AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 555

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Session 555: China and the Capitalist Peace

Organizer: Stein Tonnesson, International Peace Research Institute, Norway

Chair: Chung-In Moon, Yonsei University, South Korea

Liberal peace theory has shifted from its emphasis on democracy to accentuating trade and open markets. Democratic peace theory is challenged by Capitalist peace theory, not least because of China’s “peaceful rise.” China’s ability to keep peace with its neighbours and its capacity for preventing large scale rebellions are major factors behind what is termed “the East Asian peace”. By contrast to the European peace, it is seen to fit better with theories based on economic factors than on regime form or regional institutions. Since China is a non-democratic country in a region with many regime types, its relative peace can hardly be ascribed to democratization, which also cannot provide a convincing explanation for the decrease that has happened in the number and intensity of internal armed conflicts in the region. The evidence suggests, however, that the trend towards more peace is strongly correlated with growth in trade and cross-border investments. China plays a key role for Patrick McDonald’s finding that countries with government-controlled economies tend towards aggressive foreign policies while open markets promote peace. Without democratizing, China has opened up and emphasized a stable and peaceful environment. Still we know from history that economic interdependence does not necessarily lead to peace among nations. There are many incidences when economic growth has created imbalances conducive to wars, rebellions, coups and internal warfare. Hence we propose a panel with four papers discussing the Capitalist peace in light of China’s internal and regional experiences, emphasizing the Taiwan issue and national priority setting.

Relative Peace in the Taiwan Strait: Economic Development, Trade and Security Considerations
Rex Li, Independent Scholar, United Kingdom

The dispute between China and Taiwan over the sovereignty of Taiwan is widely regarded as a major security issue in East Asia. Despite heightened tensions and occasional crises, the dispute has not involved any armed conflict since 1958. From the perspective of capitalist peace theory, economic integration across the Taiwan Strait has served as a disincentive for Beijing to use force against Taiwan. Moreover, Chinese leaders recognise that China's economic growth rests ultimately with its access to the capitalist market and the global financial system with inflows of external funding. A war with Taiwan would have an adverse effect on China’s trade and economic relations with the United States, Japan and other capitalist countries. Meanwhile, it is not in Taiwan's interest to declare independence which might provoke a Chinese invasion. According to this argument, Beijing and Taipei share a common interest in maintaining economic stability and prosperity in the region. This irresistible and irreversible trend of economic interdependence is believed to have contributed to cross-strait peace in the past two decades. Closer economic ties between China and Taiwan and their integration into the East Asian and global economy would also lead to an improvement of relations and possibly a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. The paper seeks to test the explanatory power of the capitalist peace theory in accounting for the absence of military confrontation over Taiwan and to consider other theories that may offer a better explanation for the relative peace in the Taiwan Strait.

The Capitalist Peace and the Taiwan Issue: Exploring the Importance of Economic Integration and Interdependence
Mikael Weissmann, Independent Scholar, Sweden

The conflict between mainland China and Taiwan has stalemated at a high level of conflict intensity. However, the relations across the Taiwan Strait have two sides, one characterized by conflict behaviour and one by peaceful exchange. When looking at political relations, the military standoff and deployment of weapons, and the difficult rivalry in relation to the United States, it is a conflict that has often led to crises. At the same time, cooperation and integration across the Taiwan Strait has proliferated in effect of the region’s rapid economic growth. Drawing on extensive interviews undertaken during two years of fieldwork, the paper argues that economic integration across the Taiwan Strait has been an important causal factor behind the development of less conflictual relations. It has established conditions conducive to long term peace. It has made it necessary to develop stronger positive cross-strait links also on a governmental level, by creating a need and incentive for quasi-official negotiations and functional cooperation. These have also contributed to develop a feeling of perceived security among the involved populations, a kind of silent conviction that even high levels of tension will not lead to all-out war. This said, economic integration as such is found to have only a limited effect in terms of direct conflict prevention. The key explanatory factor is a growing conviction and consensus on both sides that the Taiwan issue must not be allowed to destroy the region's phenomenal economic rise.

Does China's Economic Growth Model Alleviate or Exacerbate Conflict in Tibet and Xinjiang?
Liselotte Odgaard, Independent Scholar, Denmark

Separatist uprisings in Xinjiang and Tibet have attracted considerable international attention, and China has been forced to deal with them not only as internal security problems, but also as issues with potential repercussions both for its economic development strategy and its international standing. Considerable resources have been used to enhance economic development and improved living standards in the areas populated by Uighurs and Tibetans, but the new opportunities created by these policies have sometimes mainly benefitted Han Chinese migrants. This has caused resentment with a potential for leading to more conflict. The paper seeks to explain why China has nevertheless been more successful in minimizing the level of armed conflict in Tibet and Xinjiang than other states have when facing similar challenges (such as the Philippines, Russia and some of the Central Asian states). The hypothesis to be explored is that China's success in preventing or repressing uprisings is due to a national security strategy that combines systematic internal oppression with policies emphasizing economic and social development in ways that delegitimize separatist movements.

Peace by Setting the Economy First: Priority Shifts in East Asia, 1945-2010
Stein Tonnesson, International Peace Research Institute, Norway

The 1980s saw a dramatic drop in the level of armed conflict in East Asia, while all other world regions had an increase. The decline of warfare in East Asia continued in the 1990s and 2000s, when there was also decline elsewhere. Rather than seeking to explain this by growing international trade and mutual dependency, the paper will see this "East Asian peace" as the cumulative result of a number of national priority shifts or "purpose transitions" that have happened at different junctures, always on the background of a deep sense of national crisis. Each transition has led national elites to prioritize economic growth over all other national aims (except regime survival) and, in order to facilitate such growth, to seek good relations with the United States as the world’s leading capitalist power. The paper will go through these priority shifts, in Japan 1945-50, South Korea in the early 1950s, Indonesia in 1965-67, notably China in 1978-79, and Vietnam 1987-89, and show how similar they were. The paper points in the same direction as Kivimaki's paper under the panel "East Asia's Capitalist Peace": It is not economic interdependence as such, but policies aiming for economic growth that explain conflict avoidance and the trend towards regional "peace". Deng Xiaoping's contribution to setting China's new national goals in 1978-79 will be seen as having played a key role in setting East Asia on a course towards more peaceful international relations.