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On the Theory of “China’s Peaceful Rise”


1. International

Since the policy of reform and opening-up to the outside world was first laid out in November of 1978 during the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China has been peacefully developing for 25 years, and its overall national strength has been significantly increased. Nevertheless, the political system of a one-party dictatorship has never changed, and China’s human rights record has been notoriously bad. As a result, countries around the world, including the United States, Europe, Japan and many other Southeast Asian countries, are worried about the expansion of China’s influences and the emergence of a new “Yellow Calamity.” Several years ago, some western scholars put forward the argument of a developing “China Threat,” arousing questions about China’s fast development. This caused a great amount of international tension. In response to such an argument, President Hu Jingtao and Premier Wen Jiabao instructed the Chinese scholars led by the Party School of the CCP to study the notion of “China’s Peaceful Rise” in order to counter the “China Threat” argument.

2. Domestic

In the final few years of Jiang Zemin’s thirteen-year era as the Secretary General of the CCP, Jiang presented his “Three Representations” theory, to which most senior officials inside the CCP were indifferent. Some outside the CCP even mocked it as “shameless self-praise.” By and large, the “Three Representations” theory has played no meaningful role at all domestically or internationally.

To launch their own theoretical framework and ideological foundation, Hu and Wen have gathered a number of scholars in the first year of their administration to shape up a new theory. Finally on November 3, 2003, Mr. Zheng Bijian, vice president of the Party School of China’s Communist Central Committee, put forward the theory of “China’s Peaceful Rise.”

The Goal and Outline of “China’s Peaceful Rise”

During the press conference of the closing ceremony of the Second Plenary Session of the National People’s Congress on March 14, 2004, Wen Jiabao answered the question of a Singapore reporter, Lianhe Zaobao, in regard to “China’s Peaceful Rise.” He clarified what it means, in this manner: 1) China’s rise is intended to take advantage of world peace to develop and strengthen China, while safeguarding world peace through China’s development; 2) China’s rise will focus the broad domestic market, affluent labor resources, and rich capital accumulation on an innovative reform mechanism, self-reliance, maintenance of independence and safeguarding the momentum; 3) China cannot rise without the world. China must adhere to the policy of opening-up to the outside world. It must develop friendly economic relationships and trading partnerships with all nations on the basis of bilateral interest; 4) China’s rise will take a long time. It may require the efforts of many generations. 5) China’s rise will not hinder the “rise” of other countries, and it will not pose any threat to other nations. China is not currently dominating the world, and it will not dominate the world even when it becomes more powerful.

The goal of “China’s Peaceful Rise” is not clear from Wen’s address, where he simply made a few clarifications in terms of the promises of means, opportunities and diplomacy.

What is “China’s Peaceful Rise,” then? In the 25 years of China’s opening-up and reform history, China has made a giant step towards its “rise,” but has not yet risen. China’s “rise” must involve improvement in a variety of aspects—politically, economically, socially, militarily, culturally and diplomatically. The improvement in its economy and military alone does not warrant its true “rise.”

Mr. Ruan Cishan, commentator of Phoenix TV of Hong Kong, asked Mr. Zheng Bijian to define “China’s rise.” Zheng explained, “With regard to the issue of ‘China’s rise,’ we must, I believe, first define the scope. When we talk about ‘China’s rise,’ we imply that in the mid-century, China will basically fulfill its modernization. This is the ‘rise’ what we currently refer to.” (Phoenix TV, December 25, 2003)

What is modernization? Modernization has to meet some universal criteria. Modernization must follow the universal values and standards of mankind. Namely, its goal is to safeguard the basic rights of human beings, to benefit the majority of people, and to safeguard world peace and the constant development of mankind.

If the one-party dictatorship system is not abolished, if the dogma of the “Class Struggle” of “Mao Zedong Thought” is still followed, if the frantic nationalism still persists, and if the path to peaceful development is not guaranteed politically, “China’s rise,” if it does “rise,” will very likely be similar to the “rise” of Japan’s militarism or the Nazi fascism. It will dominate the Asian Pacific region with its frantic nationalism, together with its economic and military might. This will certainly be dangerous. It will be a misfortune to the Chinese people.

It is not sufficient to define “China’s Peaceful Rise” as “basically fulfilling the requirements of modernization.” Such a definition is too ambiguous.

Realistic Factors, Environmental Issues and Challenges to Accomplishing “China’s Peaceful Rise”

1. Internal Factors

A. Positive Factors:

• After 25 years of economic reform and opening-up to the outside world, China’s overall national strength has been significantly enhanced and citizens’ living standards have improved.
 10 trillion yuan of GDP, which is 4 percent of the worldwide GDP.
 10 trillion yuan of residential savings.
 US$460 billion of reserve.
 US$400 billion of total trade volumes.
 Hundreds of millions of cheap laborers, which is the key factor for China to become the “world’s factory.”
 Cheap land and natural resources available for investment by foreign enterprises.
 Strong nationalism among the Chinese people.

B. Negative Factors:

 Financial non-performing loans up to US$500 billion (about half of the 2003 GDP) that cannot be resolved.
 System-driven corruption among government and party officials and businessmen, which has become China’s “cancer.” Without eliminating the corruption cancer, China’s true “rise” will be unlikely.
 The increasing gap between the rich and poor, which has resulted in greater social conflicts, and the potential for riot scenarios.
 The bubbles in China’s economy, particularly in its real estate market and its equity market.
 Redundant investments, waste of natural resources, and surplus of productive forces, particularly in the steel, concrete and aluminum industries.
 The unemployment problem, which will cause political instabilities in the long run.
 The continuous decline of farmers’ incomes, which has caused several riots in the villages along the Yangtze River.
 The shortage of China’s oil supply and its rapid move to rely on imports of crude oil, a major factor that will seriously limit its economic development and its national security.
 The shortage of China’s water resources, particularly in the northern cities and industrial regions.
 The imbalance between the male and female population in China, with the male population greatly exceeding that of female, a factor that will cause social instability in the long run.
 The severe damage to the ecosystem and environment, which makes it harder for China to maintain its sustained economic development.
 The AIDS epidemic—appropriate awareness has yet to be raised within society. The problem has already plagued the productivity of rural labor.
 The low educational level of China’s work force—the educational system has not become the proper catalyst for productive forces in the economy.
 The miserable R&D funding (approximately 1 percent of GDP), which is hardly a propeller for the economy. Although there is significant manpower in China’s research and development institutions, they rarely make significant inventions or innovative developments.
 China has very little intellectual property or its own brands, resulting in the importing of second- or third-class technologies.
 The culture of the government and CCP officials is not one of service and being responsible to their constituents, but merely for impressing their superiors. This has caused, and will continue to cause, serious conflicts between officials and civilians.

2. The Environment and Challenges

A. Positive Factors

 Twenty-five years of continued peace within the society.
 For its own strategic needs, the United States has been cooperative with China in taking the path to “rise.”
 The era of globalization makes it easier for China to absorb an enormous amount of foreign investment and to freely export its products.
 The scientific and technological revolution makes China one of the key industrial centers and markets.

B. Internal And External Challenges

The variety of China’s energy resources is not balanced, while the utilization ratio of its energy resources is very low. Unless the world’s energy usage pattern is fundamentally changed, crude oil will continue to be the major source for clean energy. It is estimated that China has energy reserves totaling four trillion tons of coal equivalent, only 10 percent of which are in the form of oil and gas. As the economy grows rapidly and the demand for imported oil increases significantly, the security of the oil source and transmission route becomes an issue. Currently China is rapidly developing its automobile industry and is striving to make it a pillar of the economy. As a result, “China’s Peaceful Rise” is increasingly dependent on the oil production of various countries in the world. Meanwhile, the oil transmission route along the Malacca Strait and the Straits of Hormuz is severely affected by the situation in the Middle East, the war against terror and other security issues. New oil sources and safer oil transmission routes must be developed to resolve those issues. The Sino-Russia and Sino-Kazakhstan energy cooperation to build new oil pipelines is under way. The Sino-Myanmar oil pipeline project is also under consideration to transmit oil from Iran and Iraq to China. By and large, oil is a big issue to China. It is also a bargaining card and a weapon for other countries to restrict “China’s Peaceful Rise.”

The most serious challenge to “China’s Peaceful Rise” is the pending Taiwan issue. In the past 30 years, the United States has been carrying out the “One China” policy, and has encouraged China’s policy of reform and opening-up to the outside world. It has been opening its markets to Chinese products and encouraging China to take the democratic path to its “rise.” If China does not take the peaceful approach to resolve the Taiwan issue, and uses force to change the status of the Taiwan Strait, the United States may change its “One China” policy to impose economic sanctions against China, partially close its markets to Chinese products, or even redeploy its troops in Europe back to the Asian Pacific region to contain Mainland China.

Requirements for China’s Economy by WTO Agreements

In the last 25 years, China has been gradually connecting with the international community by partially adopting the universal systems and standards in its economic, financial and cultural exchanges with the outside world. Though China claims to have a socialist market economy, it signed agreements with the United States when joining the WTO, which established that in the 15 years after December 2001, China would join the WTO with the status of a non-market economy. China is the only member with such a status among the 147-member organization. In China, it is the central government who controls many aspects of the economy. This includes financing and capital allotment, fixation of exchange rates of foreign currencies, allotment of natural resources, establishment of private enterprises, fixation of wage standards for workers, formulation of product pricing, monopoly of key industries by giant state-owned enterprises, and market control of foreign trades. In some sense, the true market economy has not emerged in China. The developed countries including the United States, western European countries and Japan demanded that China speed up its economic and financial reforms and truly establish a market economy. The market economy requirements on China will certainly have tremendous impact to the progress of “China’s Peaceful Rise.”

The Demand for the CCP to Respect Human Rights and to Fundamentally Change Its One-Party Dictatorship

The democratic countries around the world are continually frustrated and outraged by the CCP’s disrespect for basic human rights, its persecution of religious groups, and its brutal suppression against adherents of the Falun Gong meditation group. By no means will they want the CCP to govern the peacefully “risen” China. On the contrary, they would prefer to deal with a leadership who respects human rights, protects religious beliefs, follows its constitution and guarantees freedom to its people. It is inevitable that these countries will continue to criticize China’s terrible human rights record, and formulate policies and strategies to contain China. During the process of China’s “rise,” there will be tremendous internal and external pressure demanding that China’s government make political reforms, carry out constitutional governing, return politics to the people, establish a true democracy, market economy system, and eventually take the common path of every democratic nation. Until then, there is no real “China’s Peaceful Rise.”

Closing Remarks

The realistic factors listed above are what the CCP leadership cannot bypass. Otherwise, “China’s Peaceful Rise” theory would be no more than a slogan to deceive the world. The skyscraper will not “rise” on a foundation of political corruption, widespread cover-up and human rights abuses.

Wu Fan is the Chief Editor of “China Affairs,” a political commentary website.