'US concerned with regional hegemony'

TEHRAN, Jun. 05 (MNA) – Prof. Nicholas Onuf, one of the founders of constructivism in International Relations, has told MNA US government is concerned with regional hegemony and as such has a containment policy for all such regions both in the Middle East and East Asia.

China is well on its way to becoming a formidable global power. If the country continues its economic growth over the next few decades, it may signal the possibility of overthrowing the existing order shaped by the US. The US and China are likely to engage in an intense security competition if a power transition is to occur. But it may very well be that China would simply choose to become part of the US-led order instead of overthrowing it.

The following is an exclusive interview on the rise of China and the potential threat against the US hegemony with Nicholas Greenwood Onuf, renowned as one of the founders of constructivism in International Relations. 


The US has shifted its foreign policy focus from Middle East to Asia and Pacific. Can it be seen as a change in international polarization in near future? In other words, has the rise of China caused the US to try to contain this country?

Whether the US government has shifted its focus from the Middle East to Asia is an open question.  Certainly an observer in the US will be struck by the continuing preoccupation with the Middle East in government pronouncements and the public media.  More generally, it is exceedingly difficult to establish any government’s policy when most policy statements are situationally very specific.  In a complex world with many diverse developments calling for governmental response, one may doubt that the US has a ‘foreign policy focus’ in any meaningful sense.


Some believe the rise of China will force the US to look for new partners and allies in Asia such as India. Is the rise of China so serious for the US to try to create new alignments in the region?

If there is a useful frame of reference for the foreign policy of the US, it may be the heightened concern for regional hegemony.  In my view, this frame of reference has been in place ever since the Cold war ended, but observers have been slow to realize this.   Obviously the US government is concerned with regional hegemony in both the Middle East and East Asia, and, in theory, we can impute to the US government an abstract containment policy for all such regions.  Choice of allies will, however, shift with circumstances. 


Considering the facts of the complex interdependence age and strong economic relation between the US and China, can new alignments basically be in the interest of the countries?

No country has a unified or generalized ‘interest‘—this is an observer’s simplification.  Every country will find its diverse policies working at cross-purposes.


According to constructivism, the rise of China will depend on the imagination of US and China about one another. At present and according to the existing imagination, do you think that the rise of China is threatening to the US?

‘Imagination’ might not be the right word.  People act in a cultural context that significantly affects what they do, and this applies to governmental leaders and their publics.  For decades, China and the US have shared an affectively ambiguous, sometimes antagonistic cultural space (which many constructivists investigate through such terms as ‘norm’ and ‘identity’).  Changes in that ‘space’ are likely to take place in loose relation to the sort of changes implied by the phrase, ’the rise of China.’  Moreover, as you imply, government leaders can act with conscious concern for cultural and normative context.  Whether current or future leaders in both countries are disposed to do so remains to be seen.


Interview by Javad Heirannia

Professor Nicholas Onuf is an American scholar born in 1941. Onuf is currently Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Florida International University and is on the editorial boards of International Political Sociology, Cooperation and Conflict, and Contexto Internacional. He is one of the primary figures among constructivists in international relations.

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