The cycles of empire and leadership - China and Japan today

The Five Stages of Empire model describes the exponential rise of a system in the 'expansion to empire' phase, which compares sharply to the overextension and decline phases. The election of President Xi and Prime Minister Abe within a week provides a stark contrast of the underlying energy of China and Japan who are in these two very different empire phases.

The two energies of this symbiotic Asian system are the primary, expansive energy of China whose expansion is forcing its neighbours like Japan to react to this new global force. Commensurate with this manifestation of energy of the second phase of empire, called 'expansion to empire' is that the system promotes and indeed encourages leadership that is best able to accelerate the expansion process, which concept is embodied by President Xi. Indeed, it has to be said that if I were Chinese, I would be a massive supporter of Xi's nationalist agenda, as long as his course avoided future confrontation with America. In essence, Xi manifests the energy of a strong and benevolent dictator who has a vision for China to make it the primary global power in the next three decades. This reflects China’s very high level of national energy, which, when harnessed, will be potentially unstoppable.

In contrast, Japan is well and truly in overextension and borderline approaching decline as a power within the Asian Super Empire. As such, it is struggling to maintain its own sphere of interest and space as China’s economic and military power grows. This is characterised by Prime Minister Abe’ policies that are defined in response to China, rather than being initiated by Japan's internal needs. The defence policy is the primary example, but it is accompanied by the foreign, direct investment policy which seeks to compete with that of China. While Abe is dedicated to confronting China with a robust response, he is struggling to take his nation with him. Thus, while China displays primary energy, Japan is slow in responding with a secondary, responsive behaviour which could be classified as a low level of national energy.

For those who choose to place President Xi on a pedestal, in comparison to Trump, please reconsider this view. In parallel, for those of you that think that China's rise will be peaceful, please also think again. Indeed, there are a few historical examples that should be noted. Firstly, in the past 200 years of industrialisation, new powers have only displaced the old, declining power through conflict. The key examples are the two challenges of Germany to France and Britain, from which emerged the new power of America that benefited the most from the two world wars. Then, there was the challenge of Japan to the West against Russia, and then Britain and America. In terms of human, social systems, wars seem to act as forest fires that wipe out the old and allow the new to grow through.

The reality is that Xi has been all power with his strong links to the military and government bodies since he rose to office. As such, China's policies have been Xi's policies. The militarisation of the South China Sea, the expansion of China’s armed forces and the 'Belt and Road' resource acquisition strategy all germinated from Xi's vison, as was thrusting North Korea at America to attempt to weaken its influence in the region.

The result is that Xi's China will continue his outward march and Japan is right to fear the ultimate consequences. Thus, Abe will force through his changes to the Japanese defence force to give its offensive teeth and Japan will once more develop a balanced military capability. This will be another step in the inevitable Asian and global arms race to contain China.

Sadly, I doubt that in 50 years' time when history looks back on the rise of President Xi, it will record a benevolent judgement, as it is far more likely that Xi will become a member of the 20th century leaders' club of Germany and Japan who initiated conflict in order to manifest expansion. Like in similar situations before in history, for Xi and China that option will only manifest, once China's armed forces are strong enough to have a high probability of succeeding and thus, the Asian arms race should be expected to accelerate form this point forward driven by China.