China Goes Global-Revisited

A TNI contributing editor offers his analysis of the key issues surrounding China’s rise.

Pang Zhongying, Professor of International Studies and director of the Institute of Global Studies at Nankai University-and also a contributing editor to The National Interest-briefed editors and associates of the magazine on current thinking and debates in Chinese foreign policy during a visit last week to Washington, DC.

Some of the "catch phrases" in contemporary discussions about China's foreign policy include:

-Concerns about the "Latin Americanization" of China-this refers to the debate about the growing gap between rich and poor in China, as well as the country's environmental degradation, and reflects concerns that China's path of development will lead it along the path Latin American states have experienced.

-Defining China's approach as "economic diplomacy": the purpose of China's foreign policy is to produce concrete benefits that assist China's domestic economic development and modernization.

-Pursuing a "value-free" or "ideologically neutral" foreign policy. An outgrowth of Deng Xiapoing's approach to Hong Kong ("one country, two systems"), this approach starts from the premise that countries can have different political and economic systems (in contrast to Mao Zedong's hope of China's revolution being spread around the globe). How a country structures it` domestic affairs is not of concern to Beijing. Thus China has not attached political strings or conditions to its foreign aid-China is now a "rising donor" behind the G-8 states, offering low-interest loans and technology transfers to a number of lesser-developed countries, particularly in Africa.

-The designation of China as a "learning country" in its efforts to become a more effective international actor. China is currently the biggest contributor of personnel to UN peacekeeping missions of any of the permanent five members of the Security Council.

Ongoing debates include drawing distinctions between China's relational power (through bilateral arrangements with specific countries which may give China the ability to influence events) versus China's lack of structural power-the ability to influence developments in, say, Africa or Asia as a whole, through institutional arrangements. One such example is China as an energy consumer-a straight purchaser of oil at market prices with little influence in terms of setting international energy arrangements.

Like President George W. Bush, Chinese Premier Wen Jibao has stated China needs to reduce its oil dependency, particularly on sources of supply from "unstable countries."

In 2004 the People's Liberation Army released a "White Paper" which noted that the sphere of Chinese interests had expanded beyond the immediate region of China's neighborhood and included securing and safeguarding China's lines of communication.

This leads into the final debate-what sort of power is China going to become? A "semi-status quo" power? A "quasi-status quo" power? To what extent is China's rise, which so far has occurred as a result of an international environment shaped by American-led globalization, going to continue within the framework of existing international norms? So far, China seems to have concluded that the best way forward is a strengthening of the United Nations system and adherence to its traditional approach of non-intervention in the affairs of other states.

Editor's note: These and other issues concerning China's rise were discussed in "The Gramercy Round: China Goes Global" in the Sept/Oct issue of The National Interest.

This summary was prepared by The National Interest's editor Nikolas K. Gvosdev.