A Different World

By Callahan, William A. | Harvard International Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

A Different World


Callahan, William A., Harvard International Review


Any geopolitical rivalry between the US and China, as Michael Mastanduno ("Rivals or Partners? Globalization and US-China Relations," Fall 2007) points out, would be disastrous not only for the two countries, but also for Asia-Pacific security and the global economy. But is this looming problem an issue that can be solved through deft diplomacy, as Mastanduno concludes?

One of the fascinating elements about China today is that it is a country in flux. With each turn along China's path of rapid economic growth, a new set of political, economic, and social questions arises. In the West, we usually think of China's responses to these challenges in terms of convergence to or divergence from international norms of free trade, human rights, environmental protection, etc. Therefore, as Robert Zoellick asked in 2005, will China be a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system? Increasingly, however, China's elites are asking a different set of questions about their country's proper role in the world. Qin Yaqing, vice president of China's Foreign Affairs College, put it simply when he stated that the main issue for the PRC's engagement with the world is not the institutional politics of how China will fit into multilateral organizations, but the identity politics of answering the question "Who is China?"

There are, of course, many answers to this question, and they go beyond the scope of Japanese, American, or European-style capitalism laid out by Professor Mastanduno. Chinese intellectuals also have been busy looking to their own philosophy for ideas about how to organize the world. Confucian tradition and China's two millennia of experience in imperial governance provide a host of concepts about how to order the world. Some like "Great Harmony" seem easy for foreign audiences to understand; others like "All-under-Heaven" and "harmony with difference" ring strange in non-Chinese ears. …

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