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China Threat Theory


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China Threat Theory

Rising China: a security threat to the West?


The rising China into the world stage has paved the way to the China threat theory. The China threat theory claims that China will soon disrupt the status quo in the world that has been dictated for decades by the Western nations like United States, United Kingdom and France. Especially the United States will not easily give up or relinquish their position as hegemon. The perceived threat of a rising China; especially when there are several publications of books, articles and anti-China bashing blogs that helps to exacerbate these fears. China’s increase in soft power and hard power does not mean it is a threat to the global security; China’s development and their economic growth relies on peaceful relations with the West because China needs access to their domestic markets.
The main reason why China is considered to be a threat to the West is because they cannot maintain their domination on the world stage, and has to make room for developing nations like the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Yet China simply wants to develop and increase the living standards of its people, and no desire of aggressive military actions. Thus, the foundation of why China is still been seen as a threat will be explored but the conception will be dismissed because as a growing superpower these steps are logical and any country that is in the same situation as China now will simply follow the same road. The following paper will examine different viewpoints regarding if the China threat theory is feasible or not; in order to come to the above conclusion.

The United States perspective on China’s military progress

Based on the information stated in the United States Department of Defense report (2011) it represent as though China is a possible threat especially if it states in the executive summary that “Earlier this decade, China began a new phase of development by articulating roles and missions for the People’s Liberation Army that go beyond China’s immediate territorial interests.” But the report continues on other several crucial facts that supports the assumption above:

- China has the most active land based missile program in the world from cruise to ballistic missiles. - China has about 1.25 million active ground forces personnel while approximately 400,000 divided among 3 military regions that are positioned on the opposite of Taiwan. - Unveiling of the first 5th generation stealth multirole fighter

In general China is speedily upgrading its armed forces, the report prove that there is some warning signs because it shows that China is lacking transparency about their defense budget. China says their military spending is around 120 billion dollars, although United States doubts the numbers and estimated around 200 billion dollars; because with such a big army of 3 million active personnel with modern equipment could be the main reason why the numbers are not believable. According to the U.S. DOD report (2011) the threat is real and China is not here only to keep their national security but also ensuring the interests of national development.

The peaceful development of China has a lot of potential. It shows that a state in developing phase does not necessary breeds aggression with neighboring states. While China’s military spending according to the Mercatus center of George Mason University article “World’s top military spenders: U.S. spends more than next top 14 countries combined,” As the article informs us that China spends just a fraction of what U.S. is spending. The amount of military spending is quite insignificant if it is compared with the U.S.
Despite that China has not as big of a budget as the U.S. it is still capable of modernizing its army.

Armed forces of China is gradually modernizing, yet among the China watchers there are many claiming that China’s military is not much of a threat due to that the Chinese army is oversized outdated soviet styled army with insufficient modern capabilities to project its power very far. Most of the armed forces is only good for maintaining internal security or play a defensive role in a conflict so no direct threat at all. Next, the Chinese military is gradually modernizing, although there seem to be no evidence that Chinese army is building an arms race against the U.S. like in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Also China adheres to their “no first use policy,” thus means that China’s nuclear forces will never use nuclear weapons for pre-emptive strikes and never use it to threaten other states as well.

Instead of provoking China now with “China threat theory” and the China containment policy from the U.S. government; the U.S. should promote China into a responsible stakeholder and let China integrate and add Chinese values into the international system to strengthen the cooperation between the two superpowers and the rest of the world.

It seems that this “threat theory” is naturally constructed by while being heavily influenced by various pro-Western interest groups. It is common if you see it in a realist perspective (international relations). Since history has shown us that whenever a state is developing increasingly fast; the increase of tension between the strongest actors in the regional or international theater will eventually clash with each other because there is anarchy on the international theater. Even now we see this happening with this “China threat theory” between the U.S. and China.
A foundationalist would argue that when they observe that China is modernizing and building up its armed forces even though they are utilizing their soft power (financially, diplomatic) more than hard power( militarily). They will agree to that China is or might be a threat all because of the increase of military spending and modernizing its armed forces.
An anti-foundationalist would argue that how could you interpret “threat” as financially competitor or militarily. Yet it is logical for a country to modernize its armed forces when they become more influential and doing very well economically. While comparing with the U.S., China is still not nearing where U.S. is now with their war machine, their military spending and military bases around the world. Thus, how can China be a “threat” when the U.S. military is more of a threat? Especially their aggressive foreign policy towards non-democratic nation states is very intimidating towards China. That also justifies China’s modernization.

China is showing that they are not backwards, old and inefficient anymore. By modernizing rapidly for the sake of protecting their national interests against foreign powers; does not mean they are threatening other nations in the progress with aggressive foreign policies. This China threat theory is created to smear China’s peaceful development so that the West could counter so they can maintain their hegemonic position. However, the decline of the west is to be expected because increasingly more countries are in developing phase. The policy the U.S. should take on these countries like China is the responsible stakeholder concept. The developing nations such as China should not be considered a threat because its main focus is to increase the betterment of livelihoods and make poverty disappear.


Department of Defense, 2011. Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from , 1-8 pages

Veronique de Rugy, 09-12-2011. World’s Top Military Spenders: U.S. Spends More than Top 14 Countries Combined. Mercatus Center George Mason University. Retrieved from

Ming Xia, 19-07-2007. “China Threat” or a “Peaceful Rise of China”. The New York times Retrieved from

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