopefully being the UN or perhaps a G2 or G3. On this assumption, China appears to believe and think differently from the U.S. China works diligently and pays more attention to the UN organization and its constituents seriously. The U.S. might have understood this since the Iraq war. Whether she would change her philosophy in conducting her foreign policy or not remains to be seen. If Mearsheimer's fifth assumption (States are rational actors) were right (I certainly hope so), we would expect the U.S. and China will not irrationally pursue a hegemony path, rather they will work for mutual benefit as if there is a higher authority.
On the question, Whether China Can Rise in Peace?, the real sensible thought process is to ask two questions, 'Will the U.S. let China rise in peace?' and ' Will China follow a hegemony path to rise?'. To the first question, I hope the U.S. will not be blindly led by an unproven hegemony theory (hegemony will never establish a stable world as the theory itself projects constant confrontation and instability), rather she will act rationally to understand what are the real challenges coming from where. To the second question, I think China has always been taking prudent and careful steps in foreign affairs based on a deep philosophy, war is evil and 'WANG Dao' wins (by persuasion via soft power) and ultimately win-win prevails. In fact, China has a lot more respect to the soft power of the U.S. than the U.S. herself. Naturally, even soft power, just like corporations, may practice 'hegemony theory' which I believe the world should avoid and could avoid by embracing all cultures and all societies with open mind.
I am not the only person who has an opposing opinion to the hegemony theory. There are many other political analysts disagree with Mearsheimer. I would especially mention here two young scholars who are concerned that Mearsheimer's theory might have unintentionally led the world politics into the wrong direction. These examples commenting on Mearsheimer's work may offer you some comforting thoughts. Laurence Vincent (3-8-2013) in a thesis for the University of West of England, Bristol, and Sverrir Steinsson (3-6-2014) in his thesis for the University of Iceland, both published by E-IR (international Relations Students publishes student essays and dissertations) provided organic food for thought. In conclusion, let me paraphrase William Arthur Ward by saying: The pessimist believes bad things will repeat, the optimist expects justice will prevail, and the realist applies rational thinking carefully to charter the course.