Amidst predictions of the 21st century being "China’s century," China has steadily gained prominence over the past decade. Few discussions about trade and the global economy go by without China getting involved. The upcoming attendance of China’s President Hu Jintao in the 60th U.N. Summit in New York and his visit to North America are drawing a new wave of attention to the already hot topic of China’s present and ongoing role in the world.
For each of the past 10 years, China has been claiming a close to double-digit economic expansion spurred by unbridled international investment and is looking to become one of the world’s largest economies. Many tend to believe that China will be the driving force for future economic development, so no country can afford not to engage with China. On the other hand, China’s communist leadership refuses to budge on its repressive political system. At the same time, Beijing’s government is spending extravagantly on military build-up and modernization, thanks to its newfound economic muscle. Many have asked themselves: Is China’s rise a blessing or a threat to the world?
There are certainly arguments for both. To counter the "China threat" theory, Hu Jintao introduced the concept of "peaceful rise" through his top think tank assistant Long Yongtu at an international forum in 2004. While Hu has won some believers, recent developments in China do not bode well for a benign outcome. One recently defected Chinese diplomat’s story, featured in this issue, is particularly disconcerting. The Chinese government has been following former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s plan of "biding our time, building up our capabilities, and striking when the time is right." China is also using trade prospects to win over its neigboring countries and Western democracies such as France and Australia. Meanwhile, many view Beijing’s repeated saber-rattling toward Taiwan and related nuclear strike threats to the United States as warning signs of a belligerent, oppressive regime fueled by a powerful economy—a dicey proposition indeed.
Hu Jintao will likely continue to harp on China’s "peaceful rise" in his visit to North America. For sure, China needs a peaceful environment for it to prosper, and the world is hoping for the same. However, as long as China’s political landscape remains that of a totalitarian communist regime, the concept of such a peaceful rise is dubious, no matter how Hu spins it.