To what extent is China’s rise as a global power ‘peaceful’?
Since Deng XiaoPing opened China’s doors to the world in the 1980s and following the end of the cold war, China’s economy has been progressing growing and in its interaction with the world. China seeks to be one of the poles in this predominantly uni-polar world dominated by the US, even though this trend is changing. China does intend to rise peacefully as a global power and is trying to convince nations who may feel threatened that China is not a threat. This can be seen in China’s ‘grand strategy’, which is to firstly, get involved in multilateralism to prevent bandwagoning of others against it, culture strong bilateral ties to prevent countries from questioning its domestic actions, take up great power responsibilities and lastly, challenge great power politics using globalization and not through forceful means. As such, to a large extent, China’s rise is considerably peaceful, although China sometimes choose forceful means over diplomacy to champion its interest and China’s rising military creates a ‘China Threat Theory’ viewed by countries.
- Getting involved in Multilateralism
China is increasingly getting involved in active multilateralism to convince other countries about its peaceful rise. From Mao to Deng, even though both leaders had wanted to establish China as a global power, their approaches were starkly different. Mao tried to court the Third World by promoting Chinese ideology but shunned most of the international community for fear of imperialism, resulting in China’s isolation. Deng, on the other hand, courted the international organizations that China joined, increasing drastically from 2 in 1978 to 83 in 2000. This holds testimony to China’s commitment to show her peaceful rise through getting more engaged in the international community. Several of the prominent organizations China is part of includes the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations (UN), where China is a permanent member of the Security Council, and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). One might argue that even though China is a member of these organizations, membership does not reflect active participation, as can be seen from China’s constant abstinence with regards to decisions of the UN Security Council. However, China does show active participation in other organizations like the ARF and especially the WTO, where China is a key member because of its booming economy. Moreover, China’s actions in the UN Security Council can be accountable in that China has a different set of principles as compared to the world in general which tends to follow western principles and China highly regards territorial integrity and non-interference, sometimes even more so than human rights, which the western societies place emphasis on. Hence, China is willing to make compromises on its principles to take a seat in the UN Security Council, sometimes having to watch invasion of other countries like the invasion of Kuwait by NATO in 2003 despite having abstained on its vote, thus showing that China is indeed genuinely interested in assimilating into the international community and multilateral organizations despite having different principles. Hence, China’s rise as a global power can be seen as a peaceful, where China is engaging the world diplomatically.
- Culturing stronger bilateral activities
China is also increasingly culturing stronger bilateral ties with many other countries to show its intent on peacefully rising and to hopefully hinder others from criticizing its domestic affairs. This can be seen where China is now the largest trading partner of many countries such as Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam, and Africa as a continent and the second largest trading partner of the USA. China, especially in recent years has also been engaging in several other countries in visits of important ministers such as welcoming the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to visit in 2011. China has also engaged USA and Japan together in Trilateral Talks since 2008 and the most recent being held in 2015. This is significant as these are the three largest economy in the world and their cooperation would greatly benefit the global process. These examples show that China is taking efforts to rise peacefully, engaging many countries to assure them of its peaceful rise. Undoubtedly, some risks are being taken by China such as in the US-Japan-China Trilateral Talks where USA and Japan are close allies and might cooperate against Chinese interests, placing China at a loss. Hence, China is willing to take risks to prove to the world that it is bent on peacefully rising ass a global power.
- Take up great power responsibilities
In addition, China is taking up great power responsibilities to show that it is willing and capable to take on the burdens of global leadership. China wants to show that it aims to become a global power not through the use of force to establish hegemony but through meeting the expectations the world has of a global power. This can be seen where China contributes more soldiers and police to UN Peacekeeping missions than USA, Japan or Russia, and where China is an integral member of the six party talks to persuade North Korea to disarm its nuclear weapons and to stop its provocative attacks on the South. Moreover, China contributes 10.29% to the UN Peacekeeping budget and this shows that even though China is not ready to individually foot the heavy burden of global leadership, it is taking efforts to through its actions as a global leader. China’s current approach may be seen as different from the past, where Mao tried to become a global power through attempting to sell China’s ideology to go against the world order at that time. Today, China is meeting the expectations the world has of a global power and so is attempting to rise peacefully.
- Challenge great power politics using globalization and not force
China is also attempting to challenge great power politics using globalization instead of force. This is seen where China is increasingly leading in many global multilateral organizations that do not involve Western powers, decreasing the power of western powers on the world in doing so. This is seen especially in the BRICS, consisting of the world’s largest growing developing countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. China is playing a key role in these organizations, where China hosted the first meeting in 2011, chaired by President Hu Jintao. This is significant as China is establishing itself as an alternate leader of the world, in place of traditional western powers and is displacing the power of the USA not by force but through multilateral means. Another significant cooperation is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) involving China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to promote economic cooperation and prevent terrorism in the region. In the SCO, China is also taking a leadership role as the organization was established by China in the first place. In a way, China’s current actions reflect what Mao failed to do, in terms of creating an alternate locus of power in the world. However, China is not directly challenging the power of the traditional Western powers like the USA as it is not entirely ready to take up the costly burdens of global leadership and that USA dominance in the world also allows China to focus on its domestic economic growth, which is its utmost priority at this point in time.
- China’s growing military strength
However, China may pose as a threat to other nations especially because of its growing military strength and cause them to think of China’s rise as threatening instead of peaceful. Indeed, these countries do have a reason to fear, as China’s military is growing at an astounding rate especially in recent years. In the past 10 years, China’s defense budget has increased more than four times, the latest increase being 10.1% in 2015. Moreover, China is currently developing its naval capabilities and also in 2011, have revealed to the world about its development of the stealth fighter plane, something that only the USA, the strongest military in the world, possesses. This causes fear to other countries as even though China claims time and time again that its military is solely for the purpose of self defense, naval capabilities and the stealth fighter are mainly for offensive purposes and this lead countries to think that China’s rise may not be peaceful. Even the USA is cautious of China’s rise, with USA’s ex-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates quoted as saying that China’s military is by far the only military in the world that has the potential to challenge the US military, which has for many years remained unchallenged. Hence, with China’s growing military and offensive capabilities, other countries are increasingly convinced and worried that China’s rise as a global power may not be peaceful and it might resort to using force if necessary.
Coupled with China’s military build-up, China has been flexing its military muscle to express its interests, particularly in the area of territorial integrity. As mentioned earlier, China places its territorial integrity above human rights and this shows the emphasis that China places on its territory. The most notable example would be that of the South China Sea crisis, where China claims the entire sea as its own territory and is challenging other claimant countries, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. China has stated that it views military strength as the primary guarantee of its interests while diplomacy is only secondary and so has denied the internationalization or any form of diplomacy over the South China Sea disputes. China has also used force to establish its interests, as can be seen where a Chinese ship severed the cables on a Vietnamese exploration vessel, causing much dispute with the Vietnamese. This shows that despite all the efforts China is putting in to show its peaceful rise to the world, there are some areas which the Chinese refuse to compromise on and would use force if necessary, especially with regard to its territorial integrity.
In conclusion, even though China’s rise may be viewed as a threat due to its rising military and territorial assertions, these trends are changing and coupled with China’s other actions following its grand strategy, it is to a large extent that China’s rise as a global power is peaceful.