Chinese Perceptions of the U.S.: An Exploration of China's Foreign Policy Motivations

By Ping, Lee Poh | International Journal of China Studies, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Chinese Perceptions of the U.S.: An Exploration of China's Foreign Policy Motivations


Ping, Lee Poh, International Journal of China Studies


(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Biwu Zhang, Chinese Perceptions of the U.S.: An Exploration of China's Foreign Policy Motivations, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2012, 266 pp. + xvi.

Most writings in the English language tend to look at modern China from a Western point of view. There is an excessive focus on those aspects of China that play either to Western strengths or Western fears. The former dwell on the shortcomings of China such as its poor human rights record and its oppressive political system. They also predict that if China were ever to modernize, it has to become more Western. The latter emphasize the China threat, that the rise of China will challenge Western global hegemony. There has however in recent time some attempts not so much to give a Chinese perspective but to give something of a corrective to some of these views. We have a book on China by Henry Kissinger which came out in 2011. Kissinger argues that China is singular or unique, and does not see China as a threat. Another one, published in 2009 and updated in 2012, is by Martin Jacques, a British public intellectual, which is provocatively titled When China Rules the World. Among other things, Jacques argues that when China modernizes, it will not necessarily become more Western. These last two are worthy efforts. What is needed however is a study on what the Chinese themselves actually think of world affairs.

The above book is such a one. Written by a Chinese, it gives a Chinese perspective of, in this case, America. The author, Zhang Biwu ... an academic in a reputable Chinese University, Xiamen University, sets out to find what the influential elites of China think of the United States and Sino- American relations. The methodology he employs is an analysis of the content of certain selected publications, described in the academic jargon as "content analysis". For this, Zhang analyses articles in six journals on these two subjects written between 1991 and 2000. These journals are Meiguo Yanjiu ... (American Studies), Xiandai Guoji Guanxi ... (Contemporary International Relations), Guoji Wenti Yanjiu ... (International Political Studies), Zhanlüe yu Guanli ... (Strategy and Management), Shijie Jingji yu Zhengzhi ... (World Economy and Politics), and Waijiao Xueyuan Xuebao ... (Journal of the Foreign Affairs College). Each of these journals is affiliated with one of China's top foreign policy research institutes. These institutes reflect the perceptions of China's foreign ministry and other influential Chinese organizations.

The book seeks to answer the question as to what are the motivations of Chinese foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States. Here the author divides the question into two parts. The first, and the more important part, is how the elites perceive Chinese national interests to be, and second, how they perceive the character of the United States. As to the former, the elites first perceive US power to be superior to China in all important aspects. The US economy is much larger; American science and technology are decades ahead; and US military equipment compared to that of China are several generations in advance. American superiority is also seen even in softpower. Such overwhelming superiority has affected Chinese national interests negatively, as it has allowed the US to interfere in the internal affairs of China. For example, US power stands in the way of Chinese reunification with Taiwan, and the US pushing of human rights nearly caused complete chaos in China. China then being so inferior, according to these elites, should practice a policy of appeasement and cooperation with the US unless US interference is of an intolerable kind.

There are however some positive elements. The elites acknowledge that the US commitment to peace and to an engagement policy has ensured a peaceful environment for China. America's vast market, its investment in China and its occasional transfer of technology all help China in its modernization efforts. …

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