I've been watching a bunch of lectures and discussions on the geopolitical future of China lately, mostly with John Mearsheimer and Kishore Mahbubani.

Mearsheimer thinks that if China becomes powerful enough, major conflict with the United States is inevitable. So, the best strategy is to build a coalition with China's neighbors and contain its expansion and growth. Mahbubani thinks that China basically just wants to trade and doesn't want to engage in war or major expansion. So, cooperation is the best option.

Mearsheimer is interesting because he acknowledges how terribly brutal the United States has been throughout its history, but he believes that any other country would have done the same in its position. When he's with Australians he tells them they should align with the United States because being in the back yard of a major power is hell: just look at Latin America. Meanwhile, Mahbubani takes a "civilizational" approach and points to Chinese history. They weren't terribly imperialistic when they were the most powerful nation in the world for thousands of years, so why would they be imperialistic now?

I personally think both of these approaches have major holes. Mearsheimer doesn't even consider the possibility that countries might cooperate with each other outside of raw fear and self-interest: his approach basically guarantees geopolitics is horror. Meanwhile, Mahbubani doesn't seem to acknowledge that the world has changed completely since China was supreme, and that's going to have a major effect on its behavior.

I've also seen other people taking the civilizational approach argue that China is going to try to assimilate cultures similar to what it did during its formation, and what it's currently doing in Xinjiang. Just briefly looking over Wikipedia, in 1755 you have the conquest and genocide of the Mongol Dzungar people and the repopulation of the area by ethnic Han Chinese, which is oddly reminiscent of what the United States was doing around the same time.

I think the reality will be some mixture of these different tendencies. I think that humans have a natural capacity and inclination towards cooperation, but I also acknowledge that Mearsheimer's approach has a lot of explanatory power when it comes to historical trends. As I say in the article, I think the United States should lead by example and the people ought to push for a cooperation-driven policy based on peace, reparations, and trade. Maybe we ought to try beating the Chinese at their own game.


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