To start with, if you appreciate my work, please consider supporting me on patreon
In this speech, John Mearsheimer said; “There was going to be a “serious chance” that two gorillas—the Chinese and the Americans—would end up shooting at each other in an intense security competition.”
Now, let’s get down to the real business of this essay.
The situation for Australia is one that is indeed difficult to manage.
As you know, Australia depends heavily on economic intercourse with China and at the same time it depends on the United States for its security.
So Australians have a sense that they’re sort of caught in between the United States and China.
And by the way, if you go to South Korea or Japan or Singapore or even the Philippines—they all feel this way as well!
This isn’t unique to Australia.
John Mearsheimer On China’s Rise in Asia
So what will happen in the future?
My view on this is that the Australians have no choice but to decide with the Americans.
I do not believe that Australia will stop all trade with China entirely, but I do believe that Australia will have no choice but to downplay its relationship with China in order to balance quite clearly with the Americans in the future.
This should be clear from my argument here, which is that security concerns always trump prosperity or economic concerns.
Survival is the highest goal any state can have, and so I think from Australia’s point of view it makes eminently good sense to ally with the United States and I believe Australia will do that.
Japan will do that and so forth and so on. Well, this is not to deny that this is not a happy story. And again, it’s a tragic story in many ways.
Let me just conclude with one final comment: That China does not continue to grow.”
This is an important point John Mearsheimer makes that America is trying to destroy China’s economy the same way they did that to the Soviet Union.
And I believe it will be for the same reasons: America wants to control all of Asia, and if China stands in its way, then America will do everything in its power to overthrow China’s regime.
John Mearsheimer Australia Must Choose USA
Whenever I say that Australia’s economy is going to collapse, it is purely because of this one factor: our government has chosen not to stand up to America on issues like freedom of navigation patrols or trade agreements.
These things are important because they are what make us strong—they allow us to take care of ourselves.
He further said that “Foreign Minister Maurice Payne, who was present, made a big deal about how Australia values the international order that is based on rules.
When I asked her why doesn’t Australia do follow-up freedom of navigation patrols through the 12-nautical-mile zone in the South China Sea, she couldn’t really answer.
I think her answer was the smart one. Basically, it does not make sense for Australia to enforce the rules at this point in time.
It would make much more sense for Australia to pass the buck to the United States.
But when it comes to enforcing these rules, the United States is the one who pays the costs.
Will China Rise Peacefully? John Mearsheimer
And look, Australia has a lot at stake with China, especially when it comes to trade. So it’s not surprising that you’d have an interest in seeing those rules obeyed.
But do you want to enforce them? No, not in my opinion. I say this from an Australian perspective, not from an American perspective.
You have much more of an interest in letting the Americans do the heavy lifting in this intensifying strategic competition between Beijing and Washington.
I know a lot of Australians are right to say we can sit on the sidelines in this intensifying strategic competition between Beijing and Washington.
With regard to this particular issue at this point in time, you can sit on the sidelines and say “We’re not going to take sides.”
The question you have to ask yourself is what happens if this security competition continues to escalate?
You’ve been able to get away with sitting on the sidelines up to now—playing both sides and hoping no one notices you. It’s been very smart from an Australian point of view.
I understand what your incentive structure is. But you have to choose sides. The question is what’s going to happen as the security competition intensifies?
Australian Geopolitics – John Mearsheimer
And if it does intensify, Australia, we had a flavor of this during the course of the week in the aftermath of the Osmond negotiations on Sunday when Washington really wanted Darwin to station mid-range missiles there—should Australia do it?
Well, my guess would be that America will put great pressure on Australia to deploy.
I mean, I know you’re thinking that China buys double what our next largest customer Japan buys from us, but the Chinese economy will grow much bigger than America’s in the coming years.
He reckons that federal treasury projections show that China’s economy will be 80 percent larger than America’s economy in the next 12 to 15 years.
He also says that our China ties and I think this is a fair assessment saved us from the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
As a result of this is Hewitt’s argument: Canberra would be unwise to support Washington in a confrontation with China because America probably can’t win.
Great Power Politics in Asia – John Mearsheimer
I fully understand that from an economic point of view, poisoning relations with China makes no sense, and one could argue it’d be disastrous in certain respects or Australia over time.
However, the question you have to ask yourself is does that make sense?
You know aligning yourselves with China from a security point of view. Can you really imagine Australia aligned with China against the United States? Is that going to happen here?
You realize you would be an enemy of the United States if the United States is involved in an intense security competition with China and you’re with China against the United States.
The United States will be awfully angry and will go to great lengths to put its gun sights on you.
I think you are overstating the weakness of America vis-a-vis China. It may be in 40 or 50 years that China fits that description, but we’re nowhere near that point and for the foreseeable future there’s no way the Chinese are gonna run us off the table or run us out of East Asia.
When John Mearsheimer said that America would have their gunsights on Australia, Tom Switzer was giggling like a little girl.
South China Sea – John Mearsheimer
I was shaking my head because it does reflect the intelligence community’s naiveté and lack of awareness of the situation at hand.
We can’t sit on the fence; we can’t just play both sides. We have to take a side, and we have to take a side soon.
We’re not Switzerland, and we’re not positioned as if we could be Switzerland. Singapore is in that situation, but Australia is not.
The discussion between Tom and his colleagues continued, and Tom asked that they consider the following:
Their conversation has led them to consider a number of different possibilities. It’s not so much that Australia faces a choice as a whole series of choices around different things.
And the reason I say that is because, for the 14 countries that have a land border with China, it probably becomes their binary issue for the countries.
Maybe even for the second country. For China, it becomes their binary issue but for Australia—which is almost as far away from China as it is from the West Coast of the US—it’s not likely to be such an issue.
Taiwan – John Mearsheimer
There may be areas around cyber and intelligence where it does become a binary choice because you can’t participate in certain things with both sides without choosing one over the other; however, there will be other areas where it’s perfectly legitimate to remain neutral.
It’s actually not interesting to notice that the US may say, “We would strongly like you to do that.” And there may be a lot of pressure put on Australia to change its position on things like the South China Sea dispute.
But if you’re just looking from the Australian national interest, you might take a view that it’s not necessary to be all-in on every issue.
You can actually pick which issues you align strongly with the US on and which ones you’re neutral on.
The trade is an obvious example where we might actually be in favor of the Chinese perspective on certain things.
John Mearsheimer replied, “the question is how much flexibility Australia has and how much choice it has.
I argue that there won’t be many cases where it has the ability to opt-out on some policy issue that the Americans care about.
In the final analysis, I think that’s what struck me about Australia over time—how loyal they have been to the Americans, and how they pretty much do anything the Americans ask them to do.”
Asian Geopolitics – John Mearsheimer
“For example, I’m quite surprised that although I shouldn’t be that the Australians have agreed to participate in the Persian Gulf War to protect shipping in that area.
If I were playing Australia’s hand, I would not have agreed.
But they did agree; however, I don’t think they’ll have a lot of maneuver room and don’t think they’ll ever be in a position on an important issue where they can side with China because the Americans will always have more power over them than China does.
I hope that my words don’t sound threatening here, but I think the Americans will come down hard just because that’s what happens with great powers.”
Just so we are all clear on this, let’s break it down into a clear point: If we cut off China’s oil supply from Iran, we are effectively already at war with China.
Eventually, we will stop trading with China because the only reason why they are still trading with us is that they need our resources.
We have a billion dollars worth of our coal in customs right now because they won’t let it through. We’ve been in a diplomatic freeze with China since Jinping came into power—and he hates us.
We are officially at war with China, and it’s amazing that this so-called intelligence community still thinks that we can play both sides.
One of the men asked a question that, if the United States were to go to war with China, what would give Australia confidence that they would win?
Balance Of Power Politics in Asia – John Mearsheimer
And why would it be in Australia’s interest to take part in such a war given that this is our part of the world?
China is extremely important to us and we have a physical relationship with this part of the world that the United States does not, which actually affects our existential survival.
Security and protection are essential for our national security.
John Mearsheimer replied, “I’ve been in a security competition involving China and the United States.
The question is whether or not you can sit on the sidelines. So you’re going to sit on the sidelines? Right.
And are you going to continue to trade with China and feed the beasts?
Yes, and what does that mean for the United States? The United States is just going to sit there and let Australia continue to trade with China and feed their own economy.”
“You see how interested Donald Trump is in wrecking the Chinese economy. You understand that’s what we’re doing—we’re trying to wreck their economy.
We don’t want them to be able to implement China 2025 where they dominate high-tech in 2025.
We don’t want them to continue growing over the next 30 years the way they’ve grown over the past 30 years.”
Well, Indonesia is the world’s fifth-largest economy, and yet it’s an issue few want to talk about.
American policymakers have been keenly aware of the danger posed by Indonesia’s growing power, but they’ve hesitated to act on it because of their reluctance to intervene in East Timor.
If America doesn’t act soon, there’s a good possibility that Indonesia will become powerful enough to discard us when we’re no longer useful.
John Mearsheimer says great powers are useless—and if Australia becomes useless, we’ll be discarded too.
We’re in an arms race with Indonesia for control over this region, but no one seems to be talking about it.
I had a good talk with John Mearsheimer afterward and he just shrugged his shoulders and said “I think Indonesia’s on our side, aren’t they?.”
That was shocking to me because he didn’t seem very confident that anyone really knows what Indonesia is thinking right now.
Is Indonesia a Secret Ally Of China’s?
In my opinion, Indonesia is on team red because they’re China’s friends.
Another man asked, “Presumably, they read your articles and your books and they see the persuasiveness of your case.
Why can’t they get together and say this is not a good course to go on? Let’s work out some rules, whereby we don’t have that inevitable conclusion that you’re talking about.”
John Mearsheimer replied, “Yeah, I mean this is actually the way we can solve this problem that we can have some sort of condominium or some sort of concert where the United States and the Chinese realize if they do what I say, they are likely to do it leads to potential disaster.
If not a real disaster. They can’t do it because the system gives them very powerful incentives as they get more and more powerful.
The Chinese are driving this train, and Americans are happy with the status quo, which gives the Chinese very powerful incentives to alter the status quo.
If you’re in Beijing and you’re getting wealthier and wealthier, your military is getting bigger and bigger, you know that the best situation on earth is one where you dominate the region of the world that you live in.”
“The incentives for you to try and push the Americans out of your region of the world are enormous because there is no higher authority that can know the intentions of another state.
You just want to dominate your region of the world.”
Chinese Hard Power Against Australia – John Mearsheimer
“So it’s the Chinese who are driving this train, and the Americans understand that if China dominates East Asia, that will have huge negative repercussions for them and they, therefore, have powerful incentives to prevent it.”
“This is why we have never had a single case where we sat down and figured out how to get out of this dilemma. We’re really smart people”
Another question from the audience was, “You talked a lot about the ruthlessness of the United States in terms of its foreign policy over the last 200 odd years,” and I just wanted to ask you if you would also comment on how Australia has always come to America’s aid in all of its foreign adventures.”
I’m thinking, for example, of when the Howard government asked for U.S. support to go into East Timor and the U.S found that it was not in their strategic interest to get into a war with Australia against Indonesia.
I just wonder at some point, although you say Australia doesn’t have a choice but to go with the United States if we might become expendable at some point to the United States, and if at some point we do become expendable, what happens then?
From our defense planning point of view, we should become more self-reliant because our military capabilities are built around interoperability with US forces.
Does this mean that we need to spend more on our defense and become more self-reliant?
China’s Monroe Doctrine in Asia – John Mearsheimer
John Mearsheimer replied, ” I think that great powers are ruthless, and I think the United States is no exception.
If the United States found itself in a situation where it made sense for us to throw a country to the wolves—from our point of view—we would do it.
That’s the way international politics works. I’m not saying this is a good thing. It’s just how things work.”
“I mean, look at the noble role the United States played in rebuilding West Germany and Japan after World War II.
We did it because we had to—not because we wanted to. We didn’t rebuild them for noble reasons, but because it was our interest to do so.”
Another man asked a question that 120 countries in the world count China as their main trading partner. 68 countries have signed up to China’s belt and road initiative, and how many countries are resisting Chinese expansionism?
John Mearsheimer replied: “Well, I’m not sure exactly what your point is. All of these countries have good economic relations with China—there’s no question about it.
China is an expansive power. China is not simply interested in East Asia; it’s going to build a blue-water navy.
“The Chinese will tell you they plan to control their sea lines of communication that run from East Asia through the Straits of Malacca into the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf.
The belt and road initiative is designed not just for economic purposes, but for security purposes—it’s good old-fashioned power projection, and the Chinese are interested in being a superpower just like us.
There’s no question about that.” “Your question is who’s pushing back?” “Not many people. Not many countries, either.”
John Mearsheimer v Hugh White
“At this point, it’s still early in the game, so it’s hard to tell what will happen over the next 20 or 30 years.
But if you look at places like Vietnam, India, Singapore, Philippines, Japan… Taiwan and South Korea… you’ll see that there are a lot of people in those countries who want to see Americans contain China.
They’re scared of what would happen if we didn’t do anything about China’s expansionism.
The problem is that they’re not pushing back very hard because for them it’s a trade-off:
They can’t afford to cut off trade with China because they need its markets too much. Same reason Australians aren’t interested in pushing back hard against China: It would mean losing their economic intercourse with them.“
“ In the process of changing, and at some point down the road, Australia (and not only Australia but a lot of other countries) will have to figure out which side they’re on.”
“By the way, we could go to Europe and talk about this when it comes to balancing against China. The Europeans are going to play hardly any role at all—they’re not going to be in the balancing coalition.
These are countries that are getting weaker and weaker every year, and they had very little power projection capability to start with.“
Nevertheless, the Chinese are going to want to trade extensively with the Europeans and they’re going to want to trade dual-use technologies—the kind of technologies we aren’t gonna want the Europeans giving the Chinese!
The Europeans are going to have to decide whether they’re with the United States or whether or not they’re with China.”
“The Europeans are beginning to trade dual-use technologies with the Chinese and basically telling the Americans to take a hike.
I don’t think the Americans are going to be very happy about that, and they’re not going to want to leave forces military forces in Europe to protect the Europeans in that situation, right?”
John Mearsheimer China Interview
“This is all coming back around again—I told you before that we need a theory to think about the future, and we need a theory because the future hasn’t happened yet.
Maybe I’ll be proved wrong. Maybe someone like you will be proved correct, and we’ll have some great conversations about it.
The question I was asked before by Tony is: “Maybe the Chinese leaders and American leaders with a little help from our Australian friends would be able to figure out a clever way of managing this problem.” Let’s hope so!
James Peter Hodge is the John Wayne of journalism. This was the best question that I heard all night.
I had not heard it before, and when I asked Mearsheimer about it at the end, he said that no one had asked it before.
He said that the answer to this question is “yes.” Of course, he did not say anything more because he did not have time.
But this points out that nobody’s really pushing back against China because economically they rely on China and that’s why Mearsheimer got so fired up at the end there because he’s realized that this is a multi-faceted question and Peter Hodge articulated it brilliantly.
Another question asked by someone that, Trump who has tapped into something visceral in the American middle class is: “What happens to American confidence and its exceptionalism when it loses some of its virtue in 1989?”
You told us that as China would liberalize parts of its economy, it would become just like us. They said Iraq would become a Jeffersonian beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
You told us that as America withdrew from its ambitious foreign policy abroad, it would be the end of history. Now, we are here in 2019 and none of these things have happened.
It seems like every day there is more news about China’s rise to global dominance—and fewer stories about how America can still win this fight.
What happens then to that question of American confidence and its exceptionalism when it loses some of its virtue? And how much can American will in the heartland be mobilized for what really is a very profound struggle against China to be number one?
John replied, “The United States is preparing for a potential military confrontation with China, and the Pentagon is fully prepared to deal with China.
Furthermore, if you look at the high-tech industry in the United States, it is marching arm-in-arm with the Pentagon against China.
The Silicon Valley people are scared stiff of China. They think the Chinese are going to eat our lunch. China 2025 scared the living thus out of them.
John Mearsheimer America’s Containment Strategy For China
So it’s not just the Pentagon that’s pushing to have a containment policy against China; a huge chunk of business establishment is fully in favor of containing China and fully supportive of what Trump are trying to do to Chinese economy.”
“ The business community in the United States is divided into two parts: finance, and high tech.
The finance people are interested in making money and cutting deals with the Chinese, but the high-tech people view this as a completely different situation.
They’re marching arm-in-arm at the Pentagon. So we won’t have any trouble mobilizing the American people, because as you know James, the American government is brilliant when it comes to manipulating public opinion to support even cockamamy wars.
This one will be an easy one.”
Another question from an old man asked, As you said, China has never been a world expansive power. And it is against its culture to be dominant of its region.
But there is nothing in its culture that suggests that the country would want to invade or dominate the US or Australia.
The second omission in your theory is an assumption: You assume that the world has to be unipolar. Not to be in conflict.
Will China Invade Australia? John Mearsheimer
John replied, “ I think your point that you only get peace in unipolarity is valid, but I’m saying there’s another factor at play here: in a unipolar world, you only have one great power.
That means that if you want to avoid war, you need to avoid having two or more great powers.”
“So let’s look at Europe from 1870 to 1914—that was a period of great power wars (Crimean War, Franco-Prussian War), but no great power war in Europe.
Does that mean that we should conclude that bipolarity leads to peace? No: it was because there were only two great powers in Europe at the time.
But what about 1815 to 1853? That was a period of peace (no great power wars) and multipolarity—but it wasn’t the same kind of multipolarity as we have today!
It was a multipolarity where there were three or more great powers, but also no constant war among them; instead, each country went about its business quietly and peacefully.”
“In short: there is no correlation between multipolarity and constant war. There is an inverse correlation between multipolarity and constant war—and also, importantly, between multipolarity and great power war.”
“ So, my point is that there are three great powers: the United States, Russia, and China. The two that matters are China and the United States.
In a unipolar world from 1990 to today, my story was about geopolitics and culture. I didn’t care whether China was an authoritarian state or not—just that it’s important to understand that there’s no domestic politics in my story.
North Korea – John Mearsheimer
I don’t agree with the argument that if China was a democracy like Japan or India, we would live happily ever after—I disagree with that.”
“But of course, we’re never gonna run that test because China is not a democracy. With regard to the culture, however, I don’t believe that culture matters.
I believe that if you look at Chinese history carefully, they have been a remarkably expansive country over time. I have a former graduate student who wrote a book on this—give you the citation to the book that lays this out in considerable detail.”
“There are some people who believe that China has a Confucian culture.
Whenever I go to China and people say, “Oh we have a Confucian culture,” I always say “You know, I’ve heard that somewhere before—I think it’s called America.”
I think the only people who mention China as a Confucian society are those who are not out to hurt anybody. They don’t really know anything about China at all, but they do know that when they had a look at it, they saw that it was an expansionist society.
The Qing dynasty was expansionist, the Tang dynasty was expansionist and the Wuhan dynasty was expansionist?
These were huge empires that China built rapidly expanded and created tributary states as slave states like North Korea all throughout Asia.
This has happened over the last 2,000 years. But more recently Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution killed over a hundred million people via his Cultural Revolution which was about getting rid of culture and Confucian culture was part of that.
So when I hear people mention this word just as soon as I hear that word I realize that they know little to nothing about modern-day China and will use anything to do with China’s history in order to prove their point about how bad it is.
Finally, I had a chat with John Mearsheimer. My colleagues and I huddled around him and asked him lots of questions, and we had a big conversation that went on for half an hour or so.
We were pestering him with many different questions: “What about Indonesia?” was my first question for John, but the second question was:
“If we’re having this discussion about Australia possibly playing a China-America role by sitting on the fence and maybe not really wanting to engage with both of them, wouldn’t that be more of a pressing problem for South Korea?
Considering South Korea is on the doorstep of North Korea, which is shooting missiles every day?”
Is South Korea a Friend of USA? John Mearsheimer
The economy in South Korea relies on China more than America likes to admit. Wouldn’t it be possible that as China’s economy begins to rise again—even though it’s still at a growth rate of 6%—this will create competition between China and America for South Korea’s attention?
And that South Korea will eventually ask America to remove their military bases and “not welcome anymore.”
John Mearsheimer was very adamant that they were not going anywhere.
It just seems like South Korea is not really playing ball with us because they’re there in some sort of a little trade spout with Japan, which doesn’t really seem like they’re playing on our team but anyway, he was quite adamant that South Korea is controlled by America and I guess I’ll have to take his word for that.
The next topic was Hong Kong. Most of the guys that were standing around seemed to think that Hong Kong was a big deal now Hong Kong, in my opinion, is Well Hong Kong is China now Hong Kong is run by China and there’s little to nothing we can do about it.
They were asking questions about whether China Chinese people were aware of all of the protests in Hong Kong and I told them a little story about how when the umbrella movement was happening.
I had no idea what was going on because my parents didn’t tell me anything about it but then one day they came home from work and said “you know what?
We’re done with this protest thing” so I’m pretty sure they don’t know.
I was across the border in Tianjin and how nobody in China knew about him, but a lot of people in China know about what’s happening in Hong Kong at the moment.
But I think too many people in the West see it through their lens. They think that the Hong Kong people are fighting for democracy and freedom, but the Chinese people inside Mainland China don’t see it that way.
The Chinese people inside Mainland China see Hong Kong as their land and it’s not because they’re viciously out to hurt people; they just see it as safety by controlling Hong Kong and by hopefully from their point of view controlling Taiwan in the future.
They see that as safety which will protect them. It’s like they’re expanding their boundaries because they all know about the hundred years of humiliation and how the West has destroyed China in the past.
So in a way, it’s expansionist—they want to make sure that they’ll be the dominant country in Asia, and are making their threats through fear.
I think the people who hold power around John afterward do not understand China’s mentality. They still look at China through a Western lens.
International politics is gangster there. There are no rules and that is why in my opinion, countries fail: because the bourgeoisie—the 1% aristocratic society—end up pulling the strings.
But they don’t have the streetwise.
They’re not streetwise enough to understand game theory enough to understand what they’re really getting themselves into especially when you’ve had such a sheltered life like most of the people.
Who end up being politicians and that’s one of the things that makes me think that Australia is far more screwed than I think anybody realizes:
it’s that people at the top are not prepared for this upcoming threat.
Here are my best blog posts