By Shuja, Sharif M.
Contemporary Review , Vol. 270, No. 1575
A metaphor the Chinese use to describe their reform policies, whether economic or political, is crossing the stream by feeling the stones with one's feet. This implies, among other things, that while there is a long-term goal - modernization - the method is certainly not pre-determined. It also explains the policy variations and uncertainties, unless one prefers the monolithic model to view China.
Modernization makes China more powerful, but modernization also requires China's participation in mainstream regional diplomacy, both economic and political. And this, in turn, means Chinese support for preserving and strengthening regional stability. China's contribution to conflict resolution in Indochina and Korea, its involvement in workshops on the South China Sea, and its normalisation of relations with Jakarta, Singapore, Moscow and Seoul are cases in point.
No-one has any doubt that China aims to be the strongest power in Asia by early in the next century. There is little doubt that the single most important state in East Asia is China. China has 68 per cent of East Asian territory and some 65 per cent of the East Asian population. These fundamental bases of power are relatively unchanging. Moreover, pragmatic observers, including the business community in the West and Japan, see the opportunities presented by China. They know that a more open China will benefit the West and Japan. The Clinton Administration's new realism in dealing with China shows that it has recognised America's huge stake in engaging China constructively, on economic, security and strategic issues, instead of trying to isolate it.
It is true that the Chinese are a pragmatic people, and are often seen by other nations as being unpredictable, misunderstood and therefore uncooperative. China often appears to those who do not fully understand it as resembling the odd man out, trying to resist political pressure from the West, submitting to it where it can make a gain, while standing firm when it perceives its sovereignty and national integrity threatened. Due to its unique history, culture and political thought, China has developed certain behavioural characteristics and attitudes which are a puzzle to the West. Hence, China is often regarded by the West and Japan as a problematic state with which to deal. We must discuss the attitudes that China is currently displaying, before examining this enigma through Japan's perspectives. Japan and the West must strengthen a free and open global trading system, to give China a stake in a peaceful world order. Both the West and Japan will lose if China is discouraged, or worse, blocked from integrating with the world economy. For example, limiting China's access to Western markets will slow its growth, but will not prevent it from eventually emerging as a major economic power. When it does, it will not view the West as a friend. Japan and the West must help China integrate with the world economy if they want China's support in preserving a peaceful world order.
In recent years, Beijing has found its vital interests increasingly tied to the Asia-Pacific region. In Beijing's calculations, China, with a population of 1.1 billion people and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will eventually carry greater weight in future international relations. Beijing well understands that China's influence and impact are more appreciated in this region than anywhere else. While some countries in this region may not trust China, neither do they want to see a power vacuum open to possible Japanese hegemony. In addition, as China's foreign minister found, 'The Asia-Pacific region is comparatively stable and East Asia is the most dynamic region in the world economy.' In response to the worldwide trend toward forming regional economic and trade blocs, if Beijing exerts great influence on major players in this region and skillfully manoeuvres the regional cooperative efforts such as the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), China, it is believed, may gain the cooperation of Japan and other countries and eventually become the leader of this dynamic region. …