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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 13:56, August 23, 2005
China: Is it a threat, or an opportunity?
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Remarks of the host:

The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) was forced to withdraw its competitive bidding for the purchase of US Unocal Corp. after meeting with interference from US Congress; the US "report on China's military strength" and Japan's national defense white paper exaggerated the increase of China's military expenditure as a threat to regional security. Recently, behind a series of China-related international events, people can see the shadow of a new round of "China threat theory" now appearing and now disappearing. Does China's peaceful development mean more threats or opportunities to surrounding countries and international order? Will the rejuvenation of a country inevitably constitute challenges to the interests of other countries? The current issue of the International Weekly had an exclusive interview with five famous scholars at home and from abroad.

Interview with distinguished guests:

  • Prof. Joseph S. Nye: president of the Kennedy Government School of Harvard University

  • Prof. Qu Xing: vice-president of the China Foreign Affairs College

  • Dr. Minxin Pei : director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

  • Dr. David M. Finkelstein, Director of Project Asia, the Asian Security Studies Center at US-based Center for Naval Analyses

  • Academician M L.Titarenko: director of the Far East Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences

    Historically, there was the shadow of "China threat theory" in the famous Napoleon saying of "awaked lion", the "yellow peril theory" prevalent in Europe, the "white Australian policy" once adopted by Australia.

    Host: The "China threat theory" is obviously not like an empty hole that invites the wind--weakness lends wings to rumors. Could you say something about the origin of this "theory" and how it has caused a great clamor in recent years?

    Prof. Qu Xing: As a large country with a huge population and a vast expanse of territory, China has always been the object of attention from other countries. The "China threat theory" has its historical origin. In history, there was the shadow of the "China threat theory" in the famous Napoleon "saying of awaked lion", the "yellow peril theory" prevalent in Europe, and the "white Australian policy" Australia once adopted. This reflects the mindset of vested inerest possessor of the "latecomers" of whom some first developed countries are afraid. This history of international relations has repeatedly confirmed "the theory of the danger of latecomers" such as Germany and Japan, latecomers who used force to change the international order, launched external aggression and ignited world wars. The "mindset of vested interests holders" has its "theoretical basis". So, now when China is developing at high speed and exerting growing influence on the world, the emergence of the "China threat theory" in the world is imaginable.

    Academician M L.Titarenko: In the international arena, each phase of history takes the balance of certain forces as the indication. The growth of strengths of some countries or of another big power will change the rules on the balance of forces and international interaction. These changes will naturally bring impacts on the interests of other partners in international relations, and these partners will, in light of these changes that brought negative effects on their respective stands and interests, regard these effects as a kind of challenge or threat. In this sense, China's rapid economic growth, the swift increase of its influence and the enlargement of its prestige in the world, and its active participation in competition in the fields of the market, raw materials and absorption of foreign capital will unavoidably bring brand-new problems and challenges to China itself and to the entire international community. The emergence of a powerful and active China that is marching forward in the posture of a firm global participant cannot but touch the interests of other global participants, that is, the existing big powers. The negative assumptions accumulated in the process of evaluating this phenomenon form into the so-called "China threat theory".

    In addition, there are still some countries that attempt to contain China's rapid development and prevent China from becoming a strong country. Meanwhile, we also see that some forces even attempt to bring about the disintegration and collapse of China as the case of the Soviet Union. The news media associated with these forces bluntly use all means to defame China's policies by describing China's economic growth, huge population and its growing demand for energy resources as a kind of threat to the economic and trade interests of all countries, especially to the interests of China's neighboring countries.

    Western politicians are often apt to fabricate so-called "military threat" under the circumstance in which China's military threat simply doesn't exist or at most there are only potential problems.
    Host: What's your view on the so-called "China threat" in the fields of trade, security and energy resources? In your opinion, is such threat really visible, or is it artificially fussy?

    Prof. Joseph Nye: Since ancient times, whenever there is the rise of a new big power, it will arouse worries and misgivings among the existing big powers. China is no exception. China must be discreet so as to avoid the exaggeration of such worries by the opposite party, because there are invariably people who make a great fuss about the threat posed by a rising big power. That's why it is very important to emphasize China's peaceful development, and that's why it is very important to energetically develop China's soft strength to attract other countries.

    Dr. Minxin Pei : Obviously there are varied understandings and apprehensions about the so-called "China threat" among different people. For example, China's present competitiveness constitutes the most direct "threat" to the employment opportunity for the production departments of Western countries. China's growing demand for energy resources is also "threatening" Western countries' partiality for low oil price, this should be regarded as something that can produce direct and instant result. But the so-called "China threat" in the field of security is something most faraway.

    Ironically, to make the general public of the West more alert to the so-called "China threat" through efforts, Western politicians often fabricate so-called "military threat" under the circumstance in which China's "military threat" simply doesn't exist or at most there are only potential problems. In doing so, their motive force is very clear--people's worries about "military threat" is far greater than their worries about economic threat. Through making a great fuss about China's "military threat", the politicians can persuade other people to believe that they also need to guard against China in the fields of trade and energy resources.

    Dr. Finkelstein: I think that one of the decisive trends in the 21st century is that China appears as an important participant in the international order. As a historian, I want to take a long-term view, I would rather use "the revival of China" than the "rise of China". "China threat" or "China threat theory", as I see it, is the term used by the Chinese. Foreigners usually do not use such words. I think that this term mostly reflects China's reaction to foreign criticisms of certain Chinese policies, or the uneasiness, worries and sensitivity resulting from their negative understanding of these policies, usually it is not most foreigners' cognition of China.

    What does the "revival of China" mean? In my opinion, China, as a national behavioral entity, reappears as a full participant in a greater international order, and no longer is merely as a regional behavioral entity. After going through half a century internal turbulence, China has reappeared in the international order in the fields of politics, diplomacy, economy and security and begun again to participate in international affairs.

    Prof. Qu Xing: Whether or not China's development is a threat, the answer of course is negative. This can be proved by traditional Chinese culture, China's national policies and China's diplomatic practice. Traditional Chinese culture pays attention to "broad love" and "non-attacking", advocates the "kingly way" of convincing people by reasoning, despises the "domineering way" of overwhelming others by force. The Chinese invented gunpowder, but they do not use it to make guns to invade others, the Chinese invented the compass, but they do not use it to make warships to prowl about the four seas. At the United Nations, Chinese leaders once promised to the world that "China will never seek hegemony". China has settled all boundary questions with its neighbors through peace negotiations, consultations on an equal footing and on the basis of mutual understanding and mutual accommodation, it has never imposed its own will on others. So, from the perspective of security, the view holding that China, after it is developed, would constitute a threat to others is entirely groundless.

    Part I; Part II


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