China's Rise: The Security Implications: Jian Yang Discusses the Impact of China's Phenomenal Economic Growth on Its Approach to International Affairs

By Yang, Jian | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2006 | Go to article overview

China's Rise: The Security Implications: Jian Yang Discusses the Impact of China's Phenomenal Economic Growth on Its Approach to International Affairs


Yang, Jian, New Zealand International Review


China is rising, but for how long? Gordon G. Chang predicted in 2001 that China 'has five years, perhaps ten, before it falls.' (1) Five years later, Chang insists that China is 'halfway' to its collapse. However, he is no longer basing his 'China collapse' theory on Chinas economic problems. Instead, he mainly focuses on Chinas external environment, which, in his view, is worsening and will continue to deteriorate. Chang also claims that Chinas economic growth and progress will bring down the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime within five years to fulfil his prediction. (2)

This writer is one of those who believe that economic development will bring about Chinas political liberalisation. However, it is most unlikely that the Chinese government will collapse in five years. In the wake of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the subsequent crackdown in 1989, it was a rather common view in the West, and in Washington in particular, that the CCP regime would collapse before long. Many have since realised that the CCP and the Chinese people are unusually adaptable to their environment, internal and external.

The rise of China will have profound implications on world politics. This article focuses on the security dimension.

Various perceptions

Chinas rise worries some observers and policy-makers. Various 'China threat' theories have emerged, such as environmental threat, energy threat and food threat. The most worrisome, however, are Chinas 'military threat' and 'economic threat'. Of the two, the 'economic threat' is more controversial, mainly because it is relatively less value-oriented. While some claim that unfair Chinese competition is annihilating US manufacturing industry and the Chinese are 'stealing American jobs', others argue that this assertion 'is almost entirely false'. (3) It is noted that to say China is an economic threat to the United States is similar to labeling Japan a big threat in the 1980s. (4)

What is more sensitive is Chinas 'military threat'. In its 2006 China military power report, the US Defense Department said that the growth of Chinas military power posed a threat to the regional military power balance which, in the long-term, could form an effective and credible threat to the armed forces of the United States and other countries in Asia. The report said Chinas total defence-related expenditure was actually 'twice or three times' the military budget declared by the Chinese government. The report also claimed that based on the ratio of Chinas defence expenditure against its gross domestic product (GDP), the country's defence spending could possibly grow three-fold or more by 2025. The United States and other countries, therefore, had to take 'precautionary measures' against what the Pentagon called 'unknown elements caused by Chinas military build-up.' (5)

Sanguine approach

Some analysts are rather sanguine about Chinas military challenge. While acknowledging that we are likely to see a 'determined emergence of an East Asian economic system with China as its hub', Robert S. Ross does not believe that Chinese economic power will cause local states to align increasingly with China. He notes that 'states are enhancing their military cooperation with the United States, despite regional economic trends. The rise of Chinese economic influence is not a threat to U.S. strategic interest in a divided East Asia.' Ross finds that 'Chinese military and regional political advances to date reflect its improved ground force and land-based capabilities. But the United States keeps the peace and maintains the balance of power in East Asia through its overwhelming naval presence" Furthermore, if China tries to become a naval power, 'it would be foolish and costly and would almost certainly end in failure'. (6)

Not surprisingly, China has consistently refuted the 'China threat' theories. In late 2003, Beijing started to promote the 'Chinas peaceful rise' theory. …

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