Understanding Sino-American relations is paramount to maintaining national safety, according to Robert Ross, a professor of political science at Boston College.
“If you care about American security, there’s only one game in town that matters, and that is China,” Ross said.
In a lecture hosted by BC Republicans on March 19, Ross said that as China rises as a “hegemon,” or a country with dominant influence, the United States is beginning to “decline.”
“That’s a big decline—from going as the only number one to two number ones,” he said. “Decline is difficult.”
According to Ross, decline is difficult for a country for two main reasons—first, because of the glory a country enjoys in being the strongest.
“The whole world looked at you, and you sailed the seas and you owned the oceans, and you were an admiral of an aircraft carrier and you were up there in the deck,” Ross said. “You owned those seas.”
The second reason Ross said decline is difficult for a country is because it loses alliances. The United States’ alliances in East Asia are withering away, Ross said, as a result of China’s rising power.
“The problem is, for the United States, the power transition is threatening the cornerstone of American security since the end of World War II in East Asia,” he said. “The U.S. alliance system is dying before our eyes in East Asia.”
The reason the alliances are falling apart is because the countries will adhere to the requests of the stronger world power, which is now China, Ross said.
“Small countries put their finger up in the air and they see which way the wind is blowing and they will accommodate the rising power, because they know, ‘If I dont tick off the rising power they won’t invade me,’” he said. “Every country in East Asia but two have been doing more things that China wants. What does China want? Stop cooperating with the United States against China.”
The United States is not only suffering from lack of alliances, Ross said, but the U.S. Navy is also financially strained by its continual use of outdated ships.
“Our navy is a disaster right now,” Ross said. “The number of old ships that are so costly to maintain. In their folly, Congress won’t let them get rid of them.”
China’s navy, however, has strengthened— no longer reliant on volunteers and operating with new ships, according to Ross. China’s advantages, Ross said, would ensure the United States’ defeat in an arms race against China.
“We cannot compete with the rise of China in terms of an arms race because they have a lot of money,” Ross said. “They don’t have entitlement programs, they don’t have a social welfare budget, they can move either money around to the army, the navy, the air force at will.”
Ross said appropriating more money to the navy would bring two advantages to the U.S.
“One, we would have less money to spend on fighting wars around the world, in the Middle East, Europe, or elsewhere, and second, we’ll have more money to spend on the navy,” he said.
Ross said America is supporting both Ukraine and Taiwan, not solely for humanitarian reasons, but also because it is within the country’s interest from a national security standpoint.
“The number of atrocities around the world that we could have intervened with and haven’t are so great that there must be some other driver of American policy,” Ross said. “We do not want to see Russian power expand in Europe, so this is a national interest issue. There’s a moral element to it, no question, but this is not the primary driver.”
Some people say China will take advantage of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to go to war with Taiwan, Ross said, but the Russia-Ukraine war is not the sole motivation for a Chinese invasion.
“Countries make decisions to go to war on a cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “When you hear people say [that], you first gotta ask yourself what would the war look like for China? How costly would it be? What interests are at stake? And is it worth it? And that has nothing to do with Ukraine.”
Ross said the United States will operate in Taiwan in a similar way.
“We are determined to use Taiwan the same way we use Ukraine to stick to the Russians, to stick to the Chinese,” he said.
The danger of China and the United States’ naval presence in the South China Sea, Ross said, is that any small conflict in the region could trigger a war.
“The question is World War III because when your ships and our ships are out there that close in the South China Sea bad things can happen,” he said.