Taming Chinese Power? |

Taming Chinese Power?

20120208_Amitav_Acharya_w170On 8 February 2012, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy held a public lecture titled “Taming Chinese Power” by a visiting Professor Amitav Acharya. The speaker examined the changing balance of power in East Asia and attempted to conceptualize the issue through various branches of international relations theories.

Acharya emphasized the “difficulty in producing alternative views on China’s rise” and stressed that “power balancing is just a tiny part of dealing with Beijing.” He said that other avenues need to be explored to better understand changing realities in the region and put forth several hypothetical frameworks.

Anarchy, he said, where each major power pursues militaristic and confrontational politics is one of the possible and yet least likely scenarios to evolve. Referring to Hierarchical regional order, “a benign regional order under China’s dominance” might emerge, a model he termed as: “Asia’s past, Asia’s Future.” Touching on a Hegemonic system, similar to the American Monroe Doctrine, China may do the same and “impose its regional supremacy by excluding other powers”, he said. Under Consociationalism, “a balanced relationship among the major powers could also emerge” where concerted efforts would ensure lasting regional security, said Acharya. Speaking on the possibility of a Community system, Acharya said: “Smaller nations could increasingly play an important role as they are doing now in bringing the powers to collaborate with each other through ASEAN.”

Comparing and contrasting China’s ascendency to militaristic European powers in the early years of the last century, Acharya noted: “China is not a revisionist country and values status-quo, whereas Germany challenged the established order.” Today’s mutual dependence on global stability makes conflicts less likely and far more costly. But given that, “China is a champion of sovereignty”, he noted, “hierarchy may not fit China’s goals.” The speaker further underlined that Beijing is equally reluctant to opt for hegemonic foreign policy.

The world is witnessing major changes in Asia, characterized by economic nationalism and authoritarianism in the past, where security relations were mainly constructed through bilateral relations, said Acharya. Today, there is deep interdependence, as demonstrated by the fact that “international trade has in fact doubled since the end of World War II, whilst security diplomacy has evolved along multilateral dimensions”, he said. The concept of power – sharing among the powers through “consensual rule” and “shared, rather than hegemonic leadership” will be the likely development, he noted.

In concluding remarks, Acharya emphasized that “institutional density mattered as it placed constraints on states’ behaviour”, as such, a power – sharing system facilitated by multilateral regional institutions is likely to evolve and consolidate in the region.


By Uran Bolush, a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the LKY School.


Most analysts see the rise of China in terms of a power shift that is fundamentally reshaping Asian and global order. Amitav Acharya argues instead that China's rise should been viewed in the context of a prior and ongoing paradigm shifts in Asia which shapes and constrains Beijing's options for power aggrandizement. Employing different strands of international relations theory, and looking beyond the standard narratives offered by commentators both within and outside China, the speaker examines changes occurring in Asia's long-term (since World War II) drivers of security - including the distribution ("balance") of power, economic interdependence, multilateral institutions, ideational and normative forces, and domestic politics (including democratization) - with a view to assess their mutually reinforcing as well as mutually offsetting effects. The aim is not to predict the future, but to identify the conditions and indicators that are crucial in determining whether 21st century Asia would be peaceful and prosperous, or divided and dangerous.

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Prof. Amitav Acharya, Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Wednesday, 08 February 2012
12.15 p.m. - 1.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-5
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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