The following is a guest post by Dr. Daniel Nicholls. Daniel Nicholls is an adjunct professor of IR at ESADE and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. His research looks at the interplay between relational structures, roles and hierarchy.  

In an interesting piece on the Japan-South Korea spat in Foreign Affairs, Bonnie S. Glaser and Oriana Skylar Mastro argue that by failing to mediate the dispute between the keystones of its Asian alliance system, the US risks losing regional influence to a fast-moving and wily China. In short, if Washington doesn’t jump in as a relationship counselor, then China will. Whilst the arguments are couched in terms of diplomacy and strategy rather than IR theory, it doesn’t take an elbow-patched journal editor to spot the clear theoretical subtext of political influence as a consequence of relational ties and role-structures.

In line with network approaches, if China can intensify relational ties around itself, it will pull US allies towards it, leaving the US relationally isolated, at least in relative terms, and this will affect Washington’s scope for influence. It is, after all, difficult to convince people of your worth when they’re all listening to someone else, and by buddying up with its East Asian neighbors, China will be more involved in decisions on who does what in the region. US security guarantees are still highly coveted, so nobody is likely to start turning down dinner invitations from their neighborhood security guarantor just yet. But Asian states do find it increasingly difficult to square their desire for US security with their quest for Chinese market access, and Washington’s aloof approach to intra-regional dynamics may generate switching effects which nudge its dazed allies a bit further down the road towards China’s embrace.

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