China’s foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has been characterised by an embracement of the international system. It is my reckoning that the success of this new foreign policy has indeed been exaggerated, but in order to give weight to this assumption, it is necessary to look at the key elements in shaping the foreign policy of the Beijing Government, and to discuss in turn the arguments for success and failure of each factor. I will also seek to examine each dynamic, including economic integration, multilateral and bilateral diplomacy and the issue of sovereignty, within the various schools of thought, in order to fully comprehend the interpretation of foreign policy success or exaggeration since the end of the Cold War. Greater regional and global interdependence through trade and diplomacy is intrinsically linked to the steady economic rise in China. In addition to this, China’s decision to pursue international integration has been heavily influenced by the failure of the centralised, communist system in the former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War and by the turning to capitalism by Eastern European countries.
China has enjoyed a rapid growth for nearly 3 decades, and it is argued by some academics within an optimistic framework that the rise has been successful and that there is little evidence of the rise causing alarm. They concur that the material accomplishments internationally of opening up China’s economy to a free market system has benefitted many. Whilst it is true to say that the scale of the Chinese market has indeed generated business for companies within the East Asian region and globally (D Kang “Why Chinese Rise will be Peaceful”) and it is certainly appears to be evident that economic growth and domestic stability within China relies upon interaction and engagement with the regional and international economy, we must also consider the theory of power transition. When attempting to argue in favour of the exaggeration of the foreign policy success, Power Transitional Theory recognises that the rise in China’s material wealth may lead to a shifting of authority and a lack of regional cohesion. Optimists argue that The Beijing Government honoured this realisation with a strategy initially known as “Peaceful Rise”.
They believe this notion was designed to allay the fears from neighbouring states as to the potential for destabilization within the balance of power in the region, and globally. Through this concept, China conveyed the message that their development and new era of foreign policy focused on purpose not power. The traditional phrase “He who helps others, helps himself” was utilised to depict China’s rise, and the coordination of the foreign policy to accommodate the rise, framing it as seeking common prosperity for the region. (Zheng Bijion “China’s peaceful rise to Great Power status.”) However, it is the reckoning of many academics that as well as benefits to the region, we must also consider potential costs. I believe that the negative aspects may have been obscured in order to portray ultimate success. Critically, the more endowed China become, the more able it is to intimidate other states. It seems as though the aim for China’s amplified role in global trade and industry has been portrayed as to ultimately create satisfaction and a fairer share of wealth and resources.
Appearing to support this notion is the “Five principles of peaceful coexistence”, a series of agreements formulated in 1954 between China and India, which are often referred to in relation to the Post-Cold War rise of China, aiding China to perpetuate this myth of absolute foreign policy success without shortcomings. China officially joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, following 15 years of negotiations, and has moved towards a market economy since Deng Xiaoping’s initial steps in 1978. (J Lego “What China will want”) The optimist theorists argue that through this open policy evolution, China has aligned with international standards, giving legitimacy to Beijing, who no longer exports ideas of working class revolution, but an ideology of industriousness. They also believe that a technical revolution in China will propel the world economy to higher levels. Within this framework, it is understood that economic modernization and integration has been successful in terms of improving the standard of living of Chinese citizens, which, the optimists argue is the true focus for the foreign policy, not the pursuit of hegemony or power in the region.
It is true to say that there has been some increase in overseas travel and education abroad for the growing middle classes in China, as well as enhanced rights to free speech and internet access. However, the implications of this social advancement can also be seen as a potential pitfall. Expectations from society may grow more quickly than China’s economic strategy, and therefore, in my view, weaknesses in the foreign policy will be exposed. There is existing trepidation in the agricultural sector, owing to vast discrepancies in pay and insurmountable inequality in Chinese society. It remains to be seen, how China can fulfil its membership of the WTO by committing to the reduction of corruption and economic crime domestically, when the government is currently struggling to contain political strife in a way that is seen to be conducive to an integrated foreign policy.
The policies of the WTO are also placing a strain on disadvantaged farmers, who may transfer to a different sector to escape hardship if the economy prevails, otherwise, the flaws of this policy will be truly exposed. The rural citizens and those from inland cities who have not shared in the reward of China’s economic success may blame the “opening up” foreign policy and start to revolt. (J Lego “What China will want. The future intensions of a rising power”) Optimists discuss economic development as China’s main emphasis, in order to generate a stable and long lasting environment for progression; they have adapted their foreign policy to face multi-level economic and scientific challenges as well as the challenge of an annual population growth rate of around 1.3%. China has been a member of Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) since 1991 and seeks to reassure the international community that it will never attempt to monopolise the region as a sphere of economic influence.
Likewise, the optimist theorists analyse the relationship of China with the United States as one of compromise. They say China has successfully increased import quotas for US products and has phased out around two thirds of controls, such as import licenses, and, in return, the US has promised to support China’s application to GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) This is seen as a positive gesture by optimist analysts, who argue that although not all economic problems have been solved by China’s good will and integrational foreign policy, a trade war has certainly been avoided. In response to this theory, I would concur with academics that cite the growing unease in the United States and East Asia regarding China’s increasing economic and material power. If the US and East Asia are seen to have been largely “socialised” through spheres of economic norms in the international economic arena, then it is suffice to say that China is not yet considered trustworthy or civilised. (A Johnston “Is China a status quo power?”)
East Asian states who enjoy good relations with the United States fear that China may be revisionists, therefore seeking to redistribute the wealth in the international system, in their own favour. This behaviour may even incorporate military might to support this attempt at destabilization. It is my reckoning that although China has participated in international and regional bodies increasingly since the Cold War, it is also plausible that they do not, in actuality, accept the structures and rules of the organisations in which they participate, and if so, the success of this involvement can be seen as exaggerated. I believe that the prospective social unrest previously discussed could increase China’s attempts at revisionism. Likewise the serious challenges posed to China in terms of global technological advancement and competition may threaten China’s perceived success. It is also proposed that China’s economic foreign policy has allowed them to be adjudged as responsible and compassionate, as opposed to mistrustful and potentially hegemonic during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The devaluing of their currency and offering of aid to South East Asian States demonstrated a difference in method compared to the Internationa
l Monetary Fund, whose attempts to correct the weaknesses in the financial system were seen as largely inept. (D Shambough “China engages Asia”) China’s proactive policies appeared to be a measured attempt to be less passive and to shape the regional economic system, which, Shambough and others argue, successfully leads to stability. By apparently limiting their interests for the sake of interaction in the region, China has tackled concerns from South East Asian states that their economies and trade has been eclipsed by China’s. They present a position of mutual benefit from the rapidly growing trade between China and ASEAN states up to $78.2 billion in 2003. (D Shambough ibid) In addition, South Korea has engaged China as its largest trading partner. Overall, optimists cite a 35% increase in trade with Asia, and bilateral trade trebling in 2003 and argue that China has become an engine of economic growth in the region, including the assisting of Japan in overcoming a decade long downturn.
This argument, again, in my view does not account for the feeling of economic rivalry in South East Asia, and the veracity that many states are hedging against China by cooperating further with the United States. The structures of many economies in South East Asia for example, those of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam collide with China’s framework more than correlate with it, a fact that is not taken into consideration by theorists who believe the success of the China’s foreign policy is not being masked. ASEAN have attempted to encourage integration within the member states as a direct response to the economic antagonism threatened by China. (N Khoo, M Smith “China Engages Asia? Caveat Lector”) A separate school of thought, within which we can assess the successes of China’s economic foreign policy, is that of “Positive Sum” theory. This perspective is inhabited by structural realists and constructivists and defines the shifting of the balance of economic power as an incentive to China, the US and regional actors to foster good, transparent relations through economic ties. (T Christensen “Fostering stability or creating a monster?”)
The positive sum theory is a supposition which I find useful in supporting my argument of the exaggeration of the success of Chinese foreign policy. I believe that China engaging economically in East Asia, and globally does not in itself constitute a successful and peaceful foreign policy. It is just as likely that China is seeking a realm of economic superiority over the United States, and its attempts to adopt norms could be a way of consolidating a position of economic strength in order to mask desires of regional dominance, perhaps by use of coercion. I believe that China’s economic foreign policy appears both cordial and successful, but never the less has strategic implications, which are veiled. China, through its growth and diplomatic and economic integration is invariably becoming less exposed to economic pressure from the United States, which I believe could lead to tensions in the region if they attempt to overturn US influence. China is, in my view pursuing a subtle zero sum policy, which will ultimately aim to surpass American authority in East Asia.
I believe that therefore, this will only result in foreign policy failure as the aforementioned East Asian states, which differentiate from each other by large wealth disparities and Japan will continue to hedge against China and towards the United States in pursuit of fair distribution of trade in the region. Eventually, the economic opening up of China may lead to potential security threats and posturing. (G Ikenberry “The Rise of China and the Future of the West”) Another dimension in which to assess the success or exaggeration of Chinese foreign policy since the end of the Cold War is within the realm of security and diplomatic institutions. I believe that the real politick explanation of pessimism provides a good framework in favour of exaggeration. Optimist Academics who believe in the success of China’s foreign policy, argue that it is only Taiwan and Japan in the region who rely on the United States to balance the supposed threat of China, and that Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines could have deepened their ties with the US but do not feel the need to. (D Kang “Why China’s Rise will be peaceful”)
While it is true to say that China has indoctrinated its intentions for peaceful integration within South East Asia, I believe that it is likely for China to maximise their military superiority and diplomatic advantages over neighbours such as Japan and the Soviet Union. The history of rising powers from Imperial Germany to the Soviet Union in the Cold War have all attempted to match and surpass the United States, even if simply to achieve safety and security of their own sovereignty. Pessimists believe that attempts at survival often lead to perceived threat and escalating conflict. (J Mearsheimer “China’s unpeaceful Rise”) We also witness that China’s attempt to engage with East Asia and the International system in general has yet to change its internal authoritarian politics, and therefore lends less credibility and legitimacy to its foreign policy than if it were to embrace democracy.
The internal rigid ideology of China could lead to anxiety in both the western world and the Asian region regarding China’s foreign policy intentions. In 2007 US Vice President Cheney commented that China’s military build up was “Not consistent with Peaceful Rise.” (J Lego “What China will want”) If China is now seeking to achieve strength and prosperity, rather than proletariat struggle, as Jiang Zemin prophesised in 1997, then how will they achieve it? The theory of “Conflict Versus Cooperation” addresses the intricacies of China’s behaviour in relation to their foreign policy. They do appear currently to be intergrationalist, not seeking revision. There is most definitely less emphasis on the proclamation of China as the leaders of the third world. However, Chinese military spending rose by 15% between 2000 and 2005, which I believe may be indicative of an exaggeration of the success of their peaceful cooperation policy. The lack of transparency within the authoritarian government certainly confines the ability of other states to predict their true foreign policy intentions and this presents a dilemma.
It is not possible to know if China is dissatisfied with their current position or if they will seek to overturn international diplomatic norms. If optimists argue that China have generally adhered to the norms of global free trade, and purport that their use of loopholes in the WTO are no different to the bending of the rules by the United States, then the pessimistic school of thought maintains a different angle; they argue that the rules of the international organisations have largely favoured Chinese interests, and that although they haven’t dishonoured their obligation to constraining nuclear arms, they are still a major exporter of arms to unstable regimes. (A Johnston “Is China a status quo power?”) Their recent attainment of military equipment from Russia appears to be aimed at developing capabilities to further their status. Considerable success of Chinese Foreign policy has been punctuated by territorial disputes, including a dispute with India regarding Aksai Chin, as well as The Yalu River boundaries with North Korea and Senkaku Island controversy with Japan.
The Asian Pacific region does enjoy relative political stability, however, very often cooperation by one state may be perceived as nonconformity by another. For example I believe a proposal for a security community in East Asia by the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command, Admiral Blair could be seen as evidence of containment of the looming China threat. It seems as though China’s attempt at multilateral diplomacy in the ASEAN regional forum and other diplomatic dialogues has been interpreted as undermining the United States’ power in the region, emphasising the exaggeration of the foreign policy success. Some theorists argue that China’s foreign policy has been successful as omidirectional. (Q Chen “New approaches in China’s Foreign Policy.”) By improving relations with countries from all regions and taking an active diplomatic role in the United Nations, this appears to promote prosperity and stability worldwide.
However, in response to this I would cite the Chinese 1997 call for an end to alliances as an “unnecessary vestige of the Cold War”. While I accept as true that their multilateral participation in world affairs has reaped benefits for China economically, this statement seems to prove that China still views the world from a zero sum perspective. This perspective represents an understanding that alliances are needed for protection; therefore we cannot interpret China’s integration into world politics as wholly cooperative, thus undermining the success of their foreign policy. Within this agenda, I believe China may seek to fill a power vacuum in the Asia Pacific region, left vulnerable by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The increase in their defence budget for 4 consecutive years and the purchasing of jet fighter planes from Russia as well as the developing of cruise missiles, and importing of submarines substantiate this argument. Optimists account for these purchases as a response to harsh sanctions imposed on China by the West since 1989, leaving their weapons systems antiquated.
China supposedly wished to shed the identity of victim and yet still cite unfair treatment as the reason for an arms build up. I believe they continue to operate under double standards, desiring not to be viewed as victims of hegemonic manipulations while concurrently shaping a powerful role for themselves, stating that they do not wish to dominate a sphere of influence but attempting to lead by holding bilateral security dialogues with several neighbours, such as Japan and within the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). China’s foreign policy continues to display characteristics of a realist challenge to the hegemon. They are engaging with the international system by establishing a sphere of influence, and attempting to secure business and alliances at the expense of the United States. The relationship between Japan and the United States is indicative of this. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a renovation in the security affiliation of these two states. (“W Xinbo “The End of the Silver Lining”)
The previous security arrangement was one of United States protection of Japan from external threat of communist revolution. We now witness an attempt to balance China with a mutual focus on the Asia Pacific Region, especially the Taiwan Strait and the Korean peninsula. This enhanced strategic dialogue serves to illustrate the short comings of China’s foreign policy. The Armitage Report outlines the United States’ need to influence the region, encompassing economic and security issues, and an alliance with Japan which makes this possible, as it provides a head quarters for their air, sea and ground military forces as well as Japanese assistance with the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. At the same time, Sino-Japanese relations have come under strain, and not only with regards to their strengthened alliance with the United States. Neo-conservatism in the Japanese Government has lead to a “white wash” of war crimes committed in World War II towards Chinese citizens.
A lack of compensation to rape victims and sufferers of enforced labour by Japanese soldiers has resulted in tensions between the two states. Visits by the Japanese Emperor to the Yasukuni Shrine, where war Criminals are honoured, have left China feeling humiliated and have in my view therefore constrained their foreign policy towards Japan. Anti-Japanese protests in 2005 exemplify this notion. (W Cohen “China’s Rise in Historical Perspective.”) In 2004, Japan’s national defence program guidelines named China as a plausible threat to Japan’s security, and commented on the modification of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities in order to prepare for a possible Chinese attack.
This is indicative of Japan’s move away from pacifism, as a reaction to China’s foreign policy, and therefore, it is my reckoning that China’s foreign policy is not as successful as it may seem in terms of strategic and diplomatic integration with Japan. China have retaliated to the amplification of Japan-US relations by conducting joint military exercises with Russia, and further hostility and anxiety between China and Japan become symptomatic of these alliances, completing a security dilemma model. Citizens of both China and Japan consider the other nation to be greedy and arrogant, with the economic growth of China generating less concern among Japanese people than their growing military. In turn, 4 out of 5 Chinese people view Japan with ill-favour, and the same amount believe their own growing military to be a positive step. (“China’s Neighbours Worry About its Growing Military Strength” Pew Research Centre)
It is argued by some that it will take time and effort to achieve all-inclusive integration and mutual understanding between China and its neighbours, such as Japan, and that China is behaving as a responsible leader in its involvement in regional diplomacy. (Z Bijian “China’s Peaceful Rise to Great Power Status”) While I agree that China has recognised its potential role in a security dilemma, by attempting to present its foreign policy as benign, with such terminology as “The Peaceful Rise”, I would argue that the success of this image is indeed exaggerated. In 2004 China’s leaders began to move away from the Peaceful Rise phrase. Although not anomalous to alter or redefine language, in the absence of any precedent for an entirely peaceful rise of a nation, the concerns arising for neighbouring states serves my argument for exaggeration. Many criticisms to the chosen term arose from within China itself from retired diplomats, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Peoples Liberation Army, who may wish to fulfil Deng Xiaoping’s rhetoric for China to “Bide its time and hide its capabilities”. (B Glaser & E Medeiros “The changing ecology of foreign policy making”)
Therefore, it is evident that the foreign policy of China has not been a complete success diplomatically. I believe that the most compelling evidence that China’s foreign policy success has been exaggerated can be found in China’s attempt to legitimise its controversial claims of sovereignty, with regards to Taiwan, Tibet and other disputed territories. Taiwan is, I believe, an important bench mark regarding China’s foreign policy, as its democracy and legitimacy has demonstrated that capitalism can complement Chinese culture. China has an opportunity to reap the benefits of Taiwan’s experience of economic growth leading to a promising democracy with elections and a free press, but instead seek to repress the inevitability of Taiwan’s full and recognised independence. It is evident that China’s successful embracement of international norms is restricted because of their insistence of their rights over Taiwan, such is their sense of pride and identity intrinsically linked to the fate of Taiwan, that they are even risking conflict with the United States and regionally.
As a key factor shaping the foreign and domestic policy of China, it is my reckoning that China could have used this relationship to ease the internal transition towards democracy, but instead has portrayed Taipei as treacherous, and have therefore presented a falsification to their own citizens. China has allowed the political status of Taiwan to limit their success in the international arena, by insisting that the sovereignty of Taiwan is a domestic issue and not a topic for multi lateral debate. This refusal, alongside other geopolitical challenges ensures that neighbouring states continue to worry about the nature of China’s military spending and regard it as a threat. (J Lego “What China will want”) It is purported by academics that a type of neo-colonialism in international affairs will support Taiwan’s move towards recognised independence, and that this will in turn destabilize China’s current integrationalism.
I believe that this is plausible as the international community have established norms of self determination, which China appear to be encroaching upon with regards to Taiwan, Tibet and the Uyghur population of Xinjiang. Although these norms are often contradictory, the prominent member states of the focal organisations have a well defined and traditional order of which China is still partially mistrusted, as it is non democratic. This brings to the debate regarding China’s foreign policy success, the theory of constructivism, and the importance of ideas. There is still potential for the post Cold War international system to possess a lack of transparency and suspicion. Without dialogue on the future of Taiwan or Tibet, China will seek to hinder the United States alliances in the region, fearing a campaign in support of Taiwan, especially in the light of sales of F16 fighter Jets form the Bush administration to Taiwan. (A Johnston “is China a Status Quo Power?”)
I believe it is true to say that the United States has neither the capacity nor the objective at this time to attempt to subvert the Chinese Government or invade China to protect Taiwan, but at the same time the independence movement in Taiwan is being advocated by the Democratic Progressive Party and will gain momentum, meriting international comment in the future. China too, is limited in terms of military action, and may wish to settle the dispute peacefully, as they have made attempts to in such cases as joint maritime missions to secure oil resources with Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. (Q Chen “New approaches in China’s Foreign Policy: The Post Cold War Era”)
However, the statement that China will “Spare no blood in defence of Taiwan” discredits their voice on the international stage when votes are needed to impose sanctions or military action on other states with regards to incursion of territory of oppressive behaviours. In conclusion, I believe that China’s foreign policy success post Cold War has been exaggerated. China has integrated with the global economy, as a necessity for its domestic stability to continue under the conditions of growth. But this economic “opening up” has also presented problems. China is quickly becoming a peer competitor to the United States and the reaction to the potential threat can been seen regionally, with China’s neighbours enhancing their security ties with the US and each other.
The “China factor” is also responsible in part for pushing the rearmament of Japan, who has shown increasing awareness and caution towards China, including a growing involvement in Taiwan’s status. China’s foreign policy options with particular reference to Taiwan, have demonstrated that a “peaceful rise” may not be possible, if the use of force continues to be advocated. China’s involvement with regional and international forums demonstrates a desire to integrate but also highlights China’s reservations about multi lateral processes, as they often use the veto on the United Nations Security Council against countries that have opposed them in the past. China still favours bilateral diplomatic proceedings, sometimes leading to mistrust in the global arena, especially as they continue to pursue a “democracy of dictatorship” which ultimately, provides a lack of legitimacy to all of their international contributions.
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Current History: Apr 2006; 105, 690; Research Library