Power shift, strategic triangle, and Alliances in East Asia

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This paper complements the traditional realist perspective (TP) with the strategic triangle theory (ST) in analyzing alliance formation and shift in East Asia. Alliance is perceived as a marriage triangle, and is subject to the dynamics of strategic actions taken by players to elevate their roles in the game. During the Cold War, two hierarchically structured alliance systems opposed each other in East Asia. Power shift in the continental system disrupted the Sino-Soviet pact, while hegemonic stability in the maritime system buttressed the U.S.-led alliance. The division in the continental system offered Washington opportunities to befriend Beijing and buttress its position in the U.S.-Soviet-PRC strategic triangle. Washington 's allies were prompted to act likewise. The tension in competitive rapprochement was absorbed by the hegemonic structure of the maritime system. The result was collective hedging (balancing-cum-engagement). In the post-Cold War era, the predominance of the United States caused the revival of the Beijing-Moscow nexus, now constructed as an equal partnership. Again one finds the continental and the maritime systems facing each other. Cross-system hedging is inevitable as this would increase the payoff of strategie players. Russia and Taiwan are examined in the above context, combining the perspectives of both TP and ST. The rise of China is expected to cause tension in the continental system, as predicted by the internal security dilemma. The rise of China also impacts on the maritime system by both increasing the tendency to balance it (as predicted by TP), and to improve relations with it (as predicted by ST), hence prompting hedging. However, hedging is difficult for Taiwan, for it is only loosely connected to the maritime alliance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-42
Number of pages42
JournalIssues and Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Alliance
  • Balancing
  • China
  • Hedging
  • Strategic triangle


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