Integrating a Rising China into a Declining Western OrderG. John Ikenberry
With China’s economy predicted to double over the next decade — and surpass the United States’ economic leadership by 2020 — there is no question that China is on the rise. The question is not if or how China’s rise can be thwarted, claims G. John Ikenberry in Foreign Affairs, but rather how to ensure that the current Western order remains the dominant one.
According to Ikenberry, China’s rise will bring US global dominance to an end. There are, however, two potential courses that China’s rise could take: one which involves China overtaking the US and upsetting the existing international order, potentially leading to war, the other in which China integrates into the Western order, whether or not the US remains on top. This is the goal the US needs to be aiming for.
Although China’s rise undoubtedly signifies the end of the United States’ “unipolar moment,” it is not just the United States that China faces. Instead, China will be up against a Western order which the United States just so happens to have led; a deeply rooted, integrated, rule-based system that is easy to join but hard to overturn. Ikenberry argues that the US has the potential to integrate China (and eventually other rising countries as well) into this system, but only by strengthening the existing order before China is in a position to overthrow it. This postwar order is unique in that it has allowed economic growth and power to a wide variety of stakeholders, and thus could potentially adapt to a more powerful China.
There are three aspects of the Western order which make it difficult to overthrow, and if reinforced, could secure the interests of both rising powers and declining ones through their integration into the system.
- Through non-discrimination and an open market, the barriers to economic participation are low and the benefits high, allowing for states to expand their economic and political goals within the order.
- Coalition based leadership allows for shifts in the balance of power between states without affecting the overall order.
- Deeply rooted rules and institutions lay the basis for cooperation. Strengthening the rule-based aspect of the Western system promotes shared authority and discourages fragmentation into “minilateral” arrangements.
It is this strong framework of rules and institutions that has already begun to facilitate China’s integration. In fact, China has been using these international institutions to achieve its very rise in global status as it becomes increasingly aware that it can’t become a world power without joining the World Trade Organization and integrating into the globalized capitalist system. In other words, “the road to the East runs through the West,” should the West decide to unite in strengthening this system.
Rather than fight the inevitable, the United States needs to ask itself what kind of international order it would like to see in place when it is less powerful and reestablish itself as the top supporter of the global system of governance. The key to a future that is favorable for both the US and Europe is an open, rule-based order that binds states by securing their interests through integration.
The summary above was prepared by Samantha Ferrell of the Atlantic Community editorial team from an article by G. John Ikenberry: The Rise of China and the Future of the West available online at Foreign Affairs.
Related Material from the Atlantic Community:
- The Economist: A Lack of Real Innovation in India and China
- Paul Krugman: Dealing With the Dragon
- The Economist: No Progress in Sino-American Trade Talks