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بدھ، 13 فروری، 2013

US watching China’s new status

China surpassed the US becoming the world’s biggest trading nation last year as measured by the sum of exports and imports of goods, official figures from both countries show, Bloomberg reports. Earlier analysts expected that China would surpass the US as the world’s biggest nation only in 2016. Now they forecast that by 2016 China will become the world leader in terms of GDP.


In the contemporary uni-polar world, China has shown inordinate signs of an emerging global power. Chinese renewed status, especially its promising economic growth and relative military potentials, are being watched critically and viewed variedly by the US academics in particular. 

Three schools of thoughts prevail in the US academia deliberating if China’s rise is posing threat to the US global interests. First, realists consider China as a potent threat and consequently advocate a containment of Chinese relative progress. Secondly, liberals though consider China as threat but recommend strategizing incorporation of China in the international system via increased interdependency and interconnectedness. The third group belonging to the “pre-conditioning” perspective do not consider the rise of China as threat, rather perceives its rise as a gain for the US. Contrarily, the Chinese leadership and intelligentsia have long been recounting their progress as “peaceful” - longing for a “harmonious world”. This proclamation merits further inquiry: first, whether the peaceful transitional rise of China is a valid claim; secondly, accepting that to be valid, will that help in advancing international peace in the prevailing anarchic world order? 

Analysts believe that states carry out “threat perception” by weighing their adversaries “capabilities” - what they have - in relation to their “intentions” - what they want to do. In the contemporary world order, many nations empirically failed in proving their potentials against the US uncontested hegemony. Russia, for instance, has been in search of its identity and renewed role in international relations. The scholars, however, argue that despite its “intent”, Russia is not “capable” of threatening the US supremacy. Other states like UK, France or Germany, are neither willing nor capable to meet the criteria. The case of China is somewhat different. There is, though, unanimity of consensus on Chinese capabilities but China has categorically asserted its unwillingness of joining any race which is detrimental to international peace and security. Chinese leadership and scholars have consistently maintained that China’s rise is peaceful and they are content with maintaining a relative low profile. The outgoing President Hu Jintao has also strengthened the Chinese pledge by introducing the vision of “harmonious society”, “harmonious Asia” and “harmonious world” as a guiding principle for China’s domestic politics and foreign strategy. This further narrows down our inquiry, concerning prospects of global peace in the absence of balance of power and China’s wishful philosophy of harmonious word. It’s rather imperative to evaluate the debate from both, the realist and liberal paradigm, before reaching to the final conclusion.

Both the realist and the liberalist schools of thought share the core assumptions i.e. anarchic nature of the international system and significance of states as its pre-eminent actors. They also agree on the emancipation debate that the prevalence of anarchy - in the absence of any world government, is detrimental to global peace and security but exponents of both schools of thoughts advocate tangent approaches in maintaining the world peace.

Liberal scholars like Fukuyama, John Locke, James Rosenau, Richard Cobden and John Burton, and neo-liberalists as Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye taking positive view of human nature, believe that the states share many interests and thus can engage in collaborative and cooperative activities both domestically and abroad. John Burton in his book - World Society, depicts the transnational relationship of nation-states as a cobweb model with numerous converging interests. The realist model of the world in contrast is like a set of billiard table where states are depicted as independent and self-contained units. To the question of international peace, the liberalists following pluralist philosophy argue that in the world anarchy, peace can be fairly secured by consolidating democracies, interdependence, globalization and institutionalization only. At the death of Cold War in 1991, Francis Fukuyama depicted the moment as “end of the history” and said that the future global order will only be determined by, “democracy, globalization and free trade.”

So far so good as regards to the China’s craving of peaceful rise. However, the liberalists especially the neo-liberalist like Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, themselves argue that cooperation among states is possible if they foster a commonality of interests and concentrate solely on their “absolute gains” instead of “relative gains”. This point is rather interesting as it contains a lot of “ifs” and “buts”. The question arises whether it’s really possible? The contemporary history of international relations negates this supposition. Hence, the achievement of global peace in liberalist paradigm seems to be an elusive reality.

Realists approach towards achievement of global peace in the anarchic system is unreservedly opposite. War, to realists’ skepticism is always a possibility in an anarchical system whereas maintenance of balance of power is the key to guarantee international peace. The leading contemporary neo-realist thinkers like Kenneth Waltz and Fareed Zakria believe that bi-polar system is more stable and provide a better guarantee of peace and security than uni-polar system. It’s also an empirical fact in international relations that great powers hardly allow rise of other states in its periphery or other regions. Under such environment, a leader’s prime responsibility is to defend its national interests at all costs. State security and sovereignty being the prime value, statesmen - according to Machiavelli - seek power because a powerless state is a receptive invitation for aggressors. Hence, a ruler should simultaneously be a “lion” - symbol of power, and “fox” - cunning, and even ruthless in performance of their foreign policy affairs.

This subjective evaluation of international politics nullifies the objectivity of China’s dream of harmonious world through its peaceful flight. Historically speaking the Chinese national character has remained peaceful and docile in nature - defensive from a realist perspective. It has never ruled any foreign nation. Rather, China has been ruled several times by foreigners - e.g. Toba (A.D. 386-534); Khitan (907-1125); Jurchen (1115-1260); Mongols (1234-1368); and Manchu (1644-1911) were all foreigners. The construction of Great Wall of China is also the symbol of their sense of security. It is not meant for the outsiders but to make their nation feel psychologically safe especially once they have no aggressive designs for others. Do realists also consider that China’s proclaimed philosophy of peaceful rise is just like constructing an additional inner parameter of the Great Wall - thinking that no outsider shall threaten their and international sovereignty? It’s worth analyzing!

Furthermore, China shares its land and sea border with as many as 19 countries and has fought wars with five of them in the last century. Due to the porous nature of its borders and the prevalence of estranged minority groups in the northern and western borders, the People Liberation Army requires about 300,000 troops just to police China’s border. In recent years, China has become embroiled in a series of disputes over rights to islands and sea-beds in the South China Sea (Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei) and East China Sea (Japan). With India over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, Japan over Okinotorishima and Senkaku Islands, Bhutan over Bhutanese enclaves and Kula Kangri Mountains, South Korea over Socotra rock, Vietnam over Macclesfield, and Philippine over Scarborough Shoal, will China continue to pursue an assertive foreign policy or opt compromising its vital national interests on mere pretext of harmonious world?

In November, 2011 the US magazine Foreign Policy published an article titled, “America’s Pacific Century” written by the US Secretary of State Henry Clinton. Using the catch-phrase of “Asia Pivot”, she described a complete roadmap of the US engagements in Asia Pacific. It is not inconceivable to foresee which factors have prompted the US to substantially increase its strategic investments in the Asia Pacific region. Moreover, in the post-2014 Afghanistan scenario, there is no pronounced role of China in the regional politics. The proposed “New Silk Road” initiative is aimed at bypassing China and minimizing its regional and international influence. These power-maximization maneuvers are paramount to pushing China against the wall. Will Chinese leadership react as “lion” and “fox” or remain contented and comfortable after being cornered? This question requires further deliberations.

One thing is but certain that the normative heart of China’s wishful desire of peaceful rise guarantees only insecurity and by no means a “harmonious world”!


By Arshad Mahmood

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