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Malcolm Riddell

Founder of CHINADebate

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!
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January 1, 2021

Happy New Year!

And greetings from Sarasota, Florida, where it’s a beautiful 77 degrees on the first day of the year.

While I was planning this New Year’s issue, I debated with myself: Should I do a recap of China 2020 or a look forward into 2021?

  • Then a third possibility presented itself.

I read ‘Competition With China Could Be Short and Sharp: The Risk of War Is Greatest in the Next Decade,’ by Michael Beckley of Tufts University and Hal Brands of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins.

  • And I realized that, with a new administration about to take office, a look a few years out might be the most useful.
  • (I've highlighted some of the authors' key points below but the entire essay is well worth reading.)

Drs. Beckley and Brand present an argument that has appeared here in earlier issues:

  • ‘China has entered a particularly perilous period as a rising power.’
  • ‘China has the money and muscle to challenge the United States in key areas and to disrupt the existing order’.’
  • ‘Yet its window of opportunity may be closing fast.’

When this argument has been presented here before, readers’ pushback has been that China’s window of opportunity is not closing.

  • They counter that, yes, China faces many problems - so do other nations - but its ability to manage them and its general wherewithal will allow China to continue to grow and gain power.
  • In other words, China is strong and getting stronger and not acting out of insecurity.

The reasons behind the strategies and actions of major powers are complex and sometimes contradictory.

  • And I certainly wouldn’t build an analytical framework on the premise that China’s actions stem from a fear of its window of opportunity closing.
  • But I wouldn’t exclude or eliminate that possibility from my framework either.

Because if Beckley and Brand are right, then China falls into the ‘rhyming of history.’  As the authors point out:

  • ‘Historically, the most desperate dashes have come from powers that had been on the ascent but grew worried that their time was running short.’

‘World War I is a classic example.’

  • ‘Germany’s rising power formed the strategic backdrop to that conflict, but German fears of decline triggered the ultimate decision for war.’
  • ‘German leaders ran such catastrophic risks in the July crisis for fear that geopolitical greatness would elude them if they did not act quickly.’

‘The same logic explains imperial Japan’s fatal gamble in 1941, after the U.S. oil embargo and naval rearmament presented Tokyo with a closing window of opportunity to dominate the Asia-Pacific.’

Like these other nations, ‘China has entered a particularly perilous period as a rising power.’

  • ‘China has the money and muscle to challenge the United States in key areas.
  • ‘Yet China’s window of opportunity may be closing fast, as it faces a pronounced economic slowdown and a growing international backlash.’
  • ‘Over the next five to ten years, the pace of Sino-American rivalry will be torrid, and the prospect of war frighteningly real, as Beijing becomes tempted to lunge for geopolitical gain while it can.’

That is more than sufficient reason to consider the Beckley/Brands argument (and to read the whole essay).

  • And to set your geopolitical sights beyond 2021.

In the card you saw in the Christmas issue, the elephant and the blind monks of the CHINADebate logo were decked out for that holiday.

  • Now they have changed to their New Year’s Eve attire.

Have a look here - and have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2021.

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