By Yang Wenchang
In less than two decades since the end of the Cold War, Western media and academic circles have misread China three times.
An objective review and analysis of these misconceptions will help us better appreciate China's way of building socialism with Chinese characteristics, and reinforce our commitment to peace, development and cooperation, and to building a harmonious world.
The first misreading was "the coming collapse of China".
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw political turmoil in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. And the June 4th incident occurred in Beijing in late spring and early summer in 1989. Western media and many China watchers came to the conclusion that following the Soviet Union's collapse, it would only be a matter of time before Communist-led China met the same destiny.
The US government then imposed sanctions against China, followed by many other Western countries. Despite enormous international pressure, the Chinese government did not fall like the former Soviet Union, as many had predicted in the West. On the contrary, China maintained political stability and robust economic growth and was increasingly assuming a solid position in the international arena. To explain this, I would cite the following three factors.
First, Western scholars failed to grasp the fact that the June 4th incident was not in keeping with the fundamental interests of the Chinese people. Adhering to the path of developing socialism with Chinese characteristics best suited China's national conditions. Eleven years of reform and opening-up had led most of the people in China to understand that their nation could only succeed by advancing reforms in the political, economic and other areas in an environment of stability and national unity. It was on the basis of this understanding that most Chinese did not support acts that would destabilize the nation.
Second, Western scholars, obsessed with an ideological perspective, confused the Chinese model with that of the Soviet Union and failed to appreciate the strategy of reform and opening-up initiated by Deng Xiaoping. It was based on no other than a negation of the over-centralized Soviet model of planned economy.
Third, in a globalized world, countries are increasingly interdependent. Business communities and consumers in these countries do not see it in their own interests to bring about the collapse of China with sanctions or even the curtailing of its growth. Thus political leaders in these countries often voiced doubt themselves about whether sanctions would work at all.
In less than three years, Western sanctions came to nothing. China defied Western pressure and predictions of its demise.
The second misreading was the "China threat" theory.
This theory that emerged in countries like the United States and Japan in the late 1990s persisted into the early 21st century. The main arguments of the theory were: first, China's economy had seen fast growth in two decades and would soon catch up with the United States, Japan and Germany, and China's rapid development and its growing national strength would pose a serious threat to the international status of developed Western countries; second, China had turned itself into a "world factory" with inexhaustible labor and cheap land and was exporting cheap consumer goods, which put the squeeze on manufacturing industries in the West; third, China was running a huge trade surplus, undercutting developed countries' dominance of the world market; fourth, China was faced with bottlenecks in energy and resources and would inevitably compete for resources worldwide with developed countries; and fifth, China's national strength was growing with the rapid economic development but its defense expenditure remained "non-transparent".
Influenced by the above arguments, governments of major Western countries, with the US taking the lead, formulated their two-sided China strategies featuring "containment plus engagement". In the military field, "containment" was mainly exercised through the setting-up of an "Asian version of NATO" with military alliance among the United States, Japan and Australia at the center to guard against enhanced military power of China; in the economic field, "containment" was mainly about limiting imports from China, pressuring China to revalue the RMB, not recognizing China's market economy status and restricting high-tech exports to China.
"Engagement" in the political field means maintaining normal state-to-state relations with China and trying to incorporate China into the international order dominated by US-led Western countries. In the economic field, "engagement" requires active investment in China and trading with China.
The two-sided China policy of US-led Western countries could not possibly achieve its aim. There are five reasons.
First, China has always valued its independence since ancient times and the Chinese nation will not change the direction of its development according to the will of others. China sticks to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This is determined by China's national conditions.
Second, in terms of the economic system, China has gradually introduced market mechanisms. All imports and exports of Chinese enterprises follow the basic rules of the game of a market economy. Therefore, the West's economic "containment" of China is groundless.
Third, though China has become a trading power in the world, over 60 percent of its high-value-added exports come from foreign-funded companies. Western investors generally ship large quantities of parts and components into China to finish the final assembly here with cheap labor and preferential taxation policy and then export these products with a "Made in China" label on them.
Fourth, Western analysts tend to emphasize the threat of competition by Chinese commodities but overlook the fact that China is the largest importer in Asia. China's fast economic development is greatly enhancing the consumption capacity of 1.3 billion people, which is not a threat but a rare opportunity to the economies of Europe, the US and Japan.
Fifth, many Western observers have doubts about China's much-reiterated commitment to peaceful development, leading to confusion in Western public opinion on China. China has resolved to pursue a peaceful development consistent with its national condition, history and tradition, and the basic characteristics of the times.
The third misreading is that "China should assume more responsibilities".
In 2005, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoelick put forward the now well-known idea that China should become a "responsible stakeholder". A closer look at this term shows that on the one hand, it recognizes the economic achievements made by China in the past 30 years or so and the fact that China has become an important member of the international community, which is a big step forward. Yet on the other hand, it implies doubts about whether China will fulfill the international responsibilities they think China should undertake. Some talked about guiding China in exercising its responsibilities. Others criticized China's "irresponsible behavior" in many areas, and still others pointed an accusing finger at China's Africa policy, saying it failed to meet Western standards. This is obviously unfair. We should approach the issue from the following aspects:
First, in political and security areas, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has faithfully observed the basic principles of the UN Charter and honored its responsibility toward world peace. In its foreign policy, China always maintains that international conflicts and disputes should be resolved through peaceful negotiation, and opposes the use or threat of force. China has settled historical border disputes with most of its neighbors through peaceful negotiation. On the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the Iranian nuclear issue and other hot issues, China stands for upholding the integrity of relevant international treaties and is firmly opposed to nuclear proliferation, and has been working for their resolution through peaceful negotiation.
On issues such as countering terrorism and containing spread of diseases, China has taken an active part in international cooperation with the US and other Western countries. Another fact worth mentioning is that China is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces.
Second, in the economic field, although some Western countries still do not recognize China as a market economy, China, as a WTO member, has always acted in compliance with prevailing international market rules. China launched financial and monetary reforms and introduced a floating RMB exchange rate regime in line with its stage of economic development.
In the energy field, the Chinese government has not only included in its 11th Five-Year Plan a mandatory target of lowering energy consumption per unit of GDP, but also expressed on many occasions its willingness to cooperate with other countries, in energy saving, developing alternative energy and strengthening environmental protection.
Third, China follows a scientific thinking on development. China has indeed encountered severe constraints on its development in the areas of energy, resources and environment. But China will be able to transform its inefficient growth pattern into an efficient and environment-friendly model of economic development. China will not shift its problems to other countries. Even less will China seek development by plundering others.
Fourth, China's assistance to Africa and China-Africa trade keeps expanding every year as China's economy grows. This is quite normal in South-South cooperation. However, some European scholars have made irresponsible comments on China-Africa relations. In those people's minds, China would be responsible only when it dealt with its relations with Africa in line with Western values, and non-interference in Africa's internal affairs would be equal to irresponsibility. China is not against development of democracy in African countries. However, more important than the specific forms of democracy is whether real benefits can be brought to 800 million people in Africa as a result. Once Africa attains fast development, democracy on that continent will be greatly promoted.
The author is president of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs.
(China Daily July 9, 2007)