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How Peaceful Is China’s Peaceful Rise?

In: Social Issues

Submitted By SBosnjak
Words 3553
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16 July 2014 at 17:01
HOW PEACEFUL IS CHINA’S PEACEFUL RISE? The People’s Republic of China has been taking great pains to point out to its neighbours specifically, and the world in general, that they have nothing to fear of its increasing power. This approach is epitomised by China’s emphasis on the term ‘peaceful rise’ to describe its expanding influence since 2004. Not only is ‘peaceful rise’ used to allay concerns that China will use its power to further its goals at the expense of other nations, it is also used to directly contrast the PRC with the United States who have been embroiled in the same period in the controversial War on Terror. Given the prominence of the claim of the claim it is clearly in the interests of understanding international and regional developments that we pose the question “How peaceful is China’s peaceful rise?” As this essay will show, in light of the PRC’s domestic aims and because of China’s historical and cultural experiences, any attempt to answer question is contradictory, and depends on the region. The question of China’s contradictory peaceful rise is explained most completely by the theory of neoclassical realism. Neoclassical realism argues that it is the aim of states to gain power to pursue what they deem is in their national interests. It breaks down the state’s efforts in that respect into two spheres, the internal and the external. The external sphere is similar to other theories of realism, states competing against each other in an anarchical international order. The internal sphere is further broken into three domestic actants that effectively define the internal composition of the state itself: the elites, the political class and the public. It argues that it is the perceptions of power and the interests of the three actants have that matter in the conduct of the state’s international relations. In China, the three actants are less balanced, as the line between the elites and political class is more blurred than in a democracy, and they do not have to pay as much notice to the public’s opinion. Perceptions are shaped by experiences, culture and history. Perceptions influence decisions and reactions at all levels and in China, history and culture are blurred more than in most states, as the Chinese trace their history and culture back thousands of years. Historically, China conducted what we now speak of as ‘foreign relations’ as the Middle Kingdom, with the Emperor possessing the ‘mandate of heaven’, defining him as a “symbolic intermediary between Heaven, Earth, and humanity. This role also implied moral obligation on the Emperor’s part…If the Emperor strayed from the path of virtue, All Under Heaven would fall into chaos. Even natural catastrophes might signify that disharmony had beset the universe. The existing dynasty would be seen to have lost the Mandate of Heaven by which it possessed the right to govern: rebellions would break out, and a new dynasty would restore the Great Harmony of the universe”[1] As a result of this ‘social contract’, political entities along the Middle Kingdom’s periphery were required to recognise the splendour and supremacy of the Emperor by paying tribute. Most of these states were influenced by what is today known as ‘soft power’, cultural and trade links with the hegemon. The central authority rarely intervened in the internal affairs of its periphery states, and a common proverb “The mountains are high and the emperor is far away” was used to describe the power of the emperor’s central authority, not only within the periphery states, but within the Middle Kingdom itself. Symbolic power was often more applicable than direct force, while leaving in no doubt the absolute position of the emperor. Taking the above mentioned elements together it is not difficult to see that the Communist leadership today, in contrast to ‘revolutionary China’, are heavily influenced by the leadership of imperial China, increasingly laying claim to be the direct, legitimate, heirs to the ‘mandate of heaven’. The reason for claiming direct lineage is to establish a link with China’s ‘golden age’. This attitude/policy is an outcome of the mythology that has built up around the party, at first through victory, and then through a need to justify ongoing one-party rule. This includes a belief in the infallibility of the party and the sacredness of the party-state. The dominant domestic actant is using culture and history to construct their own narrative to maintain their own power. The Party justify their mandate through maintaining domestic stability and social cohesion, which the party aims to achieve in two interlinked ways: increasing the wealth of the people, and appealing to the population’s nationalist tendencies by restoring China to its former glory following its century of humiliation. Part of restoring this glory is for China to regain its place as the Middle Kingdom. The reason the Communist Party justify their mandate through domestic stability is because of their own tumultuous past experiences in the Republic of China period, (1912-1949), including the Second Sino Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950), not to mention a series of large-scale ideological and social disruptions following Liberation. Like other forms of nationalism, modern Chinese nationalism has created xenophobic undercurrents in Chinese society, including a belief that China needs to be more aggressive and influential in foreign affairs, that is particularly strong among the university educated intellectual/political class.[2] During the Mao era, China completely isolated itself from the world. It was as if a fifth of the world’s population did not exist. China’s only form of engagement with its neighbours was through warfare, and the rest of Asia, at least on the surface, simply expurgated China. The Middle Kingdom was no longer in the middle of regional affairs. During this period China’s neighbours all underwent remarkable economic transformations, with increased quality of life for their citizens, while China’s stagnated and its citizens suffered in their tens of millions under Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ and ‘Cultural Revolution’. Deng Xiaoping’s reforms completely reversed China’s isolation, and since 1980 it has slowly reintegrated itself in regional and global trade, culminating in membership of the WTO in 2001. China is now the major trading partner with all of its former periphery states. Despite this, there are still tensions between China and its neighbours, which flair up with deadly consequences from time to time. Influential policymaker Zheng Bijian justifies ‘Chinese Exceptionalism’ by pointing out that other emerging powers increase their influence and acquire “resources through invasion, colonization, expansion, or even large-scale wars of aggression.” China's emergence however “has been driven by capital, technology, and resources acquired through peaceful means.”[3] In this context ‘peaceful rise’ evokes “the principles of the classical era that had secured China’s greatness: gradualist; harmonizing with trends and eschewing open conflict; organized as much around moral claims to a harmonious world order as actual physical or territorial domination.”[4] This statement is a continuation of the ideals that are behind the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, first signed by India and China in 1954 (and failed to prevent a war in 1962). However, China’s rise can also be interpreted within the context of 21st Century globalisation. In the post-Imperialist age of ‘Empire’[5] states no longer need to ‘invade’, ‘colonise’ or engage in ‘large-scale wars of aggression’ to acquire resources, they now have the hidden hand of the market, a method that can be just as devastating as war on a nation’s economy and population. China’s ‘peaceful rise’ may merely be a reflection of the times we live in, as “expanding economic ties will cement the bonds of friendship between and within nations that make the resort to arms unfathomable.”[6] Xi Jinping was elected Secretary General[7] of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012 for a ten year term. His political slogan ‘The Chinese Dream’ is, like all political slogans, more style than substance. However, it ties in with the Party’s goals, envisioning “…a mighty nation reclaiming its rightful place in the world, not just economically but politically and culturally too.”[8] He has used China’s growing power to take a hawkish stance on most foreign policy issues within the region, creating tensions, most notably with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islets; and with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines over the South China Sea.[9] China’s recent muscle flexing[10] on these issues have merely been toe dipping exercises to gauge international response, which has been one of strong condemnation. As it gets stronger, China has been engaging in these toe dipping exercises more frequently,[11] with the ultimate aim of establishing a hybrid Monroe Doctrine with the imperial Chinese characteristics of a tributary system.[12] The Monroe Doctrine was a policy pursued by the United States in the 19th Century, aiming to expel European powers from the Americas and replace the power vacuum with its own paternalistic power. Unlike the Middle Kingdom tributary system, the Monroe Doctrine acknowledged the existence of the power and influence of other states, and was willing to go to war to expel those states from the American sphere of influence. Within its sphere the United States was the unrivalled regional hegemon and used a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to exert control over other states. Outside its sphere, though, the United States was consciously an international hermit, up until World War I it only meddling in the affairs of other states if it affected trade. If China does not need to go to war to gain resources, then why does it persist in aggressive acts towards its former neighbours? Why does it wish to bring together its former tributary states? Globalisation has brought the whole world closer, the mountains are not so high, and the emperor is not so far away. States continue to trade with each other, despite engaging in deadly conflict. The PRC is the major trading partner for nearly all of the former Middle Kingdom’s tributary states. This brings us then to the obvious neoclassical realist question question “Why does the purported peace dividend of economic interdependence so often fail to materialize?”[13] In answer to this are the perceptions and interests of the state’s domestic actants which align in wanting to bring the former periphery states into its bosom. ‘Reacquiring’ its ‘lost’ ‘territories’ would fulfil the ‘mandate of heaven’ and bring China back to its position as the Middle Kingdom, finally expunging the memories of the century of humiliation. Outside of its region, China has drawn from the experience of the Monroe Era United States and has been very careful to cultivate an image of non-interference, to distinguish from western powers. Its rhetorical goal of respecting national sovereignty has been very well received in Africa, where China emphasises to local leaders that it can empathise with them, sharing their status as it is also a developing economy that has suffered at the hands of western imperialism. As a result of its experience of western imperialism, the Chinese assure local regimes that they have no wish to lecture and interfere in domestic politics and human rights as a condition for purchasing resources, which, compared to the west’s concerns on human rights is a welcome relief to many regimes. In contrast to the United States, China does not seem interested in peace plans, regional cooperation or ethnic reconciliation. Despite its growing economic power, China is not interested in converting this to global diplomatic might, preferring to concentrate on its own region. There are drawbacks to China’s defacto limited interference policy. China is unable to influence a state’s domestic politics in its favour, and when it encounters serious challenges to its overseas interests, such as evacuating Chinese nationals working in Northern Iraq following the recent ISIS threat[14] it is harder to respond to effectively. Because of this current lack of will and groundwork, “Even when it becomes the world’s largest economy, China will be in no position to take the lead in global politics”[15] even if it desired to. There is one domain the Chinese will exert their muscle, and it is not in geopolitics. China has been able to become the second largest economy in the world by adhering to the rules of global trade set up by the British in the 19th Century and the US in the 20th. Despite being a Communist state, China has increasingly been the champion of global free market capitalism, with its economy growing while western ones stagnate. Yet China is already tinkering with the rules with Premier Wen Jiabao stating in 2009 that in order to avoid a repeat of the Global Financial Crisis, states needed to “Strengthen international cooperation in financial supervision and regulation and guard against the build-up and spread of financial risks. Financial authorities around the world should step up information sharing and the monitoring of global capital flows…We should expand the regulation coverage of the international financial system.”[16] China’s twin, volatile historical experiences as the Middle Kingdom and its century of humiliation have shaped its modern identity, and heavily influence its rhetoric and the way it conducts its foreign affairs. The Chinese claim they do not want to interfere in domestic affairs, yet as the Middle Kingdom, view its relations with its periphery states as more permeable. The problem today is that, while in the past these periphery states may have accepted a permeable, tributary relationship with the Middle Kingdom, they now refuse to do so and the Westphalian system of nation states makes it more difficult for the Chinese to assert their ‘mandate of heaven’. The Asia Pacific has several regional powers capable of bloodying China’s nose, including Russia, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. This could lead to a situation similar to 18th and 19th Century Europe, where, despite being the centre of world power, the ‘concert of powers’ prevented any one state from exerting its influence in the region, forcing states to expand elsewhere.[17] Paradoxical to its aims, China may end up becoming the preeminent global power, without achieving its Monroesque goal of becoming the regional hegemon, as other states ally against it. How is this likely to affect Australia? For Australia, the 21st Century will be the ‘Asian Century’. With the advent of the ‘Asian Century’ there has been a conscious paradigm shift focusing on Asia in every facet of Australian life. Government, business and education are all being pushed and pulled into influencing all three domestic actants to perceive their culture and identity as an ‘Asia Pacific’ nation, as opposed to Australia’s traditional European background. Simultaneously, the ‘tyranny of distance’ is being replaced with the ‘advantage of proximity’ as the global centres of political and economic power shift closer to Australia’s region. The People’s Republic of China, more than any other Asian nation exemplifies the opportunities and pitfalls available in the Asian Century. While not part of China’s periphery states, Australia is in a unique halfway point in regards to China. To put China’s importance to Australia’s economic health into perspective in 2005 “…a ship load of iron ore was worth about the same as about 2,200 flat screen television sets. Today (2010) it is worth about 22,000 flat-screen TV sets – partly due to TV prices falling but more due to the price of iron ore rising by a factor of six”[18] Almost 30% of Australia’s exports go to China.[19] This economic dependence on China ensures that Australia will be affected by how China conducts its relations with other states in the region, seven of which are in Australia’s top eight economic partners.[20] From a Chinese perspective, Australia is viewed as a western, European nation in their region, and as such, Australia provides a window to the Chinese on how other western nations think, as our European culture has influenced our perceptions and reactions. Because of Australia’s close relationship with the US, China also uses Australia as an intermediary to send diplomatic messages to the US. As we can see, China’s ‘peaceful rise’ is more peaceful in some regions than it is in others. It has no plans to replace the United States as global hegemon, and for the most part respects the sovereignty of states it does not consider as being in its backyard. Within China’s backyard ‘peaceful rise’ is more of a ruse, as it tries to modernise the tributary relationship by incorporating elements of the Monroe Doctrine. This is due to the historical and cultural influences on the Communist Party’s goal of maintaining its version of the ‘mandate of heaven’, a goal broadly shared by all three domestic actants. China’s dual system of conducting foreign affairs (periphery vs beyond) is shaped by the Chinese cultural and historical experiences as the Middle Kingdom, its century of humiliation and its internal need for legitimacy. In a region that will be the centre of world power in the 21st Century and contains over half the world’s population, China’s power plays will be felt across the world, with Australia, though not traditionally part of the Middle Kingdom’s periphery, more vulnerable than most.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Australia's trade in goods and services by top ten partners, 2013, DFAT, accessed 08 August 2014 Katherine Barbieri and Gerald Schneider, 1999, ‘Globalisation and Peace: Assessing New Directions in the Study of Trade and Conflict’, Journal of Peace Research 36, no. 4, p387 Hannah Beech, How China Sees the World, Time Magazine, 17 June 2013, New York Oliver Brauner, Iraq Exposes Limits of China’s Non-Interference Policy, The Diplomat, 01 July 2014, accessed 03 July 2014 Chinese president Xi Jinping vows China won’t bully other nations, ABC, 30 June 2014, accessed 03 July 2014 China, Transnational Issues, CIA World Factbook, accessed 16 July 2014 Michael Hardt, & Antonio Negri, 2000, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Martin Jacques, 2012, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, Penguin, London Henry Kissinger, 2012, On China, Penguin, London Susan V. Lawrence and Michael F. Martin’s Understanding China’s Political System, Congressional Research Service Report for (US) Congress Jennifer Sterling-Folker, 2009, ‘Neoclassical realism and identity: peril despite profit across the Taiwan Strait’ in Neoclassical Realism, the State and Foreign Policy, Cambridge Glenn Stevens, The Challenge of Prosperity, Address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) Annual Dinner, 29 November 2010, accessed 08 August 2014 Tony Walker, China’s muscle flexing splits opinion, Australian Financial Review, 01 July 2014, accessed 03 July 2014 Wen Jiabao, 2009, Chinese premier's speech at World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, accessed 17 September 2014 Odd Arne Westad, 2012, Restless Empire: China and the World since 1750, Random House, London Hugh White, 2012, The China Choice, Black Books, Melbourne Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, 09 September 2014, China’s Island Factory, BBC, accessed 17 September 2014 Zheng Bijian, China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005, accessed 01 July 2014

[1] Henry Kissinger, 2012, On China, Penguin, London, p12 [2] Martin Jacques, 2012, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, Penguin, London, p533 [3] Zheng Bijian, China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005, accessed 01 July 2014 [4] Kissinger, On China, p500 [5]See Michael Hardt, & Antonio Negri, 2000, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, for a description of the post Imperial concept of ‘Empire’ [6] Katherine Barbieri and Gerald Schneider, 1999, ‘Globalisation and Peace: Assessing New Directions in the Study of Trade and Conflict’, Journal of Peace Research 36, no. 4, p387 [7] See Susan V. Lawrence and Michael F. Martin’s Understanding China’s Political System, Congressional Research Service Report for (US) Congress, for a description of different titles and powers office bearers in Chinese politics have [8] Hannah Beech, How China Sees the World, Time Magazine, 17 June 2013, New York, p21 [9] China, Transnational Issues, CIA World Factbook, accessed 16 July 2014 [10] Tony Walker, China’s muscle flexing splits opinion, Australian Financial Review, 01 July 2014, accessed 03 July 2014 [11]Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, 09 September 2014, China’s Island Factory, BBC, accessed 17 September 2014 [12] Jacques, When China Rules the World, p507 [13] Jennifer Sterling-Folker, 2009, ‘Neoclassical realism and identity: peril despite profit across the Taiwan Strait’ in Neoclassical Realism, the State and Foreign Policy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p99, [14] Oliver Brauner, Iraq Exposes Limits of China’s Non-Interference Policy, The Diplomat, 01 July 2014, accessed 03 July 2014 [15] Odd Arne Westad, 2012, Restless Empire: China and the World since 1750, Random House, London, p468 [16] Wen Jiabao, 2009, Chinese premier's speech at World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, accessed 17 September 2014 [17] See Hugh White, 2012, The China Choice, Black Books, Melbourne, which argues that the best method for peace between the US and PRC is through sharing power in a ‘concert of powers’ type format [18] Glenn Stevens, The Challenge of Prosperity, Address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) Annual Dinner, 29 November 2010, accessed 08 August 2014 [19]Beech, How China Sees the World, p23 [20]Australia's trade in goods and services by top ten partners, 2013, DFAT, accessed 08 August 2014

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