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International Herald Leader: China Exhibits Three Symbols of Being a Great Power

[Editor’s Note: The following is a translation of an official media article that appeared in the International Herald Leader on October 11, 2010. It was written as a rebuttal to the September 26 New York Times article, “Three Faces of the New China.” [1] According to the article, “three symbols/indications that a nation is powerful are: that it possesses a full set of armor; it has the capacity to serve; and it has the ability to protect.” It criticized the U.S. by asking, “Or is the U.S. a ‘deadbeat,’ a ‘troublemaker,’ or a ‘blackmailer,’ who is counting on the whole world to pay the price for its debt problems, who vigorously eggs on Asia-Pacific countries to engage in a naval arms race, and who recognizes one China, yet forces a province in China to purchase U.S. weapons that cost an arm and a leg?”] [2]

The New York Times concluded, in an unfriendly tone, that the Chinese diplomacy of the new era has three faces: “The neighborhood bully” — the example being that Japan “folded” in a territorial dispute when China cut off Japan’s access to rare-earth minerals; “China the schmoozer” — actually, the original meaning in English of “schmoozer” is much more vicious, not just “muddling through.” It represents a watered down Chinese translation of the U.S. demand for the appreciation of the RMB exchange rate; and “China the classic realist” — (China is) double dealing and inconsistent on similar international issues.

Putting aside how far the three faces summed up by the New York Times are from reality, and putting aside whether the United States itself often switches among these three faces, at least one question remains for the ladies and gentlemen at the New York Times to clarify for us: In the end, which face or faces does the New York Times, or more broadly the Americans, want China to discard?
In fact, the present Western world’s fuss over China’s diplomacy has nothing to do with whether China has three faces. It is just because China is showing three indications of being a strong nation in a way that they do not like.

As a “power” in the contemporary international system, first, of course, the country must have a complete set of “equipment” or “suit of armor” to highlight its national power, such as aerospace engineering, strategic nuclear weapons, ocean exploration, a blue water navy, ultra high-speed computers … The items on the list have at least three things in common: they are technologically very difficult, economically very expensive, and have a very far-reaching impact on people’s livelihood.

For a powerful nation, “the suit of armor” is not only necessary, but needs to be constantly maintained. If China launched the “Shenzhou V” and “Chang’e I” without “Shenzhou VI,” “Shenzhou VII,” “Chang’e II,” and even more projects in the follow-up program, China would merely be a large country with a space program instead of a power in space exploration. The same is true for other “suits of armor.” On the issue of “suits of armor,” the difference between large and small countries is whether they have it or not. However, the difference between a powerful nation and a large country is certainly not only at the symbolic level of whether they have it or not.

Possession of a “suit of armor” that can withstand the dual pressure of ever-changing technology and continued investment from the economy is just a symbol of the first layer. Compared to technology and economic strength, the ability to use force—and the  capability to serve and protect—pose a greater test of power and a more convincing symbol of power.

The “capability to serve” refers to the ability of a power to improve the wellbeing of the region in which it is located, including both the benefits it brings to the economic development of neighboring countries due to its presence and the assistance provided to other members of the region in solving their own problems. For China, its rapid economic growth is like a huge, magnificent shopping mall, whose mere existence is making the lives of all countries in the region more exciting. The support to other countries—both the flood assistance to Pakistan and additional incentives to several countries on the Indo-China Peninsula in the framework of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area—is the manifestation of the “social responsibility” of the mall.

Achieving the above still does not qualify a country to be a full power. The most critical qualification is that the power should be capable of providing protection to all the members of the region, including itself. The power must be able to stop disruptive behavior in the “mall,” be it troublemakers from across the ocean or just across the strait, or even individual unscrupulous merchants inside the mall. This capability to protect has always been the most important public service for the power in the region to provide. It is not only an honorable symbol of power but also an inescapable obligation.

No power can rely on others for a peaceful environment in which to achieve its rise; nor can it rely on external forces to maintain stability on its periphery. One point worthy of emphasis is that the most important symbol of power, which is the capacity to protect, is sometimes demonstrated via confrontation. As an example, during the recent events in the Diaoyu Islands, China stood firm, took the initiative, and acted skillfully in its diplomacy. To turn swords into plowshares [3], a person must have swords in hand first and needs to show that his fencing skills are much greater than others.

Therefore, putting these three symbols/indications together without power means that everything is out of the question. With power in hand, if one only provides service and no protection, he will likely become a “classic realist” who evades responsibility. When nobody cares about his services, he may even degenerate into a “lackey.” With power, if one only provides protection and no service, the “protection” will be in order to charge a “protection fee” and the protector will become a “bad neighbor.” In this regard, a country’s public behavior is supposed to be multi-faceted. Whether this multiplicity should be denounced as “multiple faces,” it is not a judgment the New York Times can make.

At least for the Asia-Pacific region, China has maintained currency stability during the Asian financial crisis, promoted consultation among the parties to resolve the South China Sea disputes, and upheld a peaceful solution to the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issue. Is China a “neighborhood bully,” a “schmoozer,” or a “classic realist?” Or is the U.S. a “deadbeat,” a “troublemaker,” or a “blackmailer” who is counting on the rest of the world to pay the price for its debt problems, vigorously egging on Asia-Pacific countries to engage in a naval arms race, and recognizing one China yet forcing a province in China to purchase U.S. weapons that cost an arm and a leg?

Three symbols/indications of that a nation is powerful are: that it possesses a full set of armor; it has the capacity to serve; and it has the ability protect. In a sense, the New York Times’ accusations against China just prove that China is on the right track. For any power, its visible behavior will inevitably reflect these three characteristics all at the same time. It is a logical step for a rising power.

[1] New York Times, September 26, 2010.
[2] International Herald Leader, October 11, 2010
[3] Isaiah 2:4: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.