THE FUTURE OF ASIA: CHINA’S NOSTALGIC ASPIRATIONS FOR PRIMACY AND GREAT POWER STATUS
Patel, Jigisha S.
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East Asia especially has benefitted enormously from the global security umbrella provided by the United States (U.S.) since World War II. Open sea lanes and trade routes have provided free and open access to world markets. The stability and security derived from this arrangement has translated into prosperity for the region and, arguably, China has benefitted the most as it has focused nearly exclusively on growing its economy without worrying about security or defense. That very prosperity has now led to a China flexing its economic, diplomatic and military muscle in the region, causing fears that it is intent on expelling and replacing a distracted and enfeebled U.S. from the region. Many experts insist that China's continued rise is inevitable and there are few choices available to the U.S. but to negotiate some sort of limited role for itself in the region, and for nations in the region to accept such an outcome. This paper asks, how likely is it that China, though it frequently and officially denies aspiring to such a role, will continue its rise and replace the U.S. to become the next regional hegemon? To answer this question, this paper examines China's history, economy, including associated socioeconomic conditions, foreign policy, its relations with neighboring nations and its ever-growing military power that seems designed more for offensive purposes than peaceful ones. The results reveal a China that certainly appears to aspire to regional primacy, but whose continued rise is not necessarily guaranteed. Though its past GDP growth rates of 10% per year for decades are impressive, China is beset with declining demographic trends, environmental blight that is undermining its own growth potential, debilitating corruption, a business environment that conceals more dysfunction than it reveals, and deteriorating relationships with its neighbors - all of which threaten to undermine regional prosperity, stability and security, as well as to frustrate China's aspirations for great-power status. This paper demonstrates that China is not ready to assume the mantle of a responsible great power in the region anytime soon and will not soon replace the U.S. as the most influential nation in the region. In fact, this paper reveals a China that may face periods of decline before it achieves great-power status and has all the hallmarks of a regional bully rather than an inevitable hegemon. Thesis advisors for this work were Dr. Mark Stout, Dr. Sarah O’Byrne, Dr. Ariel Roth and Professor John Gans.