China Faces the World

By Zhu, Xiaohua | Contemporary Review, November 1997 | Go to article overview

China Faces the World


Zhu, Xiaohua, Contemporary Review


About half a year after Mr. Deng Xiao Ping's death, with a relatively smooth transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and the important 15th Party Congress in September, China's prospects and its impact on the world economy and international relations are once again a subject of interest for the media and academia. While China is presented by some people as a shining example of reforms, making strenuous efforts to integrate itself into the world political and economic systems, it is portrayed by others as an increasing menace to the security of other countries and world trade. With the recent allegations about China's attempt to influence US politics, the theory of `China as a threat' seems to be gaining currency.

Undoubtedly, China is much more powerful than it was two decades ago. With an annual growth of about 10 per cent, China's economy already ranks among the top few in the world and is likely to maintain the momentum for some more years. With more economic resources available, its technological level in general as well as military capabilities have also been improved. As both the creators and beneficiaries of China's economic success, the Chinese have greater confidence in their country's future and are less amenable towards pressure from other countries. The overwhelming popularity of the book China Can Say No (by Ning Qiang, Zhang Zang Zang, Qiao Bian. United Publishing House of Industry and Commerce of China, 1996) reflects such a trend. However, in spite of its greater economic and military power and national confidence, China is unlikely to undermine the world economic, trade or security systems for the following reasons:

First, China has great incentives to continue the process of its integration into the world economic and trade systems. With the implementation of the policy of opening to the outside world, China has become the second largest host country to foreign investment, greatly improved the competitiveness of its exports and introduced a lot of equipment and management expertise from abroad. It is starting to address the biggest legacy of the centrally planned economy -- the state enterprises, which certainly requires the support of external financial resources and technology. It is believed that China's attempt to resume its World Trade Organisation membership is designed as a further step to put its economy on the track of the world trade and economic systems. With the high stakes in foreign investment and trade, China can hardly afford to either back-peddle from its open policy or to cause substantial trade or economic sanctions from major western countries, because such a move would have serious repercussions on its economy and as a result could trigger internal instability.

Ideology is often cited as a major cause for China's incongruity with the rest of the world. China is said to be the only big country which adheres to Communism. While it is true that the official line in China is still to `build a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics', the growth of the private sector and foreign investment as well as the increasing trend towards privatization of state enterprises is transforming China into a more `market' and less `socialist' economy. Some people even argue that China's future direction can be more accurately dubbed a `capitalist market economy with Chinese characteristics'. With the death of Mr. Deng and leaders of his generation, the pressure to carry on the ideological legacy has decreased further. As the Chinese focus their attention increasingly on the economic performance rather than the ideological tenets, thus continuing the application of Mr. Deng's famous saying -- `cat, be it black or white, is a good one so long as it can catch mice', it is improbable for China to engage in ideological confrontation with any country.

On the issue of security, the threat from China as suggested by some media reports is hardly plausible. Throughout its long history, China has never been an expansionist country, not even at the peak of its power before the ascendancy of the western powers. …

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