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On the 21st of November 2017, the Henry Jackson Society hosted Professor Jennifer Lind in an event titled: “What would Chinese Hegemony in Asia look like?”. Jennifer Lind is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College and a Faculty Associate at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University. Currently, she is a visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Politics at the School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS).
To start off the event, Jennifer presented the if-conditional question: what if China became the regional supreme in Pacific Asia and briefly addressed other countries in the region, particularly Japan, South Korea and Australia and their current standing towards China. Furthermore, she mentioned her concern over the balance of power, particular if the United States decide to interact less in the region. As it stands, the US is the strongest country in the region – however, given the trajectory of the past 25 years, China is catching up rapidly and no other country can balance their rise in becoming a potential regional hegemon.
Before continuing to assess the current situation and give a look into the future, Jennifer introduced us to previous examples of regional hegemony and given concept in general. The examples given were the USSR in eastern European countries as well as the United States in Latin America. It was interesting to hear the comparison of these two cases and how both regional hegemons were able to advance their own interests with a variety of tools: economic, political, military and cultural.
Following these two examples, the talk focused again on China and whether it has the ability to use given tools and if so, whether it has done so already. In terms of economic tools, Jennifer presented some cases where China has created certain trade deals and has also used some economic coercion in order to exert pressure onto other regional countries. In particular the case with trade agreements can lead to a dependency on the regional hegemon and would thus enable it to further make use of its status. China has certainly become a military superpower, with no other country in the region being able to balance it. In terms of political tools, the launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in 2014, following an initiative by the Chinese government with its headquarters in Beijing, is a prime example as to how China could establish itself as a regional hegemon. Even the use of soft powers, often through cultural tools, is something which China has been engaged in – particularly through the use of media outlets as well as film. Above examples show that China has the ability to become a regional hegemon and is already acting in some parts like one. It was interesting to hear that it follows a similar playbook to above mentioned regional hegemons.
Jennifer then concluded her talk with stating that it depends on other countries, in particular Japan, to decide what they think about the possibility of China establishing itself as a regional hegemon. She mentioned that currently Japan has a very small percentage of GDP spend on its defence. If Japan does feel threatened, it ought to increase that percentage and potentially collaborate with other regional countries to balance the power of China. Whilst this might come at a high cost, the other countries in the region have to ask themselves whether they believe this cost to be worthwhile or rather live in a Chinese Asia.
Jennifer Lind introduced us to a highly interesting thought experiment, which very possibly might become reality in the next five to ten years. She provided a stimulating insight into how regional hegemons gain power and influence and whether China has been following this trend. The Henry Jackson Society would like to thank Professor Jennifer Lind for her presentation on: “What would Chinese Hegemony in Asia look like?”.