The "Peaceful" Rise of China

Canadian Universities Forum (discussion group)

Subject: The "Peaceful" Rise of China
From the Guardian (

An oxymoron for our times

We may find that ´the peaceful rise of China´ is a phenomenon visible only through rose-tinted spectacles.

Jonathan Fenby

China has always demonstrated wishful thinking, from the Great Wall, which was never quite what it was imagined to be, to the celebration of the supposedly caring, paternal nature of Mao Zedong.

This year we have had the demeaning example of the mayor of London equating the Tiananmen Square massacre to the London poll tax riots, while the former World Bank and Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has managed to conclude that a low-tax, low-welfare, privatising, high-trading economy that has brought a steeply rising wealth gap and left hundreds of millions by the wayside is somehow a panacea superior to the nostrums of his favourite bugbear, the IMF.

After President Hu Jintao´s visit to Washington last month, the new watchword is that China and the west must "get on". The underlying assumption stems from a familiar mixture of western arrogance and the comforting assumption that, whatever their differences, countries really want to work together for the greater good of the planet; it takes no account of the Chinese experience.

For most of its history, the country and its rulers couldn´t have cared less about the rest of the world; then they found themselves getting a raw deal from foreigners, who imposed themselves by force in the 19th and early 20th centuries. After this, when Chinese governments sought to engage with the international system they found the experience far from encouraging, from the discovery in 1919 that the allies had cut a secret deal giving Japan Chinese territory to the abject failure of the League of Nations to offer anything beyond words to halt Tokyo´s aggression from 1931.

US policy in the second world war was another big letdown, and the victorious communists of 1949 could hardly have had much time for a US that had poured in help to their nationalist opponents.

Then came the Maoist era, meaning that it was only towards the end of the century that a real engagement emerged through trade between the mainland and the world.

China has made its way on its own terms over the last two decades. Foreign investment has been important, but it operates under terms set by Beijing. Exports remain worryingly important as a driver of the country´s growth because of the soggy state of domestic demand and the high savings rate. The world, however, needs those exports as much as China does, to keep down inflation and fund the US federal deficit and US consumption.

Chinese buying of plant and machinery and big-ticket infrastructure and transport items helps to fill order books for western companies, and politicians and business leaders fall over themselves to court Beijing; American high-technology firms play along with the cyber censors in pursuit of the Chinese market.

Beijing can only take all this as deeply encouraging. Far from making concessions to western feelings, it has no compunction about cosying up to nasty regimes, from Burma to Zimbabwe, its security council veto a potential trump card for North Korea and Sudan. And it plays the global energy game with a vengeance, from Venezuela to Nigeria and Iran.

For the record, Beijing assures the world that all it wants to see is the "peaceful rise of China". But that peace is to be achieved, above all, by other powers not getting in its way. Given the global impact of the mainland, as well as the areas for conflict, the formula may turn out to be an oxymoron for our times.

In the realm of the national interest, there is nothing unusual in this - think of Britain in the 19th century, Germany in the first half of the 20th and America for much of the time from 1941. One should not expect China to act any differently, particularly given its history since the first opium war, more than 150 years ago.

Faced with a mountain of domestic challenges, Beijing is simply looking after itself and asserting its status. It sees no reason to adapt, and adopts a suitably high profile; its president is at ease delivering a lecture on democracy to George Bush while supervising a new wave of repression of anything approaching dissidence. This will be the shape of the decades to come, and the west urgently needs to decide how it wants to deal with a country that is pursuing old-fashioned great-power politics and believes it is moving into the driving seat.

This is not to advocate a cold war crouch in the west (and Japan), but simply to recognise the new reality in dealing with a country whose leaders have no use for the rose-tinted spectacles the west tends to don in looking at east Asia -at Japan, in the first half of the 20th century, and then China, under Mao and later its new, managerial rulers.

"Getting on" is a two-way process. To assume that this is how Beijing thinks is to fall into yet another China dream.

(in reply to: The "Peaceful" Rise of China)

this forum is sick

(in reply to: The "Peaceful" Rise of China)
There are some interesting comments from both sides on the link to the story.
(in reply to: The "Peaceful" Rise of China)

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