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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 17:10, January 24, 2007
American view on China changing quietly
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A feature article in US-based Time magazine published on January 11 assessed the rise of China, calling it the "dawn of a new dynasty" and "the China century". It reviewed China's rapid development in recent years: from investment in Africa to diplomatic activities in Latin America, from energy needs to geographical influence, from domestic challenges to diplomatic achievements, and from democracy and human rights to sovereignty and territory. It ended by concluding that "China's rise to global prominence��doesn't have to lead to the sort of horror that accompanied the emerging power of Germany or Japan��There need be no wars between China and the US, no catastrophes, no economic competition that gets out of hand. But in this century the relative power of the US is going to decline, and that of China is going to rise. That cake was baked long ago."

This article one of the most comprehensive, deep and balanced analyses of China to come from mainstream US media so far; it reflects a change in American society's view of China, and is largely in line with Washington's current China policy.

The idea of the "China century" is nothing new. Talk of the "China century" in the West began as early as the 1980s, when it was predicted the 21st century would belong to Asia and specifically, China. It was an expectation that stemmed from a strategic awareness in western nations. In the 1990s, however, theories about China's collapse and watered-down statistics popped up across the US, reflecting doubt about the continuous, rapid development of the nation. When China overcame one difficulty after another and, backed by solid statistics, proved to the world that "robust growth" was no longer in the future, that it was happening now and would continue to happen, Americans refused to look squarely at the facts and started trumpeting the "China threat" theory, which constituted, among other things, a military, environmental and energy threat.

It should be noted that since the end of 2004 a new wave of concern about China has swept across the US, in which sentimental arguments have gradually given way to objective, practical reports and analysis. The "China threat" rhetoric has been dropped and "China's responsibility" is now more widely heard. This is progress. If the Newsweek panorama report on China in early 2005 was regarded as a wind vane, then the recent Time article is a temporary summary of America's concerns about China. It is a mixture of complex emotions: surprise at China's fast growth that has gone well beyond American expectations; helplessness, as it is bogged down in the Middle East and unable to cope with China's development; and anxiety over possible challenges a stronger China might pose. The US has observed changes in China's domestic and foreign affairs in recent years and has adjusted its attitude to face the dawn of the China century. In fact, these sentiments are already present in current strategic thinking, and are represented by US calls for China to be a "responsible shareholder" and the "hedge" theory.

This quiet change in the US' attitude towards China should be affirmed. Unlike past judgments which were simple, sentimental and tried to demonize China, the Time article indicates that US politicians, academics and journalists have become more objective and rational in their way of looking at China, which is critical for the development of sound, stable Sino-US relations. However, reading between the lines, we can see the US is still constrained by a deep-rooted US-centric mentality. Ideologically it has not moved away from democracy and peace or "historic fatalism" when it comes to the rise and fall of powers. As a result, it has failed to subscribe to the idea of constructive cooperation for mutual benefit and clung to traditional "power" thinking in which the western world will "manage" China's rise together. It will probably take time for America to really understand China.

The author, Yuan Peng, is vice director of the Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations; translated by People's Daily Online.

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