By Keikichi Takahashi
In his book, International Politics and the Search for Peace, Masataka Kosaka, a leading scholar of international politics in postwar Japan, argues that “wickedness comes from weakness.” “Countries that cannot manage their own economies or protect their independence have always been sources of disorder and war despite their inability to actively do harm to others.” According to Kosaka, “This is true even today.”
He does not provide examples that correspond to his arguments. However, considering that his book was published in the 1960s (1966), he likely developed them primarily with fragile Asian and African countries that had just won independence from Europe in mind.
Regardless of Kosaka’s concerns, his argument applies well to China before the Second World War. The root cause of the lack of stability in pre-war East Asia was weak China. It was its weakness that allowed the European powers and Japan to expand into the Asian continent and plunged East Asia into a whirlpool of “disorder and war.”
It could be said that China’s recent population decline and economic slowdown make it necessary to heed Kosaka’s words, “wickedness comes from weakness.” Of course, there is little possibility that China’s weakness would stimulate European or Japanese imperial ambitions, as seen during the pre-war period. It has been a long time since they have lost them. In contrast, China seemingly cannot forget its glorious past during which it flourished as a great dynasty and maintains its imperial ambition, creating territorial issues with neighboring countries and causing serious tension in the Taiwan Strait. China’s recent predicament may exacerbate these circumstances.
Two American political scientists, Hal Brands and Michael Beckley, clearly demonstrate this logic in their book, Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, published by Norton last year. They say, “We live in an age of ‘peak China,’ not a forever rising China. Beijing is a revisionist power that wants to reorder the world, but its time to do so is already running out.” Therefore, “Beijing had better hurry,” while the United States, as an anti-revisionist power, must swiftly prepare to meet China’s challenge with the expectation that the time of showdown will come soon.
In relation to this argument, US President Joe Biden’s statement at a fundraising event in Utah on August 10 is worth noting. He said, “China is a ticking time-bomb.” Its growth rate was “8 percent a year,” but “now closer to 2 percent a year.” “China finds itself in a position where it has the highest unemployment rate going.” It is also “in a position where the number of people who are of retirement age is larger than the number of people of working age.” Clearly, “China is in trouble,” but, he warned, “that’s not good because when bad folks have problems, they do bad things.”
If China’s official statistics are reliable, its growth rate is not as low as Biden pointed out. “Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics showed the economy grew 4.5% in the first quarter and 6.3% in the second,” Reutersreports. His numerical comparison between people of retirement age and those of working age is not correct, either. Fortune says, “the Asian giant still had 876 million people of working age versus 280 million people 60 years or older, according to official statistics.”
It may be certain that Biden overstated China’s problems. However, it is not important, nor does it matter that he called Chinese leaders bad folks. The point of his remark is that China is weakening and that that poses a potential threat to world security.
It must not be easy for the Biden administration to prepare for the threat. Domestically, it faces the issues of Republican control of the House and their infighting that led to congressional dysfunction following the removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Internationally, it has to deal with the two wars in Ukraine and Israel. Whether the Biden administration can adequately prepare for the threat of weak China remains to be seen. At the very least, however, we should be pleased that we have an American president who understands that “wickedness comes from weakness.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com.