Robert Haddick sees some startling parallels between the rapid expansion of modern China’s economic and military power, and the unification of the German states under Otto von Bismarck in the late 1800s. Germany’s European neighbors failed to adapt to Germany’s growth, and the result was World War I.
Before World War I, Europe’s great powers clashed over the allegiance of small neighboring states, engaged in a naval arms race, and squabbled over access to overseas raw materials. As a consequence of China’s growth, we are witnessing modern versions of these same conflicts. The question for today’s statesmen is whether they will do a better job adjusting to China’s rise.
Haddick lists several possible flash points that could trigger a confrontation. But the single biggest factor influencing the outcome of this growing unease is the unknown quality of China’s own intentions.
The fateful day may arrive when the United States and China’s neighbors find themselves compelled to explicitly align against China, just as France, Russia, and eventually Great Britain did when they chose to align against Germany. The U.S. government has rejected a confrontational approach to China, with apparent benefit to all. But how long can this policy last? And what will cause U.S. statesmen to change their minds?