China: China's 'Peaceful Rise' Doctrine

2004

Dr Baogang He

China is on the road towards becoming a greater regional power. Due to in part to historical legacies, China's growing influence in Southeast and East Asia are manifest. China's trade deficits with the ASEAN ($US7.6 billion), Japan ($US5 billion), Taiwan ($US31.5 billion), South Korea ($US13.1 billion), and Australia ($US1.3 billion) (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec. 2003, p.47) have provided job opportunities and stimulated economic development in the region. The dramatic increase in the number of people studying the Chinese language, the grand celebration of the Chinese spring festival in Indonesia, the popularity of Chinese pop culture in Philippines, and Chinese cultural and political influence in Thailand and Burma, to name a few, are examples of widespread Chinese (and Chinese Diaspora) influence.

The rise of a new power has often, but not necessarily, been associated with conflict and even wars. The ascendance of Japan and Germany in the 1910-30s revealed that increasing economic power demanded greater resources, resulting in the redrawing of existing political boundaries, the expansion of the rising power's sphere of political and military influence, and inevitably led to clashes with the then greater powers of the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. Will a rising China reconfirm this model? Will China's strategic and economic interests unavoidably collide with those of the United States, in particular, with regard to the Taiwan question?

The Beijing leadership is determined to disprove this 'clash of powers' model and has coined the phase 'the peaceful rise of China'. While ideologically constructed, the doctrine of 'peaceful rise' is a grand strategy for China's 21st century and lays down a fundamental principle for China's foreign policies. It holds the view that China's path towards becoming a greater power will not follow the logic of conflict as seen in 20th century Europe and Asia. Instead, China's foreign policy focuses on maintaining stability and peace as a basis for economic development. Especially, in the wake of the SARS crisis, Beijing has embraced the concept of being a responsible state and a good international citizen.

The principle of a 'peaceful rise' has guided policy initiatives and strategies towards three parts of Asia. In Northeast Asia, Beijing has played an important constructive, coordinating role in dealing with the nuclear weapons issue in North Korea. On the Taiwan issue, Beijing exercised constraint in its reactions towards Chen Shui-bian's referendum proposal in 2003-2004 and adopted a strategy of relying on the US to keep Taiwanese populist politicians in check. In Southeast Asia, China signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN in 2003. Beijing's South-China Sea policy is oriented towards cooperation and co-development projects rather than the expansion of China's maritime territories as some commentators have predicted. As regards South Asia, China froze border disputes and held several talks with India to solve the border issue. While China recognized Sikkim as a part of India, the Indian government, which had inherited the British 'suzerainty' notion*, made a statement in 2003 recognising that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China.

To achieve the objective of peaceful ascendance, it is imperative for China to manage China-US relations with wisdom and prudence. The Beijing leadership sees China only as a regional power rather than as a global power. Beijing recognizes the United States as the sole superpower a position which Beijing has no intention of undermining. It accepts US domination in the region as long as China's key interests and sovereignty, for example, over Taiwan, are not jeopardized. China has improved its relations with the Bush government significantly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York. Both countries have developed constructive cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism.

WATCHPOINT: China's doctrine of peaceful ascendance is of global and regional significance. The Taiwan question will be a critical test of this doctrine, which is being challenged by Chen Shuibian's 'peaceful independence strategy' through deepening democratisation in Taiwan. Whether China can accomplish its goal of avoiding conflict remains to be seen.

*'Suzerainty' refers to a dominant state controlling the foreign relations of a vassal state but allowing it sovereign authority in its internal affairs. In the past, the UK applied this concept to China-Tibet relations.

Dr. Baogang He Associate Professor School of Government University of Tasmania

WATCHPOINT: China's doctrine of peaceful ascendance is of global and regional significance. The Taiwan question will be a critical test of this doctrine, which is being challenged by Chen Shuibian's peaceful independence strategy' through deepening democratisation in Taiwan. Whether China can accomplish its goal of avoiding conflict remains to be seen.

 

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