CHINA’S rapid economic development has ignited debates on China’s peaceful rise in the West. In the late 1990s the major US concern was that China as a growing power would threaten the international system. The most representative work was “The Coming Conflict with China,” by Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro, predicting the inevitable Sino-US conflict.
In addition, Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” argued that the world would be caught in a conflict among different civilizations.
Chinese scholar Zheng Bijian’s short but influential speech in 2003 was primarily a response to the “China threat” theme. He said that China’s road to a prosperity was a road of peace. Some advocates of realism raised the searching question: “Can a sheep rise peacefully among a pack of wolves?” They contended that an existing hegemon will never allow another rising power to rise peacefully.
But one can view China’s peaceful rise on the following empirically based facts.
First, cooperation reduces the possibility of any violent rise and international institutions provide effective instruments for international cooperation. As China undergoes economic modernization in its national interest, it would engage in greater international collaboration.
Secondly, the more positively a state identifies itself with international society the greater cooperative strategic culture and less zero-sum interpretation of security are embraced. Since it has joined most of the international organizations, China respects their rules and regulations.
Thirdly, since reforming and opening up, China has benefited a great deal from the international economic system. Hence there is no reason to believe that it would rise violently and disturb the existing international order.
Fourthly, non-promotion of its own system and ideology over others and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations signify its policy of benign intent.
An illustrative example is when President Xi Jinping in 2013 launched the grand One Belt, One Road initiative.
Statistics from China’s Ministry of Commerce indicate that China’s direct investment in 53 countries along the routes reached US$14.53 billion and the total value of contracts China signed with 61-related countries amounted to more than US$126 billion in 2016. Further, according to the Ministry of Transport, it has signed more than 130 bilateral and regional transport agreements with countries involved in the Belt and Road initiative.
Fifthly, China’s non-colonialist background, solidarity with the developing world and non-acquisition of territories testify to its peaceful intent and peaceful rise. Itself colonized by outside Western powers for a century, it is reasserting own identity and claiming rightful place under the sun. The three-decades of integration into the global society have enabled it not only to derive material benefits but also accept international norms and institutions.
Sixthly, after studying China–US relations one can conclude that an existing and a rising power may not necessarily be enemies: they can construct their collective and shared identity in dealing with common threats in a globalizing world, such as climate change, terrorism, and the monetary system.
To sum up, international cooperation of a different kind based on moral realism involving peaceful development and economic cooperation has been reiterated by President Xi Jinping as the main pillars of China’s foreign policy. China is determinedly set on this course.
The writer is Visiting Faculty at Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, former Adviser COMSATS and ex-president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. Shanghai Daily condensed the article.