The future of Chinese and US relations


In January, SLU assistant political science professor Dr. Nori Katagiri published a research paper in the prestigious journal “Asian Security.” His article, entitled “What Democratization, Trade Expectations, and Military Power All Mean for the Future of Sino-American Relations,” weighs the chances of conflict versus cooperation between China and the U.S. based on the internal stability of China, trade expectations between both countries and military perception.

He believes that there is reason to be optimistic about the relationship between each power despite possible causes of tension. Democratization of China could lead to internal instability if the process becomes so messy that Communist Party leaders use foreign events in order to accomplish their goals, fueling nationalism and placing China on a path toward international conflict. However, Katagiri believes that democratization is not likely anytime soon in China; if at all, it would be a gradual process of handing limited civil rights over a long time to an increasingly demanding population.

China and the U.S. also have vast economic ties, and although one country may feel as though the other is receiving more benefits from trade than they are, this will not be enough to cause a major conflict. The cost of using military force against one another outweighs the benefits.

“It’s easy to make an argument and then say, ‘Sino-American relations are going into conflict.’ But I think there are a lot of forces that make it difficult for China and the U.S. to go to war,” Katagiri said. “I talk about economic incentives and cooperation that may take place in the cyber and military spheres. There are also a lot of deterrents. It’s not going to be easy to fight and win a war in these dimensions. Assuming both sides’ leaders are rational, I think we can have a certain level of confidence that the relationship will not be as violent as some people might say.”

Katagiri’s article is the first to study the nature of Sino-American relations while accounting for the impact of multiple interconnected factors. Academics before Katagiri have not explored the stability of Sino-American relations in this context because of the subject’s complexity and the difficulty of synthesizing a robust interpretation.

“It’s not always easy to combine all of the theoretical explanations that I use in the piece at once and then have a complex explanation for how China and the U.S. will interact,” Katagiri said. “And that’s where I’m comfortable with my article. I was able to contribute to a small gap in the scholarly community about what would take place in China and the U.S. when we consider the role of democracy, the role of economic interdependence and military and cyber conflict. It’s important to use as many theories as possible because the relationship between China and the U.S. is very complex.”

Using multiple theories provides a greater understanding of Sino-American relations, and looking at the entire system rather than particular events explains interactions more completely. When people only look at current events, Katagiri argues, they neglect to see the bigger picture.

“Whenever something is going on, say an alleged Chinese cyber attack on American infrastructure, we tend to only focus on that. I think it’s better to broaden our eyes and look at all of the factors in the relationship,” Katagiri said.

Katagiri spent several years writing his paper and working to publish it. In 2015, the University of Pennsylvania Press published his book “Adapting to Win: How Insurgents Fight and Defeat Foreign States in War.” He is writing his next book on the military power of Japan.

Katagiri has been an assistant political science professor at SLU since 2015. From 2010 to 2015, he taught at the Air War College as assistant professor of international security studies. He currently serves as a visiting research fellow for Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force and for the U.S. Military Academy. He is also a member of the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future of the Mansfield Foundation.

When asked about his ambitions for the future, Katagiri expressed his desire to promote SLU’s role as a source of research on international relations.

“I’m happy to be at SLU,” Katagiri said, “so I’d like to continue to contribute to the scholarship at the university. I think SLU can get known more widely across the United States and the international community.”