Deterrence Theory and Chinese Behavior

China’s recent reforms have led to unprecedented economic growth; if this continues, China will be able to turn its great potential power into actual power. The result could be, in the very long term, the rise of China as a rival to the United States as the world’s predominant power; in the nearer term, China could become a significant rival in the East Asian region. In this context, the issue for U.S. policy is how to handle a rising power, a problem that predominant powers have faced many times throughout history. It is the contention of this report that the future Sino-U.S. context will illustrate many of the problems of deterrence theory that have been discussed in recent decades; deterrence theory will be, in general, more difficult to apply than it was in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War context. The key may be to seek nonmilitary means of deterrence, i.e., diplomatic ways to manipulate the tension to China’s disadvantage.

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