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The Paradox of China’s Peaceful Rise

October 8, 2014 by Blog Editor

China has articulated a strategy for its future based on the home-grown idea of  China’s “peaceful rise/development”. How does the logic of this grand strategy work, and what are the contradictions embedded within it? Does China have sufficient depth and coherence in its policy-making processes to implement such a strategy?

Professor Barry Buzan, Senior Fellow at LSE IDEAS and the Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at LSE, gives his take in a public lecture titled “The Paradox of China’s Peaceful Rise” on 7 October. Christian Manley gives a summary here:

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Viewing China and its current mission to become a powerful player within the world stage, the country faces two alternative routes to achieving that goal. On the one hand, there is the idea of China developing in a way that can be defined as “cold”. Within this angle, China constantly states on the world stage that it wishes to join the international leaders in a peaceful manner, but really is using such a message as a ruse. As the ancient Chinese military treatise The Art of War stated:

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

 Hearing such a quote and combining it with the Chinese love of ancient texts, such a strategy would appear to breed a cold rise to power in which the country would eventually rise to such a level peacefully to embark on winning the last stretches of its objectives through asserting force. Nevertheless, such a take on China’s evolution holds sway only among realists within the United States. Needless to say, these men and women critical of China’s rise come from a country that some warn is on the decline. They are quick to make statements in line with their objectives of assuring their followers that the United States should remain on top. Whether they are correct or not, they have their own objectives in mind.

Consequently, a true realist would never make such assertions. Wouldn’t following a foreign policy of power, military force, and aggressive word play push other Asian countries to swarm to the United States, thus risking China falling into a weak position to improve itself? Whether every individual would find that reason led them to this same conclusion, one may say that the Chinese government is making some mistakes. Yet, that is exactly that.

Although elites in the country have stated for more than thirty years now that they believe a peaceful rise is the only means to growing stronger, they have not followed through with this strategy consistently. Instead what has been seen are situations where sometimes the country is seen giving a helping hand to other countries, while other times the country is quick to ruthlessness and arrogance. As a result, no matter whether half of their actions are civil and well minded, China’s domestic and foreign policies appear aggressive on the world stage. Simply think of normal personal relationships of any human being. Whether a person does good or bad, often the misdeeds of an individual rather than their generosity draw more attention to the character of the one in question.

Applying this to China’s publicly-stared aims, there is even more uncertainty concerning how they will move forward.

There are seven of these aims:

1.To keep the coherence of the Communist Party
2.To meet economic achievement
3. Keep stability within society
4. Defend Chinese territories in the mainland and those disputed
5. Prohibit hegemony
6. Maintain global and regional conditions for a healthy rise
7. Avoid making China appear an enemy to other countries.

At first glance, perhaps these all seem like admirable ambitions. Nevertheless, with a closer look, there are certainly contradictions. How can China defend its territories while not becoming an enemy to others? If China wants to be against hegemony, why does it try to be one in Asia? How can communism and capitalism continue to work together?

It is through this lack of consistency in action and goals that it can be easy to see why some would state China will become aggressive.

Yet, perhaps China really isn’t sitting behind some secret plan to appear peaceful only to turn into some aggressive force. What is important however, isn’t always whether this is true or not, but whether the rest of the world thinks such a plot exists. China needs to become more aware of this and stay more focused on keeping to its promise that its rise would be more peaceful.

To do this, it needs to work domestically to appear as so. There needs to be more reform to communism to create a form of pluralism that works with a market society. The other cultures that exist within China need to be given more say instead of being treated as secondary citizens. The government needs to become more centralized in its handling of foreign policy to not risk giving the wrong impression. With all different kinds of corporations working within the Southeast Seas, there is certainly reason for other countries to link wrongdoings to the country itself. More importantly, China needs to work towards adjusting its foreign policy to one that realizes all the Asian countries are in it together to make a footprint in the 21st century.

Within schools, history should not be taught to view other countries as transgressors. Japan above all should no longer be seen as an entity to hate. Included in this, China needs to stop campaigning to prevent India and Japan from having influence in the United Nations. As Deng Xiaoping explained in the 1980s, China can’t rise while it is against Japan. It can only do so if both countries rise together. A peaceful rise is more logical. It would allow the Asian countries to work together and weaken the influence of the USA without much effort.

Tags: development, lse, rise,


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