In his new essay for the New York-based Foreign Affairs magazine, Mearsheimer argues that the US and China are locked in a dangerous security competition, more perilous than the first Cold War. In essence, once China grew wealthy, a US-China cold war was inevitable. Had US policymakers understood this logic in the early 1990s, they would have tried to slow down Chinese growth and maximise the power gap between Beijing and Washington.
However, the US did the opposite: it pursued a policy of engagement, which aimed to help China grow wealthier – based on the assumption that China would become a democracy and a responsible stakeholder, which would lead to a more peaceful world. Instead of fostering harmonious relations between China and the US, engagement led to an intense rivalry.
Is Australia and the world in deep trouble? Absent a major internal Chinese crisis, Washington and Beijing are consigned to waging a dangerous security competition. Can we manage on the margins to prevent disaster?
John Mearsheimer is professor of political science and international relations at the University of Chicago and author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001). He was a guest at the Centre for Independent Studies in 2019.