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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien


Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
3-3-6 Kudan-Minami, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102-0074
Tel: 03 – 3222 5198
Fax: 03 – 3222 5420


The Zone of Peace in the East Asian International System?

January 15, 2003 / 6:30 P.M.

Shogo Suzuki, Australian National University

Recently, there has been some divide over the nature of China’s international relations. Traditionally it has been argued that Chinese political philosophy, with its unique emphasis on pacifism, contributed to Imperial China’s preference for defensive strategies and reluctance to expand aggressively overseas. This view has been severely challenged by Alastair Iain Johnston, who has shown that the Chinese actually have a hard realpolitik ‘parabellum’ strategic paradigm, which shows a high preference for coercive military tactics and sees adversaries in highly zero-sum terms. Moreover, Johnston seems to suggest that this paradigm has persisted over time, and continues to guide the People’s Republic of China’s strategic thought to this very day. Johnston’s argument has added strength to the ‘China Threat’ thesis. Some scholars have argued that given China’s traditionally aggressive strategic culture, we should expect China in the 21st century to be just as dangerous as it always has been. However, has China always been as aggressive? If we take a broader view of international relations surrounding the Chinese empire, we can see that in some areas particularly Korea, Ryukyu, Vietnam, and, to a lesser extent, Japan) hard realpolitik paradigms may not have necessarily been the central guiding principles, and wars are relatively infrequent. What explains this phenomenon? I argue that the East Asian international system developed from fundamentally different principles from the European one. The East Asian international system was a hierarchical system (as opposed to an anarchical system). The maintenance of its order was premised on tributary relations, rather than the maintenance of the balance of power.