Many people in Asia and, indeed, across the world are growing increasingly nervous about the prospect of a more powerful People’s Republic of China (PRC). A number of analysts hold that Beijing is seeking to establish a traditional sphere of influence, just as other great powers have done throughout history. We argue that the ‘sphere of influence’ concept does not accurately explain China’s present and emerging strategic behaviour. For one, commentators do not agree on where, precisely, China is seeking to establish a ‘sphere of influence’. There is also little, if any, historical evidence of China seeking spheres of influence even when it has been at the height of its power — for example, during the Tang (618–907) or Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. The voyages of Zheng He in the early Ming dynasty, between 1405 and 1433, could be seen as an attempt to carve out such a sphere, but these were both atypical and short-lived, so tend to prove rather than disprove the point. This is not to argue that China’s future will necessarily mirror its past. But much closer and more rigorous analysis needs to be undertaken, focusing on the question of whether Beijing is, in fact, seeking one or more spheres of influence — and, if so, where and how? And to what degree should Australia, and the rest of the world, be worried?
|Title of host publication||China Story Yearbook 2019: China Dreams|
|Editors||J Golley, L Jaivin, B Hillman & S Strange|
|Place of Publication||Canberra|
|Publication status||Published - 2020|