A historical narrative of China’s ambition
As early as in the mid and late 50s and early 60s, founder and supreme leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Mao Zedong constantly and openly suggested that China catch up with or outstrip the U.S. by 50 to 60, 20 to 30, or as-such years.1 To that end, he even launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign to mushroom China’s agricultural and industrial productivity.
Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, according to documents and records, never put up such direct proposals. But this doesn’t mean that he didn’t have analogous ideas or ambition. In 1987, Deng said that by the middle of the 21st century, China would be able to reach the economic levels of developed countries, but then lowered the target to levels of medium-developed countries.2 Deng also held firm to the principle that sovereignty is over human rights and time after time propounded setting up a new international political and economic order against hegemonism.3 However, it was his reform and opening-up policy that, until recently, brought China’s economy average annual double-digit growth for over 30 years.
Deng’s substitute, Jiang Zemin, in addition to reaffirming the new international political and economic order, first officially presented two other notions: Two Centenary Goals and The Revival of the Chinese Nation.4 In the face of these perceptions, Jiang and leaders of five other nations first created a regional geopolitical international institution in China’s territory, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to safeguard the peace and stability of Central Asian regions and to fight cross-border crimes.
Jiang’s replacement, Hu Jintao, in large measure, just echoed Jiang and Deng’s same expressions, especially Jiang’s two thoughts. Yet, it was in Hu’s times that China began to eclipse Japan to become the world’s second largest economy. And it was in this time that China and four other nations, Russia, India, Brazil, and South Africa, formed the BRICS bloc, a new international economic body and potential rival to the Group of 7(G7). Concurrently, it was in Hu’s times that the idea of being on a level with the U.S. overtly came up again. Hu’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, at a welcoming banquet hosted by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that China took 50 years to run as well as medium-developed countries, needing about 100 years to be on a par with the U.S.5
Incumbent President Xi Jinping, Hu’s surrogate, seems to be both a partisan of all the apprehensions above and an unwavering practitioner of them. Since taking office as China’s president, not only has Xi proponed to build a new style of great power relationships with the U.S., but he has stressed the belief that Asia is Asians’ Asia and a new Asian security notion: that Asian affairs should be handled by Asian countries themselves. Moreover, to manifest his regnal signature, he has integrated Jiang’s two notions into one, namely his China dream to resurrect the Chinese nation. Specifically, he demanded that China be a medium-developed nation by the centenary of the establishment of the CCP in 1921 and realize the splendid resuscitation of the Chinese nation by the centenary of the foundation of the PRC in 1949.
To Xi, achieving the China dream or the great revival of the Chinese nation is in fact just an euphemism for being the world’s first power; soon after Xi took over as General Secretary of the CCP, the state-controlled prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) issued a report showing that by 2049, the centenary of the foundation of the PRC, China would completely outstrip the U.S.6 The diversion is that the same institution published a dissimilar report back in Hu’s time and two years after Wen’s speech, saying that China would be ahead of developed nations by 2100 in economic modernization and then be the equivalent to the U.S. around in 2110 in this aspect.7
To actualize this dream, Xi has constituted the National Security Commission, a counterpart to the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), to manage overall national security affairs. And by order of Xi, China has also single-handedly created the Silk Road Fund, a state-owned financial institution, to subsidize the construction of infrastructure in countries along the Silk Road and the 21 Century Maritime Silk Road (One Belt And One Road), two modern versions of a pair of trade passages in China’s ancient times, to again link China to Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, North Africa, and Europe. More noteworthy, a regional international financial organization advanced by Xi to put up and be led by China, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), though still in the making, has drawn in more than 50 countries, even including many western nations, for instance, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy and so on. For the CCP’s China, this is indubitably an enormous victory, at least on the surface, and seems to have dwarfed in gambits another kindred institution in building by the BRICS nations, the New Development Bank (NDB).
At the same time, China under Xi is intensifying its territorial claims as well: In the East China Sea, to more effectively handle disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu islands, or the Senkaku islands, China has erected its own Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and has required that all aircraft furnish self-identification information and flight plans when flying across its ADIZ, a rule clearly against international aero-custom. In the South China Sea, besides placing oil rigs in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in 2014 sparking oil-rig crises, China has been reinforcing its construction and reclamation in contested waters, for instance, Gaven Reef, Johnson Reef, and the Fiery Cross Reef; and now all three reefs have become a sizeable man-made island, with the first having had an addition of a 114,000-square-meter land, the second, a submerged feature previously, having turned to a 100.000-square-meter island, and the third having enlarged to over 11 times its original size.8
The U.S., as part of the Asia-Pacific region, has repeatedly called for a multilateral agreement on South China Sea issues and suggested that China work under such an agreement to solve territorial disputes that could further inflame tensions with countries in the sea, especially the Philippines and Vietnam. But such a proposal has bluntly been refused by China for the reason that the sea originally belongs to it or that what is within its nine-dash-line, including virtually the whole South China Sea, is just part of China’s territory. This is visibly a challenge to the current international political order built on international law as its AIIB and NDB have called into question the present international economic order founded on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Today’s China isn’t already China in the past: with an average annual double-figure economic growth for more than 30 years and a status as the world’s second largest economy or the world’s largest one according to IMF’s purchasing power parity calculation as well as an annual double-figure growth in military spending for the last decade and a place as the world’s second largest nation in military spending, China has come to believe that it has the capability to change the existing world order at its discretion or that at least it should be included as one of the makers of world order. For China, this is just a result of a long-term strategic pursuit of all the five-generation leaders of the CCP from Mao and also a vivid embodiment of the diplomatic strategy guidelines from Deng to develop yourself and bide your time.9
U.S. integration policy on China
For the U.S., this is a gnawing moment: it has to face up to the fact that the rise of the China resulted from its own blunders or ignorance and overlook. Surely, in large part, there wouldn’t be the chance for China to burgeon and present-day China’s that aggressive and assertive behaviors without the U.S.’s integration policy. The kind of chance has been called”strategic window opportunity” in China, a strategic development luck in the tranquil circumstances.
It seems that while the U.S. has contrived integration policy with the aim of eventually converting China into a liberal democracy and a responsible stakeholder by inviting it to join the liberal international system orchestrated by the West and helping it to bolster the economy, it has underestimated the CCP’s stamina and resolve against liberalization and democratization and overlooked the catastrophic failure of the Tiananmen Democracy Movement.
As early as 1989, then leader of the CCP Deng accentuated more then once that China needed to adhere to the socialist path and proletarian dictatorship, steadfastly resisting capitalist liberalization. Shortly thereafter he attested by action in the year how serious his words were, with masses of troops being deployed there and hundreds of people being killed while the democratic remonstrance erupted in and around Tiananmen Square. Never has democratic protest or demonstration come to the nation since then with the continuous tight control of the Chinese government; even if data show that the nation’s mass incidents had risen from ten thousand in 1993 to about 0.14 million in 2011 and was always in a continual and steady augmentation, none of them has been of democracy and freedom.10
On the other hand, the U.S. could have missed China’s peculiar authoritarian cultural tradition while creating such a policy: the tradition itself would make any such policy seem to have an overly slim prospect of success. In over two thousand years from 221 BC to date of Chinese history, there have been solely two types of political systems: totalitarianism with socialism and communism as its main ideological characteristics and absolutism featuring Confucianism, a philosophy highlighting hierarchical relationships, observance, and compliance, as its primary ideological attribute. And the two kinds of ideologies are imposed on people as the two sorts of political systems are and at the expense of the freedoms of thought and speech. This wreaks havoc on the nation’s brainpower so badly that until the terminations of two Opium Wars, Chinese people didn’t still know what science, democracy, equality, and freedom are.
China’s this kind of authoritarian tradition with ideology has never broken. Before Mao, as a single official ideological thought, Confucianism had almost never received any pungent challenges. But when Mao, as a communist revolutionary, took on power, he launched all-out attack on it and then threw away it for his own thought and Marxism and Leninism as topmost ideological theories for the nation and from then to date, the three isms have always been part of the CCP and the nation’s fundamental ideology, irreplaceable.
Be that as it may, there are signs that, as a part of the China dream and a method of governance, Confucianism is coming back to the heart of the country’s cultural activity. Current president Xi has many times effectuated confidence in China’s traditional culture and presented himself as an ardent fan of it, oftentimes citing creeds from Confucian classics on many public occasions. More important is that the past Confucianism has been edited into schoolbooks again for present students from elementary to high school.11 This is a departure from Mao’s thought and for modern Chinese people, this is also the reappearance of an old specter.
The U.S. strategy intention is sowing the seeds of democratic revolution or reform in China in the economic way. But U.S decision-makers and their think tanks seem to forget that to make these seeds grow healthily, there needs to be suitable cultural soil. China isn’t such a soil: its heritage and civilization are nurseries for authoritarianism. So the secret to turn China into a liberal democracy isn’t by economic activities but by teaching and disseminating democratic and liberal thoughts to alter its tradition. Leaders of the CCP need to ameliorate the nation’s economy to consolidate their rule whereas the U.S.’s such policy just plays into their hands. Accordingly, integration policy, when being applied to a country like China, could produce a setback.
China’s developmental direction and course
In Deng’s age, as Deng himself said, China was still in a developmental state of feeling stones to wade across the river, namely a condition of lacking a crystalline national development strategy. China of the day is no longer in such a state; its leaders have expressly known how and where the country should be led.
In the next half of the 19th century, owing to humiliating defeat in the First and Second Opium Wars against western powers Britain and France, rulers of the Qing dynasty afterward mounted a reform campaign for rendering the nation prosperous and powerful to learn and introduce western sciences and technology, especially military technology. The reform campaign also first set up and develop western-style military and civilian industries and schools in China, but it failed to touch at all the ruling base of the dynasty, namely its absolutism with Confucianism. This was an immense emasculation: After the reform drive lasted 35 years, China lost the Sino-Japanese War; about 17 years after this, the Qing dynasty, the last dynasty in Chinese history, came to an end with people’s revolution for democracy.
Now, the CCP is following the same lines to run the nation: focusing on economy and trade, sciences and technology and military strength; refusing demorcratic reform bluntly and clamping down on freedom of thought and speech continuously; and renewing its totalitarianism with Confucianism again. Markedly, Xi is rebuilding an old empire and building it into a sphinx monster, a hybrid of part westernization, part socialization, and part revivalism. No one can know for sure whether or not such a China will be a huge threat to the whole world, but it certainly will be a fearsome foe to the liberal world. Oddly, it is some countries of the world that have been giving the state a leg-up.
The serial report by Reuters, “Breakout: Inside China’s military buildup”, has lucidly revealed how western countries, especially Britain, France, and Germany, have bypassed arms sanctions to help China to construct a bigger, more sophisticated weapon system. According to the report, it is inconceivable how China’s advanced military equipment, like stealth fighters and navigation satellites, would be possible without cutting-edge and precise gadgets, components, and apparatus from these nations.
Same true, the West is the cardinal exporter of knowledge to China. Data from the Institute of International Education show that in the 2013/2014 academic year, China sent over 0.27 million students to the U.S. for study and was the leading sender of students to the country for the fifth year in a row. At once, data from the Ministry of Education of the PRC indicate that in 2014, around 0.46 million Chinese students in total were studying abroad.12 Therefore, on count, during the time, some 60% of these students were receiving education in the U.S. Moreover, 82% of the Chinese students studying abroad in 2013 were being instructed in western nations13 and from 1978, the first year China started reform and opening-up policy, to 2014, over 3.5 million Chinese students were learning overseas and over half of them have returned to China now.14 These numbers show how crucially China rests on foreign knowledge and there is reason to believe that in the predictable future, western nations will still the central exporter of knowledge to China if they themselves don’t change policy.
China’s deadliest shortcoming is short of vital scientific and technological innovation capacity while it is bent on being the first power in the world; the kind of ability is the common stamp of all world powers in modern history. This puts the country at an acuter disadvantage in the struggle for the standing of the world’s first power than other powers in history, for instance, Germany and Japan. Yet, this is a prerequisite bitter pill it has to swallow: this is the inescapable adverse effect of its own everlasting ideological tradition strangling freedom of thought. As to its traditional ideology, Confucianism, it is still a question whether or not it itself would be welcome if it weren’t imposed on Chinese people.
Yet, to make the catchphrase “the splendid resuscitation of the Chinese nation” or “the China dream” more credible, China has also rewritten its history depending on some disputable researchs, for instance ones by British scientific historian Joseph Needham and French economic historian Paul Bairoch. In the new historical story, China is represented as a nation that was not only the world’s most powerful nation but the world’s most advanced state in science and technology in the course of a long time ago; for example, in 2014, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said that China had led the world in the past for over 100 years in response to Obama’s remark that the U.S. would continue to shepherd the world for 100 years15 and in 2015, Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology vice-minister Wang Zhigang, in an interview, gave a speech saying that China had been ahead of the world in scientific and technological creation as early as in the late Ming dynasty and the early Qing dynasty.16
The CCP’s target is very explicit: just effectuating China into a world’s number one power of Confucian tradition through western sciences and technology. In the predictable future, no visible strength can hamper it from fulfilling the target except western countries change existing policy. At home, the CCP even has no discernible oppositional force yet. And the failure of the last two ruling classes in Chinese history, the Qing dynasty and the Nationalist Party, is closely connected with the foreign invasion and occupation of China; today’s China isn’t in such a case. By calculation, the average life expectancy of a dynasty in the nine dynasties uniting China from the Qin to Qing dynasties is some 170 years. Hence, there is reason to believe that the liberal world will still be facing an authoritarian China for about 104 years17 if relevant policy doesn’t shift.
While China has vicious defects in scientific and technological creation, the U.S. doesn’t have overwhelming advantage in the Sino-U.S.struggle, specially in disposing of problems on China. The South China Sea issue is just a paradigm. In international relationships, no evidence illustrates that a developing or underdeveloped country heavily banking on other countries’sciences and technology and abundantly using simulated technological apparatus must not be able to beat at their own game a developed nation like Japan or the U.S.. China’s own history has well shown that this is possible: in the Korean War, an extremely underdeveloped China tested the U.S. and its allies’ strength and will and in the end, won a tie. The Vietnam War afterward has further proven that the potential is true, in which a badly impoverished Socialist Republic of Vietnam successfully defeated and expelled the U.S. military from its domain.
So, China has the reason to believe that it has potence to withstand, even overcome the U.S. in the future conflict; particularly when it encounters a U.S. that has been tired of and tried its damnedest to stay away from war, the kind of case is more likely to transpire. This is the reason why China would turn down the U.S.’s peaceful suggestion on the South China Sea issue and it also hints that the U.S. has no means but by concession, blockades, democratization, or war to stop China from annexing the whole South China Sea.
The U.S.’s weakness lies in it always putting its back into avoiding conflicts between major powers. This makes many international issues, for instance, the North Korea nuclear and missle issue and the Iran nuclear program issue, unable to be solved in an effective way. In the North Korea issue, on account of China’s backing for North Korea, U.S. sanctions against North Korea to hinder it from developing nukes and ballistic missiles are almost feeble. In the Iran issue, as Iran itself is a major economy in Asia, U.S, economic sanctions against it to force it into giving up its nuclear program has slight impact too. The U.S., as the present world’s sole superpower, when not able or willing to deal with international disputes on its strength all the way, looks like a paper tiger, or at least not so purportedly muscular on the surface.
At heart, the Chinese nation is an ethnic group admiring and pursuing power and influence; in Chinese history, the transitions of all dynasties and ruling classes were completed by force. So, in Chinese history, force was the source of the legality of everything, including power. This is an invariant Chinese tradition. Most of western scholars make a mistake in construing the Chinese power legitimacy source issue. They often think that Chinese rulers need to unravel what the legitimacy of their power comes from. In fact, in China, this is a false issue: in here, the law of the jungle is just the real origin of power and thus the main source of law. Therefore, according to tradition, the CCP doesn’t need to bear witness to the legality of its power as long as it has strength to seize power and keep the power. So, what it needs to do is how to manage the country well in its own way and at its own discretion; law, for it, is only a tool able to be used for its rule.
In Chinese history, corruption and poverty were two indiscerptible root causes of the collapses of all dynasties and ruling classes. In Mao’s age, very destitute as China was, it had little or no corruption; therefore, no revolution or uprising arose at the time. Rampant as corruption is in current China, present China is by far more affluent than then China; thus, it is very difficult for revolution or rebellion to come up in the time, if not impossible. So, in a sense, U.S.’s that kind of integration policy of wishful thinking is actually the momentous cause of present-day China not having democratic revolution or movements. And in another sense, a sense of international relationships, the U.S., over its such policy, also puts itself in a situation in which it is helping its rival to surpass itself. This is exactly the opposite of its post-Cold War number one defense strategy objective, to prevent the emergence of a rival superpower.18
By war is the critical, most efficacious, but most detrimental way to convert the old situation or order and originate the new situation or order at a nation’s or some nations’ discretion. Two Opium Wars decisively put an end to the closure of China lasting nearly 2000 years; World War Ⅱdirectly leads to much part of today’s international order. The Cold War isn’t a real war but only a rivalry between two superpowers the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. So, though its end vitally changes the old international order, the “war” doesn’t beget the new order at the U.S.’s discretion.
In international relationships, not a nation would launch or fight a war for the causes of democracy and freedom of another country. Thus, it is foreseeable that the U.S. won’t stage a war for China’s these causes. Yet, in the U.S.’s own national interests, it needs to prepare itself for a military conflict with future China. The kind of conflict becomes more likely specially over current China’s unrestrained ambition for regional and global hegemony. Nevertheless the U.S. has chances to shun the likely armed contest. With the same view of values and respect for human rights and the rule of law, democracies are more willing to solve contention and strife between or among them over peaceful approaches and never war has broken out between two democracies. So, if China is able to be transmuted into a liberal democracy, this will be a best way to avoid the China-U.S. war and in the U.S.’s permanent national interests. Thus, the kind of way deserves the U.S. trying with the most possible effort.
In the Sino-U.S. relationship, the U.S. should try its best to show the muscle matching its status as the present world’s single superpower and exercise it if need be but not always and excessively underline dialogue and contact. U.S.-China human rights dialogue has been held 18 times,19 but the result is that many western mainstream media’s websites that had been able to be visited in China, for instance, The New York Times’ and The Wall Street Journal’s, now have been already blocked.
A piece of advice
To settle the Chinese democratization issue, the U.S. should first plant the seeds of democracy and freedom in Chinese’s minds. This is a thing that is right off able to embark on in the U.S.’s own home: since every year sees hundreds of thousands of Chinese students studying in the U.S., the students are just the very objects of cultivation. The U.S. should teach the students some subjects on democracy politics, democracy history, and/or democracy philosophy but not impart only some science and technology to them and if possible, such education should be compulsory. Occasion is very simple: these subjects are generally prohibited in China. Hence, the students will have little or no opportunity to learn or know the subjects before coming to the U.S. and thus will have little or no fortune to choose by their own knowledge of democracy whether to study the subjects or not further and whether to join democratic movements or not.
The kind of the lack of room flowing from the control of the nation can be made up for farthest and most effectively only by state action; for instance, in the Qin dynasty in China, Confucianism was ever atrociously forbidden and squelched by emperors to near disappearance, but in the Han dynasty therewith, it became emperors’ focus of attention and was recognized as a state belief at last. Since then until the Qing dynasty, with the continuous upholding of rulers, Confucianism was always in an universal popularity.
Resultingly, the students, if there isn’t an obligatory educational system requiring them to learn and know the subjects, will still be in innocence with democracy, largely as in the ages before the First Opium War, Chinese intelligentsia knew only Confucius, Lao Tzu, or some other Chinese thinkers of those days but not Plato, Kant, or any other western scholar or thinker of those times. Therefore, even just for its own national interests, the U.S. should help China with its democratization issue.
On May 8. 2015
American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.