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An inter-Asian perspective on China’s rise and power shifts in Asia

Satish Kolluri (Department of Communication Studies, Pace University, New York, New York, USA)
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee (Department of History, Pace University, New York, New York, USA)

Social Transformations in Chinese Societies

ISSN: 1871-2673

Article publication date: 7 April 2021

Issue publication date: 3 August 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

Taking an inter-Asian perspective on the perception of China’s rise and power shifts in Asia, this reflection draws on the examples of Hong Kong’s years-long pro-democracy movement, Taiwan’s democratization and India’s anti-China sentiments to discuss the growth of domestic and international discontents against China’s projection of sharp power, even military power, along its peripheries. The severity of these crises suggests that an assertive China has trapped itself in a perpetual cycle of intensifying authoritarian rule at home and seeking expansionary outreach abroad. China’s diplomatic and military adventurism is likely to antagonize potential allies, jeopardizing the hope for inter-Asian solidarity and cooperation.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors consult relevant secondary literature to contextualize the perception of China’s rise to domination from an inter-Asian perspective.

Findings

Following the end of the Cold War in 1990 and the demise of the Soviet Union as a Eurasian empire, some cultural theorists proposed a postcolonial, inter-Asian perspective to de-globalize the Euro-American-dominated humanities and social sciences, recognizing that many areas once deemed by the West as marginal and peripheral had contributed to the transformation of the modern world. The nineteenth-century Western imperialists and early twentieth-century Japanese militarists once deployed the geopolitical concept of “Asia” to advance their respective discourses of modernity and progress. Thus, the very notion of Asian solidarity or Pan-Asianism is deeply problematic because it reminds us of the entwined histories of colonial oppression and resistance against imperialistic intrusions.

Research limitations/implications

The conventional “inter-Asian” perspective that emphasizes relational connectedness across and within nations does not seem applicable to explaining the troublesome relationship between American universalism and China-centric authoritarianism.

Practical implications

In today’s multipolar world, the USA and China are embroiled in a competitive relationship regarding the shape the global order should take. The recent US-China trade war is only the opening shot in the wider bilateral conflict. Behind this contest for global leadership in economic influence and technology is a serious battle of ideas.

Social implications

China is still coming to terms with many unexpected consequences of globalization. Steady recovery gave China a temporary reprieve but the overall economy has weakened due to many years of trade disputes with the USA and the COVID-19 pandemic. China has yet to find a way to coexist with a fast-developing India, address the genuine grievances and demands for democratic change in Hong Kong and accommodate a stronger pro-independence force in Taiwan. To revive the vision of inter-Asian solidarity, China should build trust at home and abroad and reimagine institutional mechanisms for conflict resolution. Otherwise, it would trap itself in endless cycles of tensions and conflicts that benefit no one.

Originality/value

The rapid rise of China to power in the Eurasian continent and Asian waters has not only distorted the inter-Asian vision of seeking unity among postcolonial states but also accelerated competitions for territorial resources and regional dominance. By reflecting on the latest interventions of China in geopolitical affairs, this paper shows that despite the rhetorical appeal of horizontality, the engagement of many emerging Asian powers has diverged from the ideal of inter-Asian cooperation. The task for scholars is to gain a more accurate understanding of the fluid situations on the ground.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This paper forms part of a special section “China’s Rise and Power Shifts in Asia: Geopolitical, Socio-Economic and Historical Perspectives”, guest edited by Romi Jain and Joseph Tse-Hei Lee.

Citation

Kolluri, S. and Lee, J.T.-H. (2021), "An inter-Asian perspective on China’s rise and power shifts in Asia", Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 27-38. https://doi.org/10.1108/STICS-12-2020-0030

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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