Asia's Quest for Balance: China's Rise and Balancing in the Indo-Pacific.

AuthorRolfe, Jim
PositionBook review

Asia's Quest for Balance: China's Rise and Balancing in the Indo-Pacific. Edited by Jeff M. Smith. Lanham, Maryland: Rowraan and Littlefield, 2018. Hardcover: 323pp.

Explaining China, its role in the region and the world, and the appropriate responses to its rising power, has been a cottage industry for scholars for at least the last three or four decades. This book adds to the genre, and does so usefully in part but less so in others.

This is really two books in one. The first part is a discussion of balancing as a concept, and its relationship to the rise of China and the effects of that rise on the region. The second part is a series of country case-study chapters that explain the approach towards China taken by the selected countries in terms of their balancing behaviour. The second part is stronger and more interesting than the first, although the absence of chapters on South Korea and Thailand is a serious shortcoming. The other major regional powers--India, Japan and Australia--are included, along with most Southeast Asian countries. The United States is present implicitly throughout, and explicitly as a section within each of the country chapters.

The country chapters are very useful, largely because the editor has assembled a very strong team of contributors. Each chapter uses a common framework to discuss the issues and it is therefore easy to compare and contrast the selected countries and their respective relationships with China.

However, there is one significant gap. There is almost no mention in any of the chapters of the range of formal "strategic partnerships", "comprehensive strategic partnerships" and "partnerships of friendship and cooperation for peace and development" held with China by all of the countries discussed except for Singapore and the Philippines. These partnerships might be shams, but they should have been discussed in terms of the "balancing against China" focus of the book.

The definition and discussion of balancing in the first part of the book is not completely persuasive. Balancing is defined as a "form of state behaviour that involves activities and initiatives designed to increase a state's defenses against aggression or coercion from a potential, often more powerful, threat" (p. 243). That definition sounds more like "defence" than "balancing". This reader would have preferred a definition that emphasized the need for balance within the system, with states taking action to ensure that balance...

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