THO Interview with Dr. Robert Ross

THO: How do you see the U.S. - China relationship?

Ross: The underlying source of the US-China competition is clearly the power transition. Within the last 6-7 years Chinese military power has grown considerably. Particularly Chinese maritime capability (including its navy power) has grown greatly. The gap between the US and China has become much smaller in many areas. This situation has created great concerns in the US about its ability to maintain its security and position in East Asia. We have already seen that smaller countries in East Asia are beginning to adjust their foreign policy priorities. Smaller countries have been concerned about the rise of China, and they think maybe the US alliance is less and less reliable. That is why, they began to develop close relations with China. So, the competition heated up, the US is concerned about its own interests and security in the region, so the US to maintain the status quo the US has developed a number of policies that are contentious to resist the rise of China. These policies necessarily bring about Chinese opposition. As China sees that American policies are targeting to prevent the rise of China, a significant competition in maritime East Asia between the US and China is created. 

THO: You have talked about the power transition, but the relationship between China and the US has a unique place in the history of great powers. None of the great powers in history have been as economically interdependent as the US and China. How do you see this?

Ross: I don’t think the Chinese economic influence is enough to challenge the status quo in security affairs. China has been the number one economy for over a decade in the region. What changes is Chinese military power. Chinese military power grows very fast. If the trend continues the US will not be the number 1 military power in the South China Sea. This will fundamentally transform East Asia.

THO: Do you see a military escalation likely?

Ross: The Chinese navy is significantly larger than the American navy and Chinese technology is rapidly improving. After all these, it would be very difficult for the US to compete with the Chinese power in East Asia, and the same to go into a military escalation. It would be very difficult to do so. China becoming the top power and the US becoming the second power in East Asia will be a significant change in history since 1945.

THO: In a few years China’s GDP is going to surpass the US ‘ GDP. How do you interpret this?

Ross: There are two things: National GDP is important because it decides how much money you will spend in defense. So, the Chinese defense budget will continue to go up. If China continues to increase its defense budget 7 percent annually and if Chinese economy continues to grow at this rate, this 7 percent growth will develop faster than the US after some point. So, this is a difficult problem for the US to handle. The US has military bases around the world, wars, crises, etc.,  China doesn’t have any of these so they can focus on their own program. Regarding soft power, China doesn’t have soft power, even in recent years it has decreased. At some point, Chinese economic power is less attractive to other countries around the world. 

THO: How do you see the position of Japan between the US and China?

Ross: Well, China is a population of 1.3 billion, Japan is a population of 130 million people. The Chinese economy is growing 6 times faster than the Japanese economy. Japan is a rapidly declining power. So Japan can not compete with China either in an economic way nor militarily. 

So, China is more and more confident that Japan is not a challenge to Chinese security. The only challenge is the US. And its military presence in the region. The US-Japan Alliance is much more important now more than ever because Japan is relying more on the US in security against growing Chinese influence in the region. Would Japan adapt a de-stabilizing policy in the East China Sea in order to compel the US to move closer to Japan against China? This is always possible, but I don’t think it could happen. I don’t think Japan wants to create a crisis in the East China Sea. 

THO: How do you see China - Russia relations?

Ross: Russia is not a great power in East Asia, Russian Far East has no population, no economy, no infrastructure, no significant military presence in Vladivostok, nothing. So, the way Siberia to China is the way Canada is to the US. It is not something China has to worry about, but Russia has to worry about China. Russia only has nuclear weapons. China has interests maintaining good relations with Russia but Russian foreign policy priority is to maintain good relations with China for a number of fundamental reasons. If Russia challenges China’s top spot the future of Siberia at stake. 1.3 billion Chinese are currently living next to 20 million Russians in Siberia. Russians will be the minority and the Chinese will be the majority in Siberia in 15-20 years. Russians can not do anything to China in Siberia but this impacts the competition in Central Asia. Chinese economic influence in Central Asia is exponentially growing and Russians have no economic capabilities to challenge Chinese power. Russian decline will likely continue in Central Asia, Moscow is pretty preoccupied with NATO, Ukraine and Syria. 

THO: How do you see India’s position in great power politics?

Ross: Since the World War II, India has tend to non-align itself in great power politics. But now, the Chinese navy is spending a lot of time, money, energy in the Indian Ocean and India is getting nervous about it. India has many problems to overcome. So, India is re-evaluating its relations with the US. The US has a number of crucial points to expand the cooperation with India as well. This is part of the American Indo-Pacific strategy with the rise of Chinese navy power. 

THO: There was a debate between Nye and Mearsheimer “Can China Rise Peacefully” Which side are you on that? 

Ross: I don’t see ‘why not’ There are a number of reasons for that. Most of our works on power transitions and war are all about Europe. Europe is the disaster. All these little countries, it’s the worst region in the world to maintain peaceful change. Other parts of the world have many more geographical, geopolitical reasons to prevent such a catastrophe. How can China move pass the Pacific Ocean and attack on California! So, the US does not feel that threatened. In the same way, China is not going to land in Beijing or Shanghai. So the US-China rivalry doesn’t have the security problems that existed in the past among European powers.