Former French diplomat Lionel Vairon，who is known for his book Threat of China? ? among the Chinese citizens, has shared his views about China that are different from mainstream views held by western people in an online interview with the Qiangguo Forum (Strong China Forum) of People's Daily Online on May 14, 2009.
Below is an excerpt of the interview:
China does not pose any threat to the west
Q: As to the understanding of the relationship between China and the west, do you have any views different from the so-called mainstream views of people from the west? Since you have reached different conclusions, can you explain the reasons behind your viewpoints?
Lionel Vairon's book Threat of China? has been published in China recently.
Lionel Vairon: I have expressed in my book that my viewpoints are perhaps different from mainstream views held by western people. The main difference lies in the opinion held by the westerners toward the extent of the China threat theory. Some issues involving realities make western people anxious. For westerners, they do not know how to evaluate and appraise both peril and potential threat relating to China, so they feel nervous. Therefore, I think that since we spent a lot of time in China, we find that China does not in fact pose any threat to the west. The key is that people living in Europe will have different opinions about China's military and economic development. However, if one often visits China, they will discover that this sort of view has been exaggerated to the concept of “China Threat.”
Q: Why are some countries suspicious of China's rising power?
Vairon: I have two thoughts on this issue. The first is from a common foreigner's point of view. For common foreigners, they feel threatened because China has a large population. There are Chinese people everywhere overseas. We see Chinese people traveling and studying everywhere in the world. This visual picture creates a sense of “threat.” We can see Chinese people in Africa, Europe, all over, so it seems that this has created fear. This is the feeling of common foreigners. They feel nervous when they see Chinese people everywhere. This is a very popular view.
The second answer is linked to the first one. Because there are so many Chinese people, they cannot find jobs at home, and therefore they go abroad for opportunities. Foreigners feel the Chinese people who go overseas are taking their employment opportunities. Common foreigners think of Chinese people as a threat also because they think that China is still a communist country, and they fear this very much. Many foreigners have not been to China, they have no idea what China's development in the past 30 years was like, neither are they familiar with the "Cultural Revolution" in China or the reforms made to China's systems. It is because foreigners are afraid of the word “communism.” Whenever “communism” is mentioned, the word reminds them of the former Soviet Union and Cuba, nations ruled by dictators. Therefore, they believe China is also a communist nation and that is the reason why they hold this kind of shortsighted view. To tell the truth, such views are very deep-rooted. Ninety percent of French people, when they see China on the Internet, would regard China as a communist nation, a nation ruled by a dictator. This is the universal and direct feelings of the French citizens. Their lack of understanding leads to their fear of China. People fear things that they do not know very well, especially when those things are everywhere. The French feel threatened when they see Chinese people, Chinese culture and tourists from China everywhere. This is the perception of French citizens.
Now let us talk about the western governments' views toward Chinese people, mainly from two aspects, economic perspective and that of long-term strategy. With regards to the economy, the western governments think a rising China is both an opportunity and a threat to them.
In terms of opportunity, many enterprises from western countries have earned a great deal of money in China, representing an opportunity for them. Enterprises from Africa, Latin America and other countries in competition with Chinese enterprises lost rather than earned money, and therefore for these enterprises China represents a threat and a cause for their losses. Generally speaking, there is equilibrium in certain situations. But, of course, in other situations, it can be unbalanced. European enterprises have lost some contracts in the African market in the last three to four years, particularly those related to building and infrastructure. Because of the loss in Africa of their traditional interests, naturally China is a sore point. Therefore, to some westerners, China's economic rise represents a significant threat. Moreover, the fact that Chinese businesses are gradually moving overseas to compete against them and seize markets have caused fear, as it may lead to increased unemployment for domestic workers.
In fact, the aforementioned economic rise has some objective reasoning. What I would like to talk about now is the subjective consciousness of people. Western politicians blame China for the recession in the west and other related problems, and this is just a type of subjective understanding.
From a strategic point of view, what are their views on China? Of course, this question also has its subjective and objective aspects. Objectively, China's military, economic and political rise is a factor that western leaders, and especially European leaders, must consider. European leaders fear that China's rise may cause a chain reaction that in turn could bring about the rise of other Asian countries, constituting a larger threat to them. Even in Asia itself, controversies and disputes already exist between China and India, China and Japan, and China and other southeastern Asian countries. They fear that if these controversies explode, a state of instability may ensue. Europeans do not have these concerns. For example, the French do not worry about a possible invasion of Paris by China's military forces, but about the intensification of conflict between China and Japan. In other words, they are afraid of conflicts occurring within Asia. Once such conflict occurs, European countries will be involved in a state of instability. This is an objective worry. They worry about how India and Japan will react in the future.
China's rising military strength is the cause for significant concern for US citizens. For US citizens, the development of China's military strength is the biggest and most immediate threat, since it will directly affect the hegemonic status of the US. This concern is different from that faced by Europeans, who have never held the hegemonic position. Therefore, US citizens worry more about China's military rise to power than Europeans.
From a subjective standpoint, western people consider China's rise to power to be an international issue. In fact, China's current rise to power is simply regional. If we insist on the view that China is undergoing a global rise, we should consider the fact that the west has always been the international front-runner over the past 400 years, with leading positions in respect to politics, culture and military. During these 400 years, the west has dominated the world's concept of right and wrong. With China's current rise to power, since China is neither a Christian country nor a country that has the same system as the west, if China wants to say “I am not happy,” western countries will have no way to deal with the situation. However, Chinese people are seeking a political influence, something which has never been achieved by Japan. Japan is merely a power in terms of the economy, and has not yet met its goal to be a political power. Over the past 400 years, western people have not been used to the ascent of a non-western country that has some impact on the world. It will be very hard for western people to accept it psychologically.