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Is China a Threat Not Because it is Strong But Because it is Weak?

Author: Prof. Timothy J. Lynch

Affiliation: University of Melbourne, Editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History

Organization/Publisher: Melbourne Asia Review/ the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

Date/Place: March 18, 2022/Melbourne, Australia

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 3056


Keywords: China, USA, Diplomacy, Geography, Communism, Economy, Great power Competition


While the rise of China had been a central debate in international relations in the 21st century, it does not necessarily follow that global hegemony for China is in sight. There are yet many obstacles and weaknesses that China has to overcome. This article examines four of China’s weaknesses that persist in the global arena. These are geography, ideology, economics and diplomacy. China is surrounded by neighbors that are not yet trusted and whom it has fought—and some are still fighting—which puts China in a dangerous neighborhood. The author uses the United States as a comparison in which it became the global hegemon in the 20th century thanks to non-threatening neighbors and being isolated by huge oceans. However, geography has pushed Beijing to be busy with maritime, border, and internal disputes. To put it mildly, geographical strains require China to think regionally, and hinder it to think globally. In ideology, the crisis of ideological diversity in such places like Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan makes it evident that Chinese communism has faced difficulty to maintain an absolute communist society. The author shows that the strong leadership regime in China is not based on the pride of communist ideology, rather it based on fear that the leadership can’t impose its uniformity in China. In economy, China is facing two problems, internal and international. Internally, the rise of a Chinese middle class is risking the internal stability of the country. And internationally, Beijing realizes that great wealth is not a guarantee of world power. Because China has been too dependent on its great wealth, it has created a diplomatic weakness in which China’s diplomacy remains highly transactional. Finally, the author claims that by focusing on China’s weakness, rather than being overwhelmed with its rise and strength, will lead towards a more realistic assessment on world or regional order.

By: Salman Nugraha, CIGA Research Intern



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