Life in China’s Asia

What Regional Hegemony Would Look Like

Changing of the guard: Chinese naval officers in Shanghai, December 2013. Carlos Barria / Reuters

For now, the United States remains the dominant power in East Asia, but China is quickly closing the gap. Although an economic crisis or domestic political turmoil could derail China’s rise, if current trends continue, China will before long supplant the United States as the region’s economic, military, and political hegemon.

As that day approaches, U.S. allies and partners in the region, such as Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea, will start to face some difficult questions. Namely, should they step up their individual defense efforts and increase their cooperation with other countries in the region, or can they safely decide to accept Chinese dominance, looking to Beijing as they have looked to Washington for the past half century?

It may be tempting to believe that China will be a relatively benign regional hegemon. Economic interdependence, one argument goes, should restrain Chinese aggression: because the legitimacy

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