China, the U.S., and the Power-Transition Theory book coverBy: Steve Chan

China’s recent growth has called attention to the power-transition theory, which contends that the danger of a major war is the greatest when a rising dissatisfied challenger threatens to overtake a declining satisfied hegemon.

Steve Chan questions this prevailing view by analyzing the extent of ongoing power shifts among the leading powers, exploring the portents for their future growth, and seeking indicators of their relative commitment to the existing international order. To better understand the strategic motivations of ascending and declining states, insights are drawn from prospect theory and past episodes of peaceful and violent transition (such as the end of the Cold War and the outbreak of the First and Second World Wars). He concludes that China is unlikely to instigate a confrontation with the US, and that whilst military conflict over the Taiwan Strait is possible, this is more likely to be due to China’s inability to prevent US involvement than its willingness to provoke the US.

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