U.S. Rivals: Construct or Reality?
How the U.S. marked contemporary China and post-WWII Japan as its rivals
Contextualizing the “China threat”
Before the rise of China there was the rise of Japan. Taking the long view, this project provides a descriptive analysis of public perception and reality in the American rival-making of Japan in the 1980s and China in the 2010s.
The urgency of U.S. rhetoric on China implies an unprecedented attempt to challenge the decades-long unipolar order. U.S. analyses of China’s maturation focus on its potential to restructure the international order into a bipolar superpower system with tactics that erode U.S. economic, cultural, and political control. The “U.S. Rivals: Construct or Reality?” research project, however, redresses that hasty conclusion-in-the-making regarding the international order and the U.S.-China rivalry by comparing American rhetoric on China’s rise to American rhetoric on Japan’s economic miracle.
Before the rise of China there was the rise of Japan. Only a generation ago, the United States perceived in Japan an up-and-coming superpower rival. The tense relationship fueled homicides, vandalisms, and demonstrations. The United States sees in China today what it saw then in Japan: trade deficit, freeloading, and aggressive public diplomacy, among many other affronts. The dramatics of the U.S.-Japan tensions, however, have long been relegated to the annals. Taking the long view, this project seeks to examine the established power’s role in ordaining the rising power. Its overarching goal is to provide a descriptive analysis of public perception and reality in the American rival-making of Japan in the 1980s and China in the 2010s.
The project examines the element of truth as well as social constructs in the American rhetoric wielded against its rivals to help determine and thus clarify whether the ongoing frenzy over the “China threat” (especially in media and government policies) warrants the expense of deliberation.
By illuminating the ways in which individual thinkers mark the ebbs and flows in tensions between the established power and the rising power pressuring it, as well as the longstanding nature of rhetorical rivalries, this study will attempt to showcase the conditions of the United States, China, and Japan; identify the incidents and the circumstances that swelled into a war of words; and appraise the similarities and the differences of the rivals and the rivalries. Through these comparisons, the project will contextualize and provide better understanding of the current intensifying tension between the United States and China in order to facilitate decision-making regarding further analysis of the “China threat.”
Shorenstein APARC Director and Korea Program Director
Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Professor of Sociology