[Note: the “Explaining China” series began here, and the source for the map above is given there as well.]
A persistent worry in the Western world, particularly among the political right, concerns a supposedly-coming-soon war with China, as if China were harboring ambitions to take over the world. Evidence for this idea’s existence can be easily obtained; simply enter “coming war with” into Google; it will supply China as the top choice with which to end the phrase.
People should stop worrying about a war with China. It isn’t hard to avoid one, and we have nothing to gain from such a war, anyway.
First, as with other nations, China will defend itself if attacked. Therefore, to avoid being at war with China, the first step is to refrain from attacking China.
The next step is to realize that China has a long history with invasion, particularly from neighboring countries, and tries to maintain a “buffer zone” of controlled (or at least influenced) territory surrounding China — for defensive reasons, and with a rationale not unlike the one for the Monroe Doctrine in the Americas.
Since Deng Xiaoping changed the direction of China’s economy (“To be rich is glorious” is one of his famous quotations) from Maoist Communism to nominal-Communism, Chinese leaders have also become concerned about staying rich, and getting richer. To do this, they need markets to sell their stuff. Politically, what the Chinese want is simple: stability. Why? Also simple: China has had more than its share of instability, and this has often been fatal for millions of people. The Chinese have no desire for more instability. Therefore, they aren’t looking for a fight. They’ve let Hong Kong and Macau do pretty much what they want, relative t0 the rest of China, and they’ve tolerated their situation regarding Taiwan for decades.
The only place where there has been outright war between the People’s Republic of China and the West has been the Korean peninsula, which is, of course, still a global “hot spot.” At the beginning of the Cold War, Korea was partitioned between the victors of World War II, as the USA and USSR, each with their allies, squared off against each other. This brought American troops into Korea. China did not become involved at first — not until Western forces were nearing the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. At that point, hundreds of thousands of Chinese “volunteers” crossed that river, pushing American forces back. Ultimately, a stalemate similar to the war’s starting point was reached, and is still there today, DMZ and all.
North Korea is dangerous, but that doesn’t mean China is seeking war there. Since the death of Mao, China has moved ever closer to the goal of political stability. The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the DPRK, or North Korea’s absurd-but-official name) is a destabilizing force. If necessary, the governments in Beijing and Seoul can deal with Pyongyang. It would be best if the West did not get involved, unless (and this is unlikely) our assistance is requested.
It is a fact that we (the USA) have treaty obligations all over the place, and that is a problem we should fix. World War II is long over, as is the Cold War. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea can now afford to pay for their own defenses. We should let them do this, and renegotiate the various treaties which would make it difficult for the United States to stay out of East Asian conflicts, on the grounds that these treaties (in present form) are no longer necessary.
The Chinese aren’t looking for a fight; they are quite busy, and have been for decades now, making lots of money by making things we need, and selling them to us. That might anger some people who bemoan the associated movement of jobs to China, but it is certainly no reason for war. The Chinese certainly won’t seek out war with us, for, without us, they can’t sell as much stuff, and would therefore make less money.
The people of China want stability, wealth, and more stability. They know, from their own history, that the opposite of these things often results in millions of deaths. Overt war is not on China’s agenda, nor should we put it there, by indulging in ill-considered American military (mis-)adventures in East Asia. There is no good reason for war with China to ever happen again. To avoid it, we must only do two things:
- Don’t attack China.
- Don’t get into violent conflicts with lands which share a border with China.
It would also help if the American political right would tone down the saber-rattling, but that’s probably not going to happen. On the other hand, as long as the rhetoric is not mixed with actual military actions, it can be safely tolerated. We have been doing that for decades, anyway, after all.