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China as a World Power

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 9 years, 3 months ago

 China in the World: Responsible Stakeholder or Global Threat?

 

Known to practically no Americans but certainly to most Chinese, the legendary story of King Goujian of Yue (modern Zhejiang province) serves as a parable to help frame China's response to its growing economic, military and geopolitical power in the 21st century world. The king was taken prisoner by another king who had defeated him in battle in the 5th century BCE (almost three centuries before China's unification of its warring states). Humiliated, Goujian spent eight years sleeping on brushwood and purportedly licking a hanging gall bladder each day to "feed his appetite for revenge."

 

His success in avenging his defeat to a "foreigner" transformed Goujian into a 20th century figure of heroic resistance against Western and Japanese imperialistic and colonial humiliation. In addition to being viewed as a vengeful and angry leader (as some in the West might) however, many Chinese interpret Goujian actions as a model of perserverance, dedication, and self-improvement. Sleeping on the thicket all that time might make one a threat to others, but the sacrifice might compel one to behave responsibly with the power one has accumulated. And that choice is just what the outside world, particularly China's Asian neighbors and the United States, wonders about as China rises as a global superpower. (The Economist, 12/4/10)

 

The view here is that the U.S. should not perceive China as a threat to its wealth, power, or security; nor should the Chinese think likewise about the U.S. The Chinese do have to contend with the strong U.S. military presence in the western Pacific, a presence designed to assuage any fears that U.S. allies might have of Chinese intentions in the region. (One might wonder how Americans would react to Chinese aircraft carriers off the coast of the Carolinas.)

 

While acknowledging, for example, that China's military modernization should not go unnoticed---the country has made significant strides in land-based ballistic and cruise missile development, in enlarging its nuclear submarine fleet, in developing laser anti-satellite weaponry, and in pursuing space and cyber-warfare---that China remains a one-Party state with nuclear weapons (though still without a second strike capability), that Chinese nationalism continues to grow (particularly over critical matters like Tibet and Taiwan), there is too much that China and the U.S. to agree upon for either country to begin to alienate the other. Both nations "want a healthy world economy, a stable Asia, peace in the Middle East, open sea lanes, ... an open trading system, ... nuclear non-proliferation." (Ibid) With no ideology to export to new found colonies to supply raw materials for China's economic engine, (of course with all that cash, foreign investment will surely continue to grow), China should not be seen an angry superpower bound for world domination. 

 

There is, of course, much argument about the China's future as a geopolitical power. In 2007, the series, "Intelligence Squared," conducted a formal debate around the topic, "Beware the Dragon: A Booming China Spells Trouble for America." (The negative side won convincingly.)

 

It is important for the United States to remember that the "realpolitik" between itself and China has changed in the last decade or so. China no longer sees itself as the subservient partner in the power relationship. The aura of American exceptionalism is no longer much as many in Congress would wish otherwise. China scholar Orville Schell makes this point and its implications quite clear in this interview at the Asia Society about a month ago:

 

 

China and North Korea

 

Clearly there have been and continue to be flash points of potential conflict in the region. The U.S. will continue to need the PRC's assistance in dealing with a bellicose, (though less so in recent months) nuclear-armed North Korea. The Chinese were quite displeased when the North Koreans tested a nuclear device two years ago. But the U.S. needs to realize how complex the Sino-Korean (North and South) relationship is. What happens if N. Korea begins to descend into anarchy, or act militarily against the South? As an ally of North Korea since the Korean war and armistice, would the Chinese allow  South Korean troops to move into the North to establish order? Certainly China does not want hundreds of thousands of N. Korean refugees spilling over its border. Would the Chinese be in favor of Korean unification? What about U.S. troops still in S. Korea? (Ibid) 

 

 

China and Taiwan

 

Then of course there is Taiwan, which is part of China's reunification goal. The island of Taiwan (or as the Portuguese named it, Formosa, "Beautiful" Island), inhabited by aboriginal peoples, came into mainland China's orbit about the time the Manchus were ending Ming rule (mid-17th century). The Dutch had set up shop on the island and brisk trade was occurring across the Taiwan Straits with the Chinese. Emigration from the mainland began to occur especially when the Ming were overthrown, and this process of trade and emigration continued. The Japanese took Taiwan as a colony after their victory in the 1895 war and developed the economy quite successfully. When Chiang Kaishek and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan after their defeat to the Communists, the latter were prepared to conquer the island, but the operation was tabled when the Korean War began.

 

Most recent Taiwanese-mainland relations have been far from tempestuous because of economic (free trade) and cultural ties. Though the island has been a democratic state for the last 20 years, recently elected (2008) political leadership in Taiwan is not clamoring for independence even if China has missiles pointed towards the island. The U.S. continues to supply arms to the Taiwanese government, much to China's irritation. In certain respects, Taiwan is much like other Asian nations in the region. They clearly depend on China for economic vitality, and at the same time, despite enlarging their own weapons' purchases, lean on the U.S. to provide for their security. The US China Institute analyzes the "thaw" in mainland-Taiwanese relations:

 

 

The Japanese for example, are worried about the impact of growing Chinese nationalism. The editor of one of Japan's leading newspapers, Asahi Shimbun, discusses this in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

 

 

China's Global Image

 

How China is perceived by the rest of the world, its global image, is of crucial importance to the Chinese government and to its people as well. The 2008 Beijing Olympics (once they got started and memories of the suppression of Tibetan protests for independence began to fade), and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo were very well received and engendered great pride in China. They did not necessarily boost China's "positive" rating in the eyes of the world, however.

 

Though the government's propaganda department no longer wields as much power in portraying that image, there remains a need for non-governmental groups (private marketing, public relations firms and ordinary citizens) to assume the responsibility of marketing China with "soft power." Public officials are beginning to understand that need, but historically there has been great distance between these government officials and the rest of the population.

 

Recently, Xinhua News Agency purchased an enormous electronic billboard in Times Square. One advertisement for the "Experience China" campaign emphasizes Chinese friendship.

 


 

Still, in late 2009 a commercial, "Made in China," was produced to emphasize "cooperation over competition" between China and the West, in an effort to diminish foreign concerns about China's growing economic colossus. (NewsChina, Jan. 2011)

 


 

Soft power---a country's core values and beliefs, cultural construction, social practices and policies---are hugely important influences in global politics. Harvard's Joseph Nye has observed, "the current competition among major powers is not whose army wins, but whose story wins." (As quoted in NewsChina, Jan. 2011) Thus, the marketing of national image is key. Which takes us back to the cultural "glue" that holds the society together? Is it rooted in the Confucian idea of harmony?

 

Wu Xu, an Associate Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University, believes that the promotion of a "Chinese Dream" offers the best solution to marketing modern China. He comments,

 

I think a desirable, as well as marketable, Chinese Dream would consist of all the best ideals developed in China's long history, and those ideologies that China has borrowed, learned from, and exercised, such as Marxism, capitalism and Buddhism. ... China has yet to overcome two clear gaps in public perception. On one hand, there is a gap between the perceived China in the minds of Westerners and the real China, on the other hand there is also a gap between Westerners' perception of China and Chinese people's self-perception and self-identification. (Ibid)

 

The "real" China, according to Goldman Sachs, will become the world's largest economy in about 15 years. From both an economic and diplomatic perspective, flush with vast currency reserves, the Chinese have been busy flexing their muscles, "helping to bail out European nations, signing oil and gas deals in Central Asia, buying up farmland in sub-Saharan Africa," among other investments. China's international reach will only continue to grow. (Newsweek, 1/24/11)

 

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