Published 20-11-2012, 09:56
The emergence of a new generation of Chinese leaders, headed by Xi Jinping, following the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China is a momentous occasion that should not be allowed to pass without reflecting on the challenges that China today poses.
China’s rapid transformation since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms is arguably the most consequential shift in a major power’s socio-economic orientation ever to take place in peacetime. Having overcome its "century of humiliation” and the turmoil of Mao’s "Cultural Revolution”, the world’s most populous nation is finally embracing modernity. Turning its back on orthodox communism and the deep-rooted insularity that only intensified with that ideology, China is now making up for lost time in leaps and bounds.
China is already the "world’s workshop” and has huge financial clout not least as the largest external holder of US government debt. But this is only the start: China’s population of 1.3 billion is rapidly catching up with the West in per capita consumption; and it is projected that China will soon become the world’s largest economy, having recently overtaken Japan to assume the No. 2 slot. What we are witnessing is the making of an economic mega-power in the Asia Pacific region that will continue churning out manufactured goods and consuming ever more energy and raw materials.
To date, the Western response has been mostly one of denial. Surely, China cannot catch up with us if it doesn’t have a "democracy”? Isn’t it the case that "modernity” and "technology” are synonymous with the "West”? Such statements may have been true during the industrial revolution, which fuelled the rise of the West; but today we are witnessing the West’s relative decline, accelerated by its systemic crisis. Contrary to the belief of numerous Westerners, China is not a developing country in need of guidance. It is a self-contained and very sophisticated civilization whose history of statehood is much longer than that of the West. As such, it is uniquely equipped to assimilate and further develop acquired technology while itself never becoming "Western”.
What does this mean for the US and it allies? Above all, the assumption of the need for America’s "global leadership” or for the "containment of China” is bound to look increasingly delusional. Today’s China does not even need to take issue with such posturing: it is self-evident that in the years and decades to come, the US and its allies will simply not be up to the job of "containing China”. Rather, it is much more likely that China will "contain itself” in its own self-interest, for destabilizing the globe is the last thing it needs.
For its part, Russia has a vital interest in ensuring that China’s "peaceful development” remains just that – peaceful – not least so that the vast natural resources of Central Asia, Siberia and the Arctic are tapped with the aid of Chinese (as well as Western) capital. As Putin has put it, Russia needs to "catch the Chinese wind in the sails of its economy”.
•Do you agree that China will remain a peaceful superpower? Or will it disrupt the global system, as Wilhelmine Germany did a century ago?
•Might the greatest risks to peace be ill-conceived attempts by Washington and its allies (such as Japan) to contain China’s geopolitical might?
•Could Russia play the role of mediator if tensions between the US and China escalated?
The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Vlad Sobell, Expert Discussion Panel Editor (New York University, Prague)
Expert Panel Contributions
Former Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, teaches "Leadership in the 21st century” at various business-schools in Moscow
Professor Hugh White's ruminations on the inevitable escalation of "rivalry between the world’s two strongest states” are a typical manifestation of the Western myopic and arrogant attitude toward other cultures, which is fraught with incalculable danger for all of us. Why do most Westerners assume that China is eager to depose America’s supposedly benign leadership and substitute it with a ruthless communist dictatorship? Why do they always think in terms of zero-sum rivalry, the so-called "Yellow Peril” and hyped-up fears of subjugation, domination, and exploitation? Perhaps they attribute to the Chinese their own deep-seated conviction that the strongest always dominates and imposes its will on the weak?
There is a growing realization, however, that the ascendance of East Asia might be greatly beneficial to a world entangled in "cultural wars”, not least because its material power is backed by the moral power of Confucian humanism.
It is important to emphasize that Confucius, who lived more than 2,500 years ago, was not a prophet and did not found a religion. He was a philosopher who developed a manifestly humanistic ethical philosophy, which is the dominant philosophical/cultural system of today’s China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam.
The rise of China began with Deng Xiaoping’s slogan "To get rich is glorious”. However, post-Xiaoping Party leaders (starting with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao) have began to steer the country away from brutal capitalism by actively promoting Confucian values. Today Confucianism is taught in China’s schools and universities, and The Analects of Confucius is the all-time best-seller in that country. The official ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, namely, "socialism with a Chinese face”, is in effect "socialism with a Confucian face”. I will outline below Confucian core values and point out where they differ from the modern Western value system.
Confucianism has four core values: ren (benevolence), yi (righteousness), li (propriety), and zhi (wisdom). The key concept ren refers to the attitude toward other people. Ren is a complex mixture of kindness, compassion, generosity, and respect. The ultimate goal of the individual is moral perfection, which can be attained through a strenuous, lifelong process of internalization of those values.
In the West, wealth, fame, and power are the individual’s ultimate life goals. The unlimited disparity in wealth and power is considered a cultural norm, particularly in America. The vulgar Social Darwinism with its self-centeredness, rugged individualism and cutthroat competition celebrates the survival of the strongest and their "natural” or "divinely ordained” right to dominate the "lesser beings”.
The Confucian state is a welfare state but it does not promote classical socialism with its rigid egalitarianism. It permits the private ownership of land and the means of production. The ideal Confucian state is a guardian of justice and human rights, equal opportunity for self-cultivation and moral perfection.
The ideal Confucian ruler is not an egocentric or power-hungry politician, but one who acts on behalf of his people because he loves people wholeheartedly. Rulers pursue politics out of the moral obligation to cultivate themselves and also to put others on the right path. The ideal Confucian bureaucracy is strictly meritocratic, that is, the selection of officials and bureaucrats is based on talent and diligence rather than on birth rights.
The ascendance of East Asia and the revival of Confucianism have coincided with another contemporary phenomenon of enormous importance -- the rise of religious fundamentalism in all three Abrahamic religions. The contrast between the existential philosophies of religious fundamentalists and Confucians is even more pronounced. I will sketch out some of the most important differences between the two value systems.
All fundamentalists insist on unquestionable faith in the scripture, while Confucianism emphasizes rationality, knowledge, and wisdom. While fundamentalists hold an ultimately negative view of human nature and nature itself, and while they anticipate the apocalyptic "end of history,” Confucianism is deeply positive about human nature and considers the world as the best of all possible worlds (while still insisting that both human nature and the world itself can be improved). Confucianism is expressly optimistic, because it sees progress as relentless movement toward perfection.
Fundamentalists, on the other hand, see the world in Manichean black-and-white terms: "If we are good, they must be evil.” The situation is aggravated by their conviction that they "are the chosen ones” and adherents of the one and only true religion. This leaves no room for compromise between Christian, Islamic and Judaist fundamentalists. By contrast, Confucians believe that the beauty of the world lies in its polychromacity, in the variety and multiplicity of shades and colors. Hence, the exclusion of some means a loss for everyone.
The Western philosophy of Social Darwinism transcends domestic politics and extends to relationships between "races,” religions, and cultures. The unspoken assumption that there are superior and inferior "races,” religions, cultures, and civilizations justifies the dominance of the "superior” over the "inferior”.
In contrast, Confucianism seeks an "all-inclusive societal harmony.” To quote the former Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, the traditional culture of China "stresses love and humanity, community, harmony among different viewpoints, and sharing the world in common.”
I sincerely hope that East Asia’s ascendance can help resolve the greatest predicament of today – the low-intensity "war of civilizations” led by fundamentalists of three monotheistic religions. Confucianism backed by East Asia's growing economic, financial, political, and military power might help to restrain the belligerents.
Finally, the esteemed Professor of Strategic Studies Hugh White urges the West to resist, marginalize, and contain China. This sounds simply silly. How can anyone contain the rising tide, which, by the way, keeps the American economic boat afloat?
 Daniel A. Bell, China's New Confucianism (Princeton U. Press, 2010).
 Linda Woodhead et al., Religions in the Modern World (Routledge, 2002).
 Ralph Hood et al., The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism (Guilford, 2005)
Former Editor-in-Chief, Moscow News
Unless one is a Sinologist, China is one of those topics that are best not thought of at all. Like the fiscal cliff, or cancer, or death. Alas, one can't afford not to, even if thinking on the subject does not do much good. One can't think China away. One can ratiocinate as much as one pleases, it will still be there - or (God forbid) here.
The obvious answer to the challenge that China's growing might so menacingly represents is for America, Europe and Russia to form some sort of a united front - politically, economically, financially, and even militarily. The Vladivostok to Vancouver arc, in the words of one of the saner U.S. presidents.
For reasons that would take an army of psychiatrists to explain and no one to cure, America and, to a considerable extent, Europe see Russia as the greater menace. Just like in the good old days of Cold War I, they endeavor to "contain" this menace by pouring money into the construction of BMD, by moving, or threatening to move, NATO forces ever closer to Russia's borders, by virulent Russophobic propaganda, by support for orange-colored revolutionists within Russia whom most Russians view with curiosity as a bunch of mountebanks, and by other well-known, and well-worn, stratagems.
Just imagine what ceasing these plainly idiotic activities would do for world stability, including the handling of the China problem. However, one has to be realistic. Obama clearly represents the more rationally-thinking element in the U.S. political class - and see what that rational element is doing re. Russia right at this moment: it removes that laughing stock of legislation, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, only to replace it quickly, if somewhat clumsily, with the Magnitsky Bill. What can one expect of people like that? Surely not some sane thinking on the possible usefulness of Russia as an ally in the turbulence, if not chaos, that the world is in for, and not too far in the future, either.
Words like turbulence and chaos sound scary, of course, but what would you? America's national debt, now nearing $17 trillion, is a bubble that has to burst some day. That's unavoidable, that has to be taken as a given. Another given is that America's leaders will do their best (or worst, depending on your own position on the map) to let anyone but the great American people suffer from the effects of that bubble bursting. But will those others - and America's biggest creditor China above all - eat humble pie over such a proceeding? That would be strange to expect of a nation as proud and powerful as China.
We thus have all the makings of an almighty conflict. I would not be so foolhardy as to speculate on what form that conflict may take. Too many imponderables. Specialist knowledge of a vast array of data on finance and economics is required to advance even the most tentative hypotheses regarding events in the coming three to five years. Even people who do have that kind of specialist knowledge are now discussing scenarios that appear pure fantasies to an outsider like myself. Like America and Canada (some say Mexico) forming a new nation and reneging on all or some of the debts of the no longer existing nation, the United States.
No, that's too far-fetched for me. I can only state the obvious: America will soon need all the help from other nations that it might scrape up, and Russia is a natural in this respect. Europe, with its own bubbles bursting all over the place, is not much good even to itself, let alone coming to the aid of anyone else in a crunch.
Why is Russia America's natural ally vis-a-vis China? At this point I beg to differ from Vladimir Putin. It's all very well for him to talk of Russia catching the "Chinese wind in the sails of its economy”. To me, this sounds like putting a good face on a bad business. Concerned individuals report that what really happens on the ground is slow, and often not so slow, Chinese colonization of Russia's Far East and parts of Siberia. In some areas, up to 90 percent of economic activity there is said to be driven by Chinese capital, Chinese manpower, Chinese management.
The other day I heard a retired colonel-general say something that sort of put the finishing touch to the picture. It appears that as a result of the "reform" of Russia's armed forces by the ex-defense minister Serdyukov, the so and so now facing, one hopes, the prospect of a long sojourn in a solitary cell, the many thousands of miles of the Chinese-Russian border will be defended, in case of red alert, by two Russian brigades. Repeat, two brigades, not divisions even. Facing them across the Amur is a Chinese grouping that is greater than Russia's entire ground forces. Makes you think, what?
Stop Nato International
U.S. Intensifies Military Encirclement of China
With the emergence of China as the world's second-largest economy and its concomitant renewal of (comparatively minor) territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, the stage is set for a U.S.-Chinese confrontation of a nature and on a scale not seen since before the Sino-Soviet split of 1960.
Following the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization throughout Europe over the past thirteen years, every European nation is now a full member of or involved in one or more partnership arrangements with the U.S.-led military bloc (except for Cyprus, which, however, is under intensified pressure to join the Partnership for Peace program). Having thus enforced a cordon sanitaire on Russia's western and much of its southern frontier, it was inevitable that the U.S. and its allies would next move to encircle, quarantine and ultimately confront China.
In the past decade the Pentagon has begun conducting annual multinational military exercises in countries bordering China (Khaan Quest in Mongolia, Steppe Eagle in Kazakhstan) and near it (Angkor Sentinel in Cambodia), has with its NATO allies waged war and moved into bases in nations bordering China - Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan - as well as nearby Uzbekistan, and, even before the official announcement of the strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region, acquired the use of new military facilities in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Australia, Singapore and the Philippines.
President Obama's current visit to Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's simultaneous trip to Australia, Cambodia and Thailand are exemplary of this trend.
Early this year NATO announced the launching of its latest, and first non-geographically specific, partnership program, Partners Across the Globe, which began with the incorporation of eight Asia-Pacific nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Korea.
Since the summer of 2010 the U.S. has been courting the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam), several of whom are embroiled in island disputes with China, for inclusion into a rapidly evolving Asian analogue of NATO. This includes the eight above-mentioned new NATO partners and is intended to be a super-Cold War era-like bloc, subsuming the former members of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) into a systematic initiative aimed against China.
The so-called "Asia-Pacific pivot” also entails the deployment of 60 percent of total American naval assets - quantitatively the largest and qualitatively the most technologically advanced and lethal in the world - to the Asia-Pacific region. Even before that, the U.S. Pacific Command's area of responsibility had included over 50 percent of the world's surface, more than 100 million square miles, with U.S. Central Command bordering China and India in the other direction. The U.S. Seventh Fleet, tasked to patrol the waters of the Asia-Pacific, is the largest overseas naval force in the world and will be further enhanced by the U.S. Navy's intensified deployment to the region. The U.S. has eleven of the world's twelve nuclear aircraft carriers and all eleven supercarriers.
Washington is also incorporating several Asia-Pacific nations into its global interceptor missile grid, in its initial avatar launched in conjunction with NATO and the so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach, which will station increasingly longer-range land-based missiles in Romania and Poland. This in addition to Aegis class cruisers and destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors in the Mediterranean and likely later in the Baltic, Norwegian, Black and even Barents Seas.
The Pentagon's partners in the Asia-Pacific wing of the international missile system, which targets China, as the European version does Russia, include to date Japan, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan, with the Philippines reported to be the future host of two Forward-Based X-Band Radar-Transportable interceptor sites of the sort deployed to Turkey at the beginning of this year and to Israel in 2008.
China is a key component of the two groups representing the greatest potential for a multi-polar world, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Russia, its partner in both, confronting the same threats from the West, must, in its own interest as well as those of world peace and equilibrium, support China against American brinkmanship and gunboat diplomacy.
President of the American University in Moscow
Professor of World Politics, Moscow State University
The beginning of the modern era of China’s geopolitical rise can be tentatively dated to July 1971, when President Nixon's National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger flew to Beijing from Pakistan for a secret meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai. The outcome of that meeting was an agreement on President Nixon’s visit to China. Indeed, Nixon visited that country in February 1972.
Some historians identify an earlier date as the start of the process: October 1967, when Richard Nixon, who at that time was running for the White House, wrote the following in the Foreign Affairs journal: "We simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates, and threaten its neighbors. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation."
What Nixon did not explicitly say in that article but what everyone with even an elementary knowledge of foreign affairs could read between the lines was that engaging China was a useful counterbalance to the Soviet Union. The Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, his often laughable and pathetic demeanor notwithstanding, apparently got the message and angrily accused Washington of "trying to play the China card”.
Thus the balloon went up. The next 40-plus years witnessed various scheming attempts of two sides of the U.S.–China–Russia triangle to get the upper hand against the third one. It is interesting to note that ideology played only a minor part in these geopolitical games. Capitalist America and Communist China had no problems plotting against the Communist USSR.
After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the new Russia, free from the stigma of communism, was ready to join forces with the US to balance China’s might, but Russia’s approaches to the West were bluntly rejected. Now China and Russia are increasingly seen as working in concert to contain America’s global ambitions.
One of the most recent examples is China’s invitation to Moscow and South Korea to form a united anti-Japanese (anti-American by extension) front. According to the prominent Chinese expert Guo Syangan, vice-president of the Chinese Institute of International Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this front would be used to force Japan’s leaders to recognize once and for all the results of World War II and give up its territorial claims to neighboring states.
As would have been expected, Moscow’s reaction to that "trial balloon” was cool. As Andrei Ivanov rightly pointed out on the Voice of Russia radio, Moscow "does not advocate solving disputed issues by confrontation.” However, if the Kremlin feels that it is being continuously pushed around by Washington, with no regard for Russia’s geopolitical interests, then it may treat such Chinese advances in a more positive spirit.
China is no longer an orthodox communist society. It has been able to discredit the old Cold War paradigm, whose main tenet is that freedom, democracy and capitalism (FDC) go hand in hand so that it is impossible to have one without the other two.
It is a great irony of history that the United States, which is the world’s most powerful nation and has all three FDC elements, is up to its ears in debt to China, a nation that can claim only one FDC element. In fact, the point has been reached where not only the US economy but also that of the European Union and many other nations depends heavily on the world’s only remaining communist power (the economic weight of Cuba and North Korea is negligible).
Now, just how has this point been reached? Didn’t we all applaud Ronald Reagan, who promised us that Communism would be consigned to the dustbin of history? Perhaps Reagan had in mind only the Soviet version of this brutal system. We now see that it is America, which has moved a great many of its industries to China, is at least partly to blame for the present sad state of affairs.
However, it is now rather pointless to apportion the blame, to search for an answer to one of those two eternal Russian questions, "Who is to blame?” Rather, it is more important to look for answers to the other eternal question, "What is to be done?”
The year 2012 is unique in that on all three sides of the U.S.-China-Russia triangle, new leaders have been elected. It is, therefore, the right time for them to start regular trilateral summits to discuss the world’s most pressing security issues. Whoever takes the initiative in this endeavor will certainly earn more than just a few PR points. What is preventing Putin from taking the initiative?
Institute for Far East Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
China does its utmost to proclaim the peaceful character of its development (or rise), and I believe that Beijing gives absolute priority to peaceful means in influencing its opponents and achieving its goals.
But there is another side to the coin. Since late 2008 China has more than once demonstrated a willingness to resort to very tough measures, including direct military pressure in defence of its so-called "core interests" and "interests of development", which include everything related to national sovereignty and the unhindered delivery of resources. Moreover, the 18th CPC Congress confirmed the course of strengthening the armed forces, especially the Navy. So there are no absolute guarantees that China will never resort to military force in conflict resolution.
However, the comparison with Germany one hundred years ago is not quite correct – Germany openly bet on a realignment of the world by military means. We couldn’t say the same about contemporary China.
The Chinese are doing their best not to worsen relations with the US, although there is an obvious lack of coordination: the population’s reaction to America’s "return to Asia" has been visibly harsher than the (more diplomatic) rhetoric of the authorities. Essentially, America’s moves have a certain deterrent effect on China, forcing it to more soberly assess its capabilities and limit its ambitions accordingly. In terms of a grand strategy, it is up to the US to decide whether to respond to China's rise with acquiescence or whether to resort to elements of deterrence. In any case, I don’t see any ready-made effective recipe for preventing US-China rivalry in the foreseeable future.
Finally, could Russia play the role of mediator if tensions between the US and China escalate? Hypothetically, Russia could take on such a role, but in reality it is very unlikely that this will ever be necessary. China has always preferred to act directly without intermediaries. At the same time, the US has good reasons to consider Moscow to be closer to Beijing than Washington.
Professor of International Relations and Political Science
San Francisco State University
Whether China will emerge as a peaceful or offensive power, to a large extend depends on how it is treated by the outside world. It would be a strategic mistake to deny it the status of a major power it deserves and treat it with suspicion as potentially offensive or assign it the status of the early 20th century’s Germany. It’s worth remembering that Germany too was not predetermined to disturb the international balance of power by entering the World War One. Since 1870 France and Britain were preoccupied with deterring what they viewed as the dangerous revisionist power even though neither France nor Britain themselves were models for practicing moderation and even-handedness. Over time, Germany reinforced the perception of a revisionist power by developing offensive plans, and Russia was increasingly pushed to side with one of the warring parties.
Russia too did not do everything in its power to improve relations with Germany and prevent its treatment as the potential offender of the European peace. Having rejected a defensive pact proposed by the German Emperor in October 1904, Russia was drifting in the direction of confrontation with the country. Nicholas II became involved in the Franco-British military alliance while remaining supportive of Balkan nationalism and increasingly developing anti-German paranoia. Although William II was no Hitler, Russia further distanced itself from Germany by designing deterrence and then offensive war plans. The two countries could no longer trust each other, and the Balkan wars further exacerbated that mistrust.
The mistake of mishandling Germany must not be repeated with China. If a mediator between the US and China is required, Russia may be well-suited to play that role. However, an even wiser course may be that of back-passing by letting others to handle US-China disputes while developing Russia internally. In the meantime, Moscow should build even-handed relations with China and other powers. Although China’s rise requires that Russia continue to build relations with other states in the West, East Asia and beyond, it is critically important that Moscow not fall behind in strengthening ties with Beijing. An insufficiently engaged China is more likely to show expansionist tendencies than a China which is a participant in collective security arrangements with Russia, Europe and other powers.
Professor of Government
Thankfully in recent decades it has become rarer and rarer for states to go to war. The international context of China's rise is quite different from that of the late 19th century, which saw the rise of Germany. The world is not divided into empires, and China's rise does not require it to compete militarily with anyone else.
The USA has common interests with China in maintaining economic growth and combating climate change. They also have a common interest in securing trade routes carrying oil from the Persian Gulf. There are no real strategic differences between China and the US. There is a risk that mismanagement of the relationship or crises over disputed islands in the East and South China seas could bring a sudden increase in tension between the two countries. But a scenario that would bring the two countries into a shooting war would be pretty extreme and implausible. The US has a good understanding and respect for the dynamics of the Chinese system. They are not trying to force democracy on China, in fact it is hard to find many American academics who expect to see a democratic China in the near future.
Beijing and Washington prefer to deal directly with each other, and it is hard to see either of them turning to a mediator. To succeed, mediators have to be disinterested or powerful, and preferably both. Russia is neither. Russia is not disinterested when it comes to the rise of China - on the contrary, there is a distinct rivalry between the two countries for influence in Central Asia. Nor is Russia in a position of power with regard to either country.
University Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Kansas State University
To begin with, I don't think we can say which way China will go. Things look very peaceful now, but Beijing has shown that it is capable of responding with toughness -- the dispute over the islands in the South Pacific or the ones further north where it has a dispute with Japan. Will it actually land its Marines? I don't know. It is certainly modernizing and putting a lot of money into its military.
I am not certain what Vlad meant by "containment." The US is clearly moving its naval assets to the Pacific with China in mind. I would argue that much will depend on Chinese actions. In the case of the atolls in the South Pacific, I would be very surprised if the US did not come to the aid of one of these countries if asked. If China tries to play bully in the Pacific area, I suspect the US will respond.
As far as Russia is concerned, much depends on how US - Russian relations develop. Also, I am not sure Beijing wants Moscow playing deal-maker.