‘Reflections on the US’ Pivot toward Asia on Sino-American Relations – Possibility of “hegemony” Transformation’


Throughout the history various territories seized the important part of the agenda in the world affairs in different time frames, thus Asia-Pacific was accepted as the region of 21st century. This region embraces Indian and Pacific oceans, consists of almost half of the world’s population, comprises main economic engines, greatest GDPs, rising political powers. When we look through strategic, political and economic dimensions of Asia-Pacific region it is obvious that it becomes the ‘diamond’ of the global crown, so the leader of this part of the world will have access to the global strength. Recently, two powers seemed interested in building supremacy over this region – the USA and China.

The US shifted its long-lasting isolation policy with the entrance into the first most destructive war, however still continued to stay away from the involvement into problems of the old world. With focusing on the Western Hemisphere after the proclamation of ‘Monroe doctrine’ in 1823, US could build full domination over the continent and such kind of strength in its own ‘ground’ allowed them to spread leadership in other parts of the world. America utilized opportunities very efficiently, even during Cold War years competed with USSR and surpassed the second power in all fields.

On the other hand China had tremendously ancient history with nationalistic views from the early ages when they called themselves ‘Middle Kingdom’, ‘Central Empire’ and etc. China for several centuries was the only strong power in East Asia, however throughout its history Chinese people witnessed a number of black attaints, suffered from expansionism of Western powers, and later from Japanese nationalistic outburst. With ‘Open door’ policies Chinese sovereignty was insulted and was not restored even during Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party period. Civil war inside the state terminated with the victory of Mao Zedong’s Communist party which was supported by Allies in the Second World War, especially by American forces. China also went through isolationism, though not with its own choice, but until 1971 this state was represented in the world organizations with Taiwanese government led by Kuomintang Party, and Republic of China could get the seat in the United Nations only after mitigating relations with the US.

So different historical paths led these two states on the same realm, thus in this study I am going to examine their interests on the Asia-Pacific region. Consequently, China is the country with very ancient, nationalistic and imperialist history, and suffered a lot of humiliation starting from 19th century which was not forgotten nowadays. On the other hand, the US is very young state that rose drastically in a few centuries and acquired unbelievable supremacy all over the world in a short period of time and aims not to lose this privilege. I am going to research two questions:
What does ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy of the US mean and how it can influence on China?
Is China a challenger of established ‘balance of powers’ in the region and how can its growth affect ‘hegemony transition’?

Accordingly, Chinese growth will be examined through its changing viewpoint toward the global problems, that transformed from the isolationism to engagement in ‘specific issues’ and US’s pivot to the region is going to be discussed within its concerns on being substituted in regional leadership by the second economic giant of the world. American pivot and Chinese assertive politics will be analyzed and its provision of ‘security dilemma’ will be interrogated. Brief historical background of US’ Asian policy which resulted with their ‘benevolent leadership’ will be searched through empirical and theoretical approaches and comparisons with Chinese current actions are going to be drawn. Though there are several contradictory approaches of its possibility, I will try to apply Gramsci’s notions of “consent and coercion” which were used on building hegemony within class relations to the examination of Sino-American affairs in order to find answers whether or not Chinese attitudes will abandon American pivot politics with building ‘historical bloc’ for replacing American benign supremacy in the region.

The US-Pivot to Asia
Asia-Pacific region came onto the official agenda of the United States during the years of Second World War when the superpower decided to stay in the region in order to solve problems related to ex-aggressor Japan which -according to the San Francisco treaty signed in 1951- the security of this state should be provided by the US. Later the emergence of South Korea brought another burden on shoulders of the US that took responsibility of this country’s and Taiwan’s security too. American presence in the region was wanted by the states who relied their security on them and even later their physical existence in military bases was financed by states themselves. The US could become a benevolent leader of the region and became the hegemon.

So let’s look at the meaning of the term ‘hegemony’ which was firstly utilized in Gramsci’s ‘Prison Notebooks’ and later define what kind of coincidences we can find in American hegemony-building in Asia-Pacific and explore whether China is following the same path or not. Gramsci indicates that hegemony is describable as a social structure, an economic structure, political structure and it cannot be simply one of these things but must be all together, otherwise hegemony can be mistakenly substituted with the word ‘domination’ that can be gained with only force, without acquiring consent. Gramsci explains world hegemony with referring on universal norms, institutions and mechanisms which impose general rules of behavior for states and for those forces of civil society that act across national boundaries – rules which support dominant mode of production. So he indicates that hegemony can be built only with applying physical violence or force exercised either by states or revolutionary movements and consent. Utilization of only force in order to construct dominance over the state cannot be called hegemony, thus getting consent is inevitable for becoming a benevolent leader. Not surprisingly, in the end of the Cold War, US’ Secretary of State Madeline Albright emphasized that US victory in this long lasting competition was related to its military, economic, political, cultural, information predominance. She stressed on the all-comprising strength of the superpower, not disregarding any element on the hegemony building. Later Brzezinski also outlined this issue in his ‘Grand Chessboard’ book, whereas he mentioned about USSR’s backwardness in the issues related to culture, education, information which was called ‘soft power’, and defeat in this battlefield brought the ultimate debacle to the state which built domination without consent. Likewise, USSR not only internally but also externally could not satisfy its partners, and with its arrogant behaviors intimidated China and lost its main partner in East Asia. As soon as the states which ‘united’ in order to build USSR caught an opportunity of emancipation from Russian forceful domination followed a ‘revolutionary way’ and liberated themselves from empire’s strict chains. Thus with giving this comparison I would like to draw attention into the difference between two great powers who shared and ran the world for almost five decades.

So why one’s ‘domination’ could last longer than the other? Vacca who researched Gramsci’s notions on hegemony uttered: ‘Belief, faith, dogmatism may be understood as embryonic forms of hegemony, but a fully developed hegemony is a form of intellectual and moral leadership in which the mass of the population understands its own interests as being fundamentally compatible with the dominant social group. A fully developed hegemony cannot be a type of blind faith because it rests on the development of a critical consciousness in the mass of population that can develop only in context of substantial formal freedom.’ Accordingly, when masses accept the domination it means that they have overlapping interests which make them to give up some in favor of the hegemon. Therefore Gramsci asserted three levels of consciousness in order to create hegemony:
Economico-corporative which take into consideration specific interests of particular group
Solidarity or class consciousness – extends to whole the whole social group but remains in economic level
Hegemonic –that brings the interests of leading class into harmony with those of subordinate classes and incorporates these other interests into an ideology expressed in universal terms.

Therefore Gramsci described hegemony as ‘passage from the structure to the sphere of the complex superstructures’ where he means transformation from the specific interests of a group or a class to building of institutions and elaboration of ideologies. Thus universal institutions and ideologies did not attempt take into account the interests of particular class, but it aims to give satisfaction to the subordinate groups without undermining the leadership or vital interests of the hegemonic class. Hence, Robert Cox indicates ‘Hegemony is like a pillow: it absorbs blows and sooner or later would-be assailant will find it comfortable to rest upon.’ In this case we can point out the significance of US power built in Asia – Pacific which was highly supported with the consent of states in the region. Thus Hillary Clinton indicated the value of American engagement to Asia’s future and their eagerness to American leadership and business. She explains that US is the only power in a network of alliances in the region without any territorial intentions, and with the fruitful record of providing common good of this territory. Clinton boasts American maintenance in the region due to its supply for regional security with patrolling sea lanes, and preserving stability, spreading common values in order to integrate billions of people, trigger economic productivity, social empowerment. As a protector of human rights, a source of innovation, a host of 350,000 Asian students in a year US is depicted as a benevolent leader of the region by the Secretary of State.

Appropriately, acceptance of the US as a hegemon in Asia-Pacific lay into the long history, whıch commenced after the eventual achievement of leadership acquirement in its own continent with the end of 1898 American-Spanish war. US intruded into the market of Asia with commercial intentions, when they proclaimed only about their trade interests, however during 19th century diplomatic, cultural, religious (missionary) presence of this state was established in East Asia. So, Pearl Harbor attack, one of the most fatal blows of the whole American history hit its military bases, and became the most valuable reason for US intervention into the global war which gifted them world leadership in the end. Certainly, the regional hegemony was rooted as a result of establishing permanent bases in Asia-Pacific. Building warm affairs with its Asian alliances like South Korea and Japan brought them another glory, in the rivalry with USSR during Cold War years the US utilized its pre-eminence in this clue region. America provided its allies with security supply, though their leadership was crippled a little bit after the so-called Vietnam defeat. Countries which were lack of ability to provide their own security, to maintain military, and develop without assistance of the US became bounded to superpower and turned America into benevolent hegemon of the region.

Article 9 in Japan’s Constitution forbade rearmament of the state, which could only spend 1 percent of GNP to military issues and drove the flow of money to the development of economic power of the state. Consequently, ‘Asian miracle’ could be realized and Japan became the second largest economy of the world, thus the same tokens happened in South Korea and Taiwan which allocated 3% of the budget for this field. These regulations which flourished US regional allies’ social and economic conditions made them to rely more on American financial and military assistance and acceptance of this state’s domination in the region. This region actually surpassed Europe as a leading trade partner in 1977, in 2012 US commerce with the region reached to 14,2 billion dollar. Since 2000s Asia became the largest source of imports and second largest export market out of the Northern America. There are five alliances of the US in the region, three of them – Australia, Japan and South Korea – provide the superpower with the facilities allowing it fulfill commitments in the region and beyond. Specifically, post-Korean war involvement into the region was more profound and multi-dimensional which encompassed five points:
A series of strong strategic partnerships
Intensive bilateral and multilateral diplomacy
Deep cultural ties
Enormous soft power
Growing Asian-American population

Thus US-built economic market involved even Communist China whose affairs with its ‘big brother’ USSR were deteriorated in 1960-70s and it gave the understanding to China that without entering the established structure, it can be mostly dependent on the leader of the second world. US hegemony in the region went through two stages, firstly they punished the aggressor, later presented assistance to them in order to build governmental, economic structures. In this sense US could be depicted as Machiavelli’s centaur (half man half beast) due to its utilization of ‘consensual aspect of power’ with combination of coerce and consent while pursuing of demilitarization as a punishment and economic assistance. Moreover, with giving support on one hand they improved circumstances of its allies in the region, but on the other hand created hub and spokes policy that regarded supply of security system of the states which is criticized by several American scholars. Thus according to the criticizers such kind of infanticization concludes with the increase of US expenditures, however the supporters of this path point out the advantage of benefits gained by the superpower are more. With the end of Cold war the position of the region was questioned and American policy in there became the subject for debates. Hence, Joseph Nye Jr., in his ‘East Asian Security: The case for deep engagement’ article asserted five different strategies which can be followed by the US after vanishing the main rival from the arena: Withdrawal from the region and pursuit of hemispheric or Atlantic-only strategy, however it seems as the most impossible option due to historic, geographic, demographic and economic reliance on one another, moreover US’s perception of itself as a Pacific power. Organic relations of the US makes them to stay in the region, thus there are 4 Pacific states and 3 island territories as Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marinas where people live closer to Asian capitals rather than Washington.

US withdrawal from its alliances in the region as the consequence of the end of Cold war and letting states involve into normal balance of powers strategy. With surrendering its leadership in the region the US could choose the lowest-cost option, and try to play one state off against others. However in this version the most complicated impediment was about the destabilized relations among states, which certainly can bring arms race and increase the level of antagonism in the region. Nye indicates that this policy can be more dangerous and expensive for the US, due to its inevitable interference into the region in the case of war or crisis. Its comeback to the region would require more financial allocation after retreat from its bases, thus 5 billion dollar per year investment acquired from the states nowadays can be cut if it decides to leave the region.

The US should try to create loose regional security institutions to substitute its structure of alliances in East Asia which can be a supplement to UN system. However, such kind of organization needs time and solution for ancient problems occurred in the region. Considering that ancient enmities were not overcome yet, it seems unbelievable to construct such a common security system which can replace the US domination.

NATO-like regional alliance is the other option expressed by Nye, where he himself gave counter-arguments that it can be perceived as an organization aiming at Russia and China, whose intentions toward US and allies are still ambiguous. Therefore with building such kind of organization these two ‘suspicious’ states are going to be portrayed as enemies without learning clearly about their motives. So he prefers Clinton’s engagement policy rather than containment one suggested by others.

Leadership politics was depicted firstly by Clinton administration as the best alternative for both the US and its allies in the region.

All these indications provide us with the data of importance of the region, nonetheless ‘The Second Pearl Harbor’ committed in September 11, 2001 turned the attention of the superpower to the other region of the world. Thus US involved in long-lasting quagmire, in order to fight against terrorism, substitute ‘evil’ governments with more amiable ones in Middle East based on their national interests in order to provide international security. US’s ‘omnipresent illusion’ fell down very soon, when the state perceived the importance to escape from miscalculation and exaggeration of issues on the agenda. Thus, with the change in the White House, when Barack Obama took the term prioritization of the regions has been juxtaposed. In 2011 the President talked about the ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy where importance of this region as the most crucial one was firstly mentioned.

This policy based in profound roots related to its affairs with regional allies, on the other side the region was the highest level increased one and was bringing up the possible challenger to the established system. US disclosed its intentions of pivoting to Asia and relations with China, thus Chinese role in 2009 when the importance of China was stressed by the Secretary of State when she used the Chinese proverb, mentioning about the same boat which convey both, for stressing on the importance of coexistence and ability to cross the river peacefully. Later, Clinton’s famous article ‘America’s Pacific Century’ was published in Foreign Policy magazine where she articulated all aspects of the novel pivot and gave important hints about the future of American regional policy. With the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq Clinton uttered that more systematic and smart policies should be pursued, thus energy should be wisely allocated for sustaining leadership, securing interests and advancing values. This article became the official voice of the US administration where Secretary criticized those who express importance of going back home politics. In this case I would like to refer to above mentioned typology of Nye and point out that US chose its policy according to the 5th option. She claimed that downsizing of American presence in crucial points of the world and engagement into only domestic issues can damage the US interests. ‘From opening new markets to curbing nuclear proliferation to keeping the sea lanes free from commerce and navigation, our work abroad holds the key to our prosperity and security at home.’ Therefore with drawing coincidence with the domestic and international security, Clinton simply ignored the ‘go home’ policy supporters’ arguments.

US’s new Pivot was coined as a ‘forward-deployed diplomacy’ where key lines of the politics were depicted:
Strengthening bilateral security alliances
Deepening our working relationships with emerging powers
Engaging with regional multilateral institutions
Expanding trade and investment
Forging a broad-based military presence
Advancing democracy and human rights

US’s presence in the region is supported by some clue states of the region and it builds benevolent hegemony of the superpower which attempts to inscribe core principles related to alliances in Asia:
Maintenance of political consensus on the main objectives with alliances
Being assured of adaptive and flexible policies of alliances in the region which can overcome all kinds of challenges and seize new opportunities. Providing defense capabilities and communication infrastructure to the alliances in order to feel guaranteed of their aptitude to impede provocations coming from state and non-state actors.

On the other hand, this region consists of not only friends and allies of the US, so good relations with other powers were taken into consideration by the Pivot policy drawers. US followed a path of engaging China more efficiently into global issues, as a way of controlling the growth of this country. Though the official statement was ‘thriving America is good for China and thriving China is good for the US’ it was still apparent that Chinese undistorted development triggered a shift in US policy. US’s much deeper involvement into the region informed in 2011 rose concerns in China, so for avoiding such kind of anxieties they declared that respect to differences should be considered and unrealistic expectations from one another must be evaded. In this realm cooperation between two states were improved in bilateral relations like Strategic and Economic Dialogue initiated by the US which aimed to involve China into challengeable regional and global issues like North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and problems in South China Sea. Though Chinese human rights case was always criticized by US officials who evaluated restrictions imposed on political system and non-realization of international law obligations put limitation on Chinese development. Indeed, it seems like the US – hegemonic power of Asia-Pacific region attempts to make its main challenger’s policy adaptable to its interests with supervising its growth and suggesting advice how to ‘grow up’ under security umbrella of the USA.

Such kind of ‘will to control’ gives the sense of arrogant narrative of the superpower, nevertheless Clinton tries to mitigate this rhetoric with stressing on the acceptance of their domination by states of the region. According to them US presence in Asia is not only because it is profitable to the unipolar, but due to other states’ need, will and demand for American engagement and leadership:
‘We cannot and do not aspire to impose our system on other countries, but we do believe that certain values are universal – that people in every nation in the world, including in Asia cherish them – and they are intrinsic, stable, peaceful and prosperous countries. Ultimately, it is up to the people of Asia to pursue their own rights and aspirations, just as we have seen people do all over the world.’

Accordingly, the superpower believes that ‘back to home’ policy is not acceptable to the US who can overcome all pitfalls with innovative notions and suggest prosperity and progress to humankind. Based on the ideas of American politicians there is no prevention to the US which possesses strongest military, largest economy, productive workers, the most renowned universities in the world to sustain global leadership in the 21st century. In this paragraph we can easily discern the conflation of soft and hard power of Joseph Nye which allows the US to pursue rebalancing or Pivot policy toward Asia.

Soft and hard power can be depicted as a tool of getting hegemony which was brought to the agenda of international relations discipline by Nye9. It should be indicated that ‘carrots are replacing sticks’ and hard power should be ameliorated with usage of soft power. Thus soft power is indirect, long-term leverage which works through persuasion rather than coercion. It is an ability to get others to want what you want through co-optation. US utilized this tool very effectively in the region, however only Obama named himself first Pacific President of the US in 2011, November. He participated in East Asia Summit, emphasized on security, economic, political problems of the region and later announced about the Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement(TPP) which was a part of the framework of the Pivot. Indeed, this two-staged relations are realized by the benign leader considering EAS as a political and security consultation and TPP for economic integration. Thus US announced after the withdrawal from Middle East about cuts on military budget nearly 487 billion dollar however assured that it will not affect its policy in Asia. Conversely according to the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta until 2020 deployment of 60% of US warships will be realized from Atlantic to Pacific in order to maintain global force for providing stability and security in the region.

The US is escalating its relations with other states of the region besides traditional partners. Australia, Singapore, Philippines became strategic partners and supplied the superpower with novel bases. This state intensified affairs with Vietnam and Myanmar too, as was mentioned in ‘forward-deployed’ diplomacy US pursued a proactive policy that aimed to involve into ‘every corner and every capital’ in the region. In Obama’s speech conducted in Australia where the Pivot policy was proclaimed simultaneously with the declaration of 2500 US Marines deployment to Darwin he outlined the features of the benevolent leader mentioned previously by H. Clinton:
‘Every nation will chart its own course. Yet it is also true that certain rights are universal, among them freedom of speech, press, religion, freedom of citizens to choose their own leaders. This is the future we seek in the Asia-Pacific – security, prosperity and dignity for all. So let there be no doubt: in the 21st century, the US all in.’

In this paragraph we can see the intentions of regional leader which increased its presence there as a consequence of the sense of challenge coming from emerging power. So we can conclude the reasons of American pivot to Asia in some points:
Assuring friends and allies and providing a safe haven under the security umbrella of the USA.
Upholding the international norms relating to freedom of seas against Chinese aggressive approach toward neighbor states who claimed on the ‘lost territories’.
US’ interest shift from Middle East due to its self-supply of demands with shelf resources and development on alternative energy.

However, the word pivot outbursts several concerns in China which questions such kind of high level and still increasing presence of the US in the region. In this case US policy makers chose another word to use for decreasing the tension between states –rebalancing, though it was still perceived as ‘security against China’.

China-Possibility of Hegemonic Transition
After the foundation of People’s Republic of China three different politics was followed by governments. The first one was realized by Mao himself, who declared China as the leader of the Third World, when he attempted to build another system including states out of two Worlds and relying only on themselves (politics of self-reliance). However, unsuccessfulness of this policy was understood very soon, when Deng Xiaoping declared another policy which considered to be more involved into established system and acquire benefits from them. This policy was called taoguanyanghui policy and regarded concealing its capabilities and focused mostly on national strength building where the state should keep its head low with trying to avoid from confrontations with especially Western countries. In this policy Deng implied that China should learn to live with the hegemon and agitated ‘Mulin Zhengce’ (good neighbor policy) for creating a peaceful regional environment conducive to its economic development toward neighboring countries. So with following low profile diplomacy which became an indicator of Chinese consent on US hegemony in the region. China mostly involved into economic issues, trying to evade from global problems. The third stage on Chinese policy occurred after financial crisis in 2008-2009, when it did not suffer too much, and developed some characteristics affecting on this shift. China could involve into the world affairs and two important factors allowed them to act in this way – confidence, frustration- that gave ability of maneuvering in reaction to external world.

Confidence occurred as a result of enhancement of power capacity with getting less harm from 2008-2009 global financial crisis and strong economic growth trajectory. These advantages made China want shaping external environment proactively, rather than passively reacting to it. It provided China with aptitude to be more interested in safeguarding its national interests forcefully rather than compromising them. The range of Chinese interests was extending simultaneously with increase in its power based on economic and financial flourish. The main change as already mentioned occurred after the crisis period, when presidential elections conducted in the US in 2008 and new government could not react efficiently to it, Chinese stable decision-makers behaved more consciously and for the first time in the history Chinese spending became global economic recovery. Therefore Politburo allocated 586 trillion dollar stimulus package for battling with the crisis. Consequently new term came on the agenda – ‘Beijing consensus’- which seemed as an opponent to ‘Washington consensus’. Beijing consensus assessed by many states in Africa, Asia, Latin America as a model of development, indeed it was expressed as faster growth and greater stability without change in political structure of the state.

Therefore, Chinese possible interests on regaining the glorious position in the world order to realist scholars is a challenge to the US supremacy. On the other hand Chinese perceptions about American Pivot or Rebalance politics evaluated as anti-China resistance coming from the West which is planned to be prevented with three perceived barriers and it organizes ‘frustration’ factor depicted above:

1. Structural conflict – between US and China (super power and rising power). US’s actions are assessed as American containment policy, however China anticipates gratefulness from them due to Chinese involvement into 2008 crisis. Some kind of compromise was observed when Hillary Clinton indicated that human rights issue should not get in the way of cooperation on financial crisis and security issues contrary to her blames on China in 1996 due to violations of human rights. In China engagement policy of the US is perceived as a cover for hiding their real intentions of preventing Chinese rise as a peer power. Chinese analyst utters that more tension will emerge between Number one and Number two powers.

2. Western conspiracy will slow Chinese rise by blocking its global search and access to global natural resources and acquisition of foreign assets. In here Chinese resource vulnerability and reliance on foreign sources should be highlighted. Two main cases for delineating the situation can be drawn, CNOOC’s will to buy American-based Unocal Corp. when US political intervention prevented the realization of takeover bid, and Chevron which paid less get the asset. The governmental influence was explained as a concern for national interests, due to CNOOC’s being of state company. Chinese side indicated that US should try to learn separation of high policy from the low. The second similar problem occurred in Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto when Chinese access to raw materials was halted again.

3. Intensified international scrutiny of Chinese awkward domestic and external challenges in relation to human rights, media, freedom, Tibet, Taiwan, pollution cases. For instance in 2008 uprisings in Tibet were suppressed very harshly by military forces and rose global media condemnations in the period of Beijing Olympics.  China expressed that this kind of action is externally supported for embarrassing Chinese government. The famous Hollywood director Steven Spielberg rejected of being artistic consultant of Beijing Olympics due to Chinese Sudan policy. China was criticized due to its Iran and Sudan policies, and they acted accordingly with joining sanctions and international interventionist group, however the fear of more demand was still in minds of policy makers.

So American pivot toward Asia met more assertive China in the region which followed nationalistic politics, and involved in territorial disputes with states. Though China pursued assertive politics it has dual identity: A rising power and developing country. Official statement of the government rejects the term of rising power with criticizing G2 idea thus according to their words describes it as a potential trap for China that could expose it on the world stage. Wen Jibao indicated that China is a developing state, and despite its remarkable achievements, its modernization will take a long time and efforts of several generations.’ Apparently official declarations do not always reflect real politics of states, so Chinese politics in Asia-Pacific can follow three ways:
1. Abandoning passive policy of Deng Xiaoping ultimately and take responsibility of ‘great power’ for establishing ‘just’ world order.
2. Modified ‘passive policy’ and giving more emphasis on ‘youshou zuowei’ (some striking points/success) and take more active or even leadership role in pursuing certain foreign policy objectives, particularly in China’s core interest issue areas.
3. To continue low-key policy to avoid taking a leadership position on most important issues.

In this part of the article I would like to talk about Chinese attempt on building leadership in the region besides following aggressive politics with usage of coercion. According to Mearsheimer a state firstly should build regional predominance as US in 19th century for becoming a global leader. In 21st century this giant power commenced utilization of its prosperous economy and involved in soft power building besides developments in army and navy. China, the state with authoritarian government could increase its economy 9-10% for several decades annually and after the financial crisis in 2008 with its suggestion of Beijing consensus gained extremely important respect among undemocratic and poor states. So applying Beijing consensus rather than Washington which could cripple political regime seemed more beneficiary. With growing its economy, number of Chinese interests in the regional basin was increasing. Thus, it started to use hard power, next to the soft one, which was criticized by J. Nye. He indicated the difference between China and the US on usage of soft power:
‘China’s economic and military might has grown impressively. This has frightened its neighbors into looking for allies to balance China’s increase in hard power. But if a country can also increase its soft power of attraction, its neighbors feel less need to balance its power. For example, Canada and Mexico do not seek alliances with China to balance U.S. power the way Asian countries seek a U.S. presence to balance China.’

China is also searching for ‘consent’ with improving its soft power abilities, especially in Africa and Latin America this state could become more successful rather in its own region. Confucius Institutes around the world were opening to teach Chinese language and culture, the enrollment of foreign students in China’s universities increased to 240,000, Beijing invested $8.9 billion in external publicity work and etc. However the most influential power of China is its financial resources that can attract every state all around the world.

The first step toward the shift in its ‘low level’ diplomacy was taken during 2008 financial crisis, and the second, more enormous one was realized with the foundation of Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) which is the alternative to the financial system led by the US and Japan that encompassed even the closest allies of the USA. The bank was joined by 57 states including close allies of the US as France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel, South Korea and even Japan is discussing about the participation in governmental level. Not only US friends but also another emerging power – India, conventional rivals Russia and Iran did not want to lose this opportunity and jumped for bandwagoning. AIIB is already became a potential competitor where 49% of stakes will be met by PRC, to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and has not been welcomed by the United States, which still dominates both institutions. These 57 states involvement into the system built by non-US power warns about the tectonic shift in a world economic order. Almost half of the 50 billion dollars of investment is going to be financed by PRC that gives them important clue in maneuvering. Nevertheless, China indicated that it lends and gives money without any political strings attached – unlike Western institutions where foreign aid and soft loan diplomacy are traditionally tied to good governance. Hence, it disclosed ideas on developing its core philosophy, principles, policies, value system and operating platform through a participatory process with its founding members. So this kind of appeal can be very attractive to those states which were sanctioned, isolated and ignored by US-led economic world. Chinese attempts on building soft-power continues with its engagement into infrastructural issues as the New Silk Road, Maritime Silk Road, and Air Defense Identification Zone where the AIIB reflects the symbiosis of Chinese soft and hard power calculations.

On the other hand, China with using its economic power is going to build man-made islands that bring tensions in already existed antagonism with the states around South China Sea. Recently flight of a U.S. P8-A Poseidon surveillance plane over those islands escalated concerns on possible conflict in the region. Thus China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai uttered his concern and surprise in ‘overreaction’ of the USA to Chinese expansion of reefs in Spartly islands and indicated his sense of ‘Anti-China alliances’ and ‘Cold War mentality’ of the US. He emphasized their purpose on building civilian navigation and some military facilities on some disputed islands which rose anxieties of neighboring states and the US with these words:
“Most of the imports and exports of China go through these sea lanes, so stability in the region is of paramount importance to us. But of course we have to defend the facilities on these islands and reefs, so what we are doing is to provide or build up the necessary facilities for self-defense, not for attacking others.”

In this sense I would like to refer to the ideas of Gramsci related to ‘historical bloc’ (blocco storico). George Sorel interpreted this idea within international relations discourse and identified the term as ‘a revolutionary action in terms of social myths through which people engaged in action perceived a confrontation of totalities –in which they saw a new order challenging an established one.’ Accordingly, the existence of historic bloc is impossible without a hegemon. He implies, ‘Where hegemonic class is the dominant class in a country or social formation, the state maintains cohesion and identity within the bloc through propagation of a common culture. So novel bloc can be built when subordinate class establishes its hegemony over other subordinate groups.’

This can be the crucial point in Sino-American relations when the evaluation of leadership transformation is coming onto agenda. Certainly, applying Gramsci’s ideas about social relations to international affairs can be very difficult and certainly can raise contradictions, however it seems very useful in perception general conditions of relations between two powers. In the case of evaluation I am taking China as a ‘new subordinate group’ who wants to build a hegemony in the region with both force and consent as mentioned above using military capabilities, developing Navy on one hand and suggesting ‘other subordinate groups’ who accepted American leadership ‘carrots’ in order to build a ‘historic bloc’ against the established system. Chinese assertive policy toward disputed islands in South China sea, its aggressive behaviors to the states which involve in relations with Taiwan, Tibet or criticize human rights issues inside the country, and anxiety to US pivot into the region discern their interest to leadership in own region. However some indicate that China’s attempt to challenge the US hegemony is a myth and not more, therefore even Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang indicated that China ‘[has] neither the ability nor the intent to challenge the United States.’

Undoubtedly, current soft and hard power strength between these states is simply incomparable, it is in favor of the US and it confirms the idea of people who call leadership transformation ‘myth’. Moreover official claims coming from the China’s government shows their ‘unwillingness’ to gain domination over the Asia-Pacific region. Nonetheless, it is apparent that China has already juxtaposed its politics, thus this state does not have universal ‘values’ for promoting in the world as the US had. But China is increasing its work on building soft power in the markets where superpower does not have access, China is suggesting economic development without democratic regulations or regime change (Beijing consensus), this country attracts even American allies with its investments (AIIB). Furthermore, this state provides Chinese version of ‘Marshall Plan’, the project realizing in Central Asia with the name of ‘Silk road’ and ‘maritime silk route’ with Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, and Vietnam. China is leaning to west while US pivoting to East. These two states call each other strategic partners and estimate relations as the most important bilateral affairs of the world, paradoxically they have the deepest strategic mistrust to one another.

Though they are seen as main competitors in a number of fields of the global affairs, established financial interdependence made them co-evolve together, thus China is investing heavily to US Federal Reserves and withdrawal these investments is not possible without the weakening of the dollar that can damage Chinese investments accordingly. So they are like Siamese twins that have intertwined economic and strategic affairs which impede them to involve into serious conflict on the hegemonic realm. On the other side of coin, China is not as strong and accepted power as the US in this region, it still has unresolved problems with American allies. Time has not reached yet of talking about the change in power balance, but intentions can already be evaluated according to states’ behaviors.

After the end of Cold war five possible alternatives came on the agenda of the US in order to follow in Asia-Pacific region. From ultimate withdrawal to tremendous leadership, however with the burst of 9/11 attack make the choice delay. Consequently with Obama administration this region was prioritized, and the US declared ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy without hesitation of degrading other regions it existed. At this time China was growing stably, especially after the 2008 financial crisis improved its soft and hard power.

A benevolent leader which rebalanced its policy toward the region of new rising power relies on the consent coming from allies like South Korea and Japan increases its physical existence in the region and explains it with the will of allies whose security should be provided by them. On the other hand, the emerging power who can challenge the established structure of balance pursues more assertive policy in one side, and also proposes a new version of economic development without interference into domestic politics of states. At this time the question occurs whether leadership that lay on profound background can be substituted by the new state who is seeking for benevolent acceptance.

As was mentioned above for becoming hegemon, a state should find and maintain a world order which is universal in conception, ‘not an order in which one state directly exploits others but an order which could find compatible with their interests.’ The US could build such kind of interests that unified states of the region around it and with engagement policy wants to involve China in such relations. However mistrust between states nowadays destructed possible long-lasting acceptance of one another’s leadership in the region. Chinese acceptance of ‘growing within the system of hegemon’ or ‘low diplomacy’ is considered old-fashioned, and Chinese officials do not express such ideas very often.

Apparently, the global leader should start from gaining supremacy in its own region as it happened with the US who dominated Western Hemisphere firstly, before opening to the world. American fear is related to Chinese growth and probable aggressive behaviors toward neighbor states, conversely China is concerned about American presence in the region and possible Cold War rhetoric in Asia which rises ‘security dilemma’.

Consequently, I would like to stress on the idea that US is determined in maintaining its supremacy in the Asia-Pacific in 21st century. China is also transforming its policy with rising its head and evading from ‘low profile diplomacy’ with conflating soft and hard power they seem to attempt to build a domination over neighborhood states. Deep intertwining relations between two enormous economies in strategic, financial, environmental, political issues, having nuclear capabilities will certainly prevent them to enter into the conflict even in the worst situation. However concealing real intentions of maintaining or gaining ‘hegemony’ of US and China respectively, in the region is not be possible anymore. Current balance in the region does not allow China to replace hegemony of the US, however it does not mean that the state is not attempting to build capacity of gaining benevolent leadership for substituting the established system in the future. The US pivot to Asia is the policy for supervising and containing if necessary the growth of ‘the toddler’, who challenges benign hegemon of the Asia-Pacific region in order to halt the possibility of leadership transition.

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NIGAR SHIRALIZADE /Asya Pasifik Araştırma Merkezi(APAM)
Middle East Technical University
Department of International Relations


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