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Wang-Offensive Realism and China

Wang-Offensive Realism and China

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 March 2004
173
 Issues & Studies
©
40, no. 1 (March 2004): 173-201.
Offensive Realismand the Rise of China*
Y
UAN
-
KANG
W
ANG
Can analysts fruitfully apply realism to Asia and examine theimplications of the rise of China for world politics? Althoughinternational relations scholars have widely used the realistapproach to analyze Asia,
1
critics have taken to questioning the logic, co-herence, and pessimistic predictions of realism.
2
In "Realism, Revisionism, and the Great Powers," Professor SteveChan challenges thelogicand evidence ofrealism and argues that "realismdoes not even explain very well the European, or more generally, theWestern experience." He then dismisses realism's treatment of statesthat are revisionist and status-quo oriented as contradicting realism's
Y
UAN
-
KANG
W
ANG
(
王元
) received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2001 andis Assistant Professor in the Department of Diplomacy, National Chengchi University, Tai-pei. He can be reached at <ykwang@nccu.edu.tw>.*A commentary on Steve Chan's article "Realism, Revisionism, and the Great Powers" thatalso appears in this issue.
©
Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan (ROC).
1
See, for example, Andrew J. Nathan and Robert S. Ross,
The Great Wall and the EmptyFortress: China's Search for Security
(NewYork: W.W. Norton, 1997); Gerald Segal, "EastAsia and the 'Constrainment' of China,"
International Security
20, no. 4 (Spring 1996):159-87;and Denny Roy, "Hegemon on theHorizon?China's Threat to East Asian Security,"ibid. 19, no. 1 (Summer 1994): 149-68.
2
David C. Kang, "Getting Asia Wrong: The Need for New Analytical Frameworks,"
Inter-national Security
27, no. 4 (Spring 2003): 57-85; and Alastair Iain Johnston, "Is China aStatus Quo Power?" ibid., 5-56.
 
 ISSUES & STUDIES
174
March 2004
central tenet. Finally, Chan offers three behavioral indicators—vetoes inthe UN Security Council, ratification of human rights regimes, and thepercentage of gross domestic product (GDP) devoted to military ex-penditures—to challenge theideathat Chinaisa revisionist power and thatthe United States is a status-quo power. Although Chan wants to have usbelieve that his purpose is not to "bash" realism, one still gets the strongimpression that he aims to discredit the realist approach to internationalrelations. Ifthe usefulness and consistency of realism is in doubt,studentsof Asian international relations should turn elsewhere for guidance abouttheregion's future.Although mainly dealing with the realist approach to international re-lations, "Realism, Revisionism, and the Great Powers" remains a thought-provoking essay in the sense that it calls our attention to the issue of whether Chinais a revisionist state. Given our differences in worldviews,there are in my opinion three main problems with Chan's criticism. First,hefails to recognizethat realism isaparadigm (and notatheory) and there-by understatesits rangeand diversity. Second, he mischaracterizesimpor-tant realist theories, including John Mearsheimer's offensive realism, andpresents the wrong evidence that would pose a significant challenge to of-fensiverealism. Third, heconfounds revisionist intentionswith behaviors.States with revisionist intentions do not necessarily exhibit revisionist be-haviors, but instead will weigh the costs and risks before proceeding tochange the balance of power in their favor.Contrary to the stance articulated in "Realism, Revisionism, andthe Great Powers," I argue that realism does a reasonably good job inexplaining not only Western but also Asian experience. Although a largeliterature has developed on the Western experience, few international rela-tionsscholarstakeAsiaastheir empirical focus. InthisarticleIpresent evi-dence from Chinese history to support my claim that realism can be fruit-fully applied to Asia. Although the Asian state system existed separatelyfrom the European one throughout most of history, Asian states—notablyChina—behaved according to the dictates of realism. Imperial Chinaplaced a high premium on the utility of force and looked for opportunitiesto maximize China's relative power. China adopted amore offensive pos-
 
 I&S Debate Forum March 2004
175
ture as its power grew and shifted to a more defensive one as its powerdeclined.In this article, I first clarify that realism is a paradigm that embodiesa wide range of competing theories. I then highlight the appeal of buck-passing over balancing in offensive realism. Next, I explain that revi-sionism in offensive realism refers to the intentions of a state to changethe balance of power in its favor, which may not reflect actual behavior if thestatelacks such capability. To support my claim about the applicabilityof realism to Asia, I present evidence from imperial China. I concludeby suggesting that realism is a venerable research tradition that is capableof making progress. The article ends with a rejoinder to Chan's closingremarks.
Realism: AParadigm (Not aTheory)
As Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller have succinctly stated,"Realism is a general approach to international politics, not a singletheory."
3
Stephen Van Evera points out that "realism is a paradigm, notatheory."
4
RobertGilpin also writes that "realism ...isessentially aphilos-ophical position; it is not a scientific theory that is subject to the test of falsifiability and, therefore, cannot beproved ordisproved."
5
Asaresearchprogram, realism comprises a number of competing theories: classicalrealism, structural realism (neorealism), defensive realism, offensive real-ism, neoclassical realism, and the like. Most of these theories share a fewcommon assumptions: states are the central actors, the world is anarchic,
3
Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller, "Preface," in
The Perils of Anarchy: Contempo-rary Realism and International Security
, ed. Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, andSteven E. Miller (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995).
4
Stephen Van Evera, "Elements of the Realist Paradigm: What Are They?" (Typescript,January 27, 1992), 4, quoted in Benjamin Frankel, "Restating the Realist Case: An Intro-duction," in
Realism: Restatement and Renewal
, ed. Benjamin Frankel (London: FrankCass, 1996), xiii.
5
RobertGilpin, "NoOneLovesaPoliticalRealist,"
SecurityStudies
5, no. 3(Spring1996):6.

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