Strategic adjustments and the Rise of China

15 September the anthology Strategic Adjustments and the Rise of China was lauched with a seminar at IFS.


Professor Øystein
Currently there is a lot hedging in Asia as smaller states are uncertain of the results of power transition in Asia. This will become more difficult in the future due to growing polarisation. Smaller states will have to choose between the two.

Professor Robert R. Ross
Disagrees with Tunsjø. There was more polarisation before, now the situation is more fluid. Moreover, the US and China cooperates on many levels.

Dr Ian Bowers
The main alliances the US has with Asian partners were not originally directed against China. Europe can offer help to the US, not by entering Asia, but by looking after Europe.



Jo Inge Bekkevold introduced the topic, and emphasised that the book was a result of a multinational collaboration. The overarching theme of the book is concerned with the rise of China, power transition between the US and China, as well as how key states in East Asia are affected by these changes.

Øystein TunsjøØystein Tunsjø

Tunsjø emphasised how this power transition would affect Norway. The US is an important security provider for Norway and Europe. However, the US is not only concerned with Europe, but with its other regional flank in Asia, and here the balance of power is about to shift. One important aspect to monitor is how the US will stand up for its alliance partners in East Asia. Will it act as a reliable alliance partner? This has important implications for how European states perceive their American alliance partner. There are good reasons to compare the reactions of East Asian states with small states in Europe, particularly with regard to deterring China and Russia respectively. Moreover, space and cyber capabilities are not confined to regional boundaries. Thus, what takes place in East Asia has global ramifications. Other important aspects are the emergence of a new economic world order, led by China, and the disputes in the South China Sea – particularly in light of the UN Convention on the law of the Sea.

Robert R. RossRobert R. Ross

Ross approached the topic historically and compared the US-Soviet competition over Europe with the present US-China competition over Asia. Ross distinguished between "cheap talk" and the capabilities on the ground. The US pivot to East Asia constitutes cheap talk, and Ross paid particular attention to different rates in ship building in the two countries. Ross' conclusion was rather clear, in terms of numbers, China will outgrow the US navy in the near future. Moreover, the technological gap between the two countries is closing. Moreover, international law will not affect China's strategies. It has been evident that during the two last decades, more and more US ships are based in the Pacific. Europe will have to take care of itself as the US cannot fight on two flanks. China, much more so than Russia, is the power that affects US strategies. Finally, regional politics will become more important in the future, as the developments in Asia will have global ramifications.

Ian BowersIan Bowers

Bowers focused on how Japan reacts to power transition in Asia. Japan emphasises international norms and has profited from decades of stability during the cold war. Currently, Japan is reforming its security policy, for instance with regard to legal adjustments pertaining to the use of military force. Moreover, it has renewed its alliance with the US and increased its security cooperation regionally. Japan also modernises and expands its naval capabilities. Japan shares interests with Southeast-Asian states, but it is hesitant to joint operations in order not to antagonise China. Japan's power deficit with China increases and, Bowers argued, its cooperation with the US is not as strong as Washington wants. With regard to the situation in North Kora, Japan will increase its missile capabilities, which is still regarded as slow.


Q/A Session

Q: Is naval capability still the key element?

  • Ross: To a large degree, yes. Deterrence works and the US power to retaliate is still large. War games are not against the Chinese army, but its navy.

Q: What are the security implications of China's Belt and Road Initiative?

  • Ross: Africa is insignificant in terms of security. China's investments might affect global governance, development and corruption.
  • Tunsjø: BRI is a bit more than investments, also concerned with prestige and assertiveness. It may also prove to be a challenge as it creates geopolitical tensions (CPEC) and strategic overstretch.
  • Bekkevold: The size of the BRI is gigantic, 300 billion USD.

Q: With regard to China's naval expansion, will it be sufficient to deter their aircraft carriers?

  • Ross: Ballistic missiles are not accurate enough to hit moving targets. In the event of war, it will be an easy task to take out US facilities in East Asia. It will be impossible for the US to have a presence in the South China Sea.
  • Bowers: What is the US deterring? Aircraft carriers are not as essential as submarines.
  • Ross: China will challenge the US in terms of numbers of submarines.

Q: In the event of war, who will win?

  • Ross: Power transition may lead to war, but the situation in Asia is different than in Europe, "there is more water in Asia". It will probably not lead to a big war.
  • Tunsjø: There are not many examples in the past involving rivalry at sea. Nuclear weapons will probably not be that important. The possibility of a local war is present, but it will probably not escalate as it involves navies.
  • Bowers: There is not much to fight about in East Asia, there might be a clash but no further escalation.

Q: Does the US debt to China work as a deterrent?

  • Ross: The price of war is so high that debt itself is not that important. The US and China have mutual interests in this regard.

Q: What is the global outreach of China vs the US? What is the relationship between domestic and foreign policy in China?

  • Ross: China does not have many military bases, more logistical facilities. Xi has a strong base domestically and wants to reshape the regional order in Asia.
  • Tunsjø: China is a global actor. And it is a revisionist power in its own region.

Q: Will a potential war between the two remain conventional?

  • Tunsjø: It will not be a nuclear conflict, as there are no invasion threats.
  • Ross: Escalation is not likely. A war is not likely to be nuclear, but the chances of a conventional war are higher.
  • Bowers: It will not lead to a nuclear war.

Q: What is the role of cyber capabilities, intelligence and social media?

  • Ross: Cyber capabilities are over-emphasised. When it comes to hacking, China seems to have an advantage, but China is also vulnerable due to the modernisation of its military.

Summary by Lars Tore Flåten

Publisert 15. september 2017 00:00.. Sist oppdatert 10. januar 2018 11:53.