Trilateral Great Power Politics in Theory and History 7 The Chinese government has used its improving economy to acquire more pow- erful warships, warplanes, and unconventional space and cyber capabilities. For example, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has been acquiring a “blue- water” naval force with modern oceangoing vessels, including aircraft carriers as well as a fleet of modern military aircraft.15 Defense reforms have enhanced inter-service cooperation under new joint commands. There have also been sub- stantial investments in asymmetric warfare capabilities for cyber and space war- fare and a small but growing nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, Chinese diplomats have been active in building a China-centric network of bilateral and multilat- eral institutions. Xi’s “Chinese Dream” envisages a resurgence of scientific, tech- nological, cultural, and military power intended for both civilian and military purposes, within the framework of a national spirit of “rejuvenation.” The Chi- nese military-civilian fusion strategy, as outlined in the 2016 “Opinions on the Integration of Economic and National Defense Building,” aims to expand col- laboration between the country’s military and civilian sectors, especially in the realm of technology and know-how.16 The fundamental question facing the world is whether the international system can manage China’s rise without large-scale loss of life and strife. Power transition theory posits that the PRC has the same general goal as other rising powers—to apply its growing economic, military, and other capabili- ties to remake the international order more in line with Beijing’s preferences. Even though China’s rise benefited from the U.S.-made global order, Beijing is now trying to replace that order with institutions and norms that PRC leaders believe would better advance its economic and security interests under current conditions. Historically, rising powers tend to free ride off the global hege- mon and only challenge it when they conclude that they have accumulated sufficient strength to overthrow the international system. China is a rising power whose recent actions suggest that it is following this opportunistic path through carefully calibrated actions to strengthen its position in Asia, with the goal of establishing a Sino-centric order in the region, while benefiting from the U.S.-sustained world order in the interim. Like earlier rising great powers, the PRC might use its growing economic and military power to uphold com- mon interests, but such a benign power transition is rare and certainly cannot be presumed. These power transitions often lead to major wars between the rising and the already dominant powers, a development sometimes referred to in Sino-American discourse as “The Thucydides Trap,” which Chinese and U.S. policy makers are striving to avoid.17 Beijing aims to dominate the Indo- Pacific region without war. Chinese leaders have demanded more influence within the world’s key international institutions while making excessive claims to sovereignty over neighboring territories. The United States and other coun- tries are torn between wanting to benefit from China’s economic rise and fear- ing its political-military implications. Like Russia, however, China faces major
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