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Rising China Depends on International Support
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By Zhu Feng

As China's influence grows, other countries are waiting to see what kind of foreign policies it will adopt and to what extent they will change regional and global politics.
Will China use its growing international influence to explore greater diplomatic space to create more opportunities for its national revitalization and sustainable economic growth? Or will China continue to lay low so as not to give the rest of the world the impression that it will pursue an expansionist strategy?

The history of international relations has witnessed the rise of major powers of different stripes. China's rise as a major power is multi-dimensional and includes the build-up of its soft strength.

To borrow a concept from US expert on China affairs Harry Harding, the build-up of "soft strength" represents a process that is sustainable and internationally significant in foreign relations.

Proof of this can be found in world history. The rise of Great Britain brought the world the industrial revolution and individual rights; the rise of the United States gave the world the idea of human rights and free competition; the rise of the Soviet Union helped the spread of communism.

Today, despite the West's criticism of China's political system, the country has become one of the places that many young Westerners see as most attractive to live and work. Over the past two decades, China has followed its own path of development with a fast pace of economic development.

Though the country's economic growth may not be of universal significance, its approach to economic growth and its systematic transformation has shown the world its unique Chinese charm. Chinese charm is an important way for China to spread its international influence. The development of this influence is the result of several factors: The growth of China's share of the world economy is the basis for the country's economic influence. China's flexible, self-disciplined and cooperative foreign strategy has created a good external environment for its development.

Of major importance, international realities facilitate the rise of the China factor. The world today is a uni-polar system. The United States as the sole superpower is playing an interventionist liberal internationalism.

Its military alliances with other countries as well as massive military presence worldwide give it overall leadership in world affairs. With the added advantage of English as an international language and the superior position the US and other Western nations enjoy in international media, information and values, it is difficult for the US to conscientiously resist the lure of super strength.

In a way, the US uni-polar hegemony constitutes both a constraining factor to China's rise and a valuable opportunity to expand its international influence. The international sentiment that welcomes China's rise as a counterbalance to US hegemony helps China to increase its influence.

Analysis of China's international influence shows that the country's growing strength is not the only contributing factor to its rising influence. As international influence comes from a country's position in the world power structure as well as its own strength, China's rise has enabled the country to lead discussions in international affairs, but not the ability to influence regional let alone global order.

Since 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the multi-power structure has undergone significant changes, with China's rise apparently the most historically significant. Meanwhile, Russia has managed to stop the downward slide of its overall strategic influence. India has become an indispensable country in the multi-power structure, a major development for a country not even considered among the major powers a decade ago.

However, the changes in the multi-power structure have not substantially altered the basic distribution of power in world politics. In the next 20 years, Europe, Japan and the US will maintain the present order of national strength. China and India will probably narrow the gap between their strengths and that of the US, but not so much as to change the existing distribution of power.

The West is currently circulating the point of view that economy determines everything, with the expectation that China will become a superpower in 15 to 20 years' time. But, even if there's some truth to this, China's future economic indicators will not be strong enough to substantially change the world's distribution of power.

The Cold War era bipolar match-up between the US and Soviet Union was not determined by economic strength alone but by their ability to project their power globally and the substantial threat their strategic strike capabilities posed for each other.

The development of China's international influence not only depends on attaining major power status and capability but also on the international relations system created along with its rise.

China's foreign policy has shown the world it is a rising major power, but not one that tends to be a challenger or disgruntled nation to the world order.

On the contrary, China's rise is capable of abandoning the traditional formula of rising powers' shaking the world order. China's rise can represent the emergence of an even stronger constructive power in world politics.

During this process, the most important thing is not which class of country China has become but what type of nation.

In the past, major powers assessed national security by the number of aircraft carriers, war planes and nuclear warheads they had in their fight for material interests and national security.

This practice not only turned the process of expanding international influence into a country's strategic expansion but also mutated the development of its domestic economy with overemphasis on the growth of the arms industry and related sectors.

Today, rising China puts greater emphasis on winning support from the international community when making strategic and policy decisions representing the common interest of most countries.

We should avoid negative factors that could hurt, weaken or obstruct the growth of China's international influence.

To do so we need to give priority to participating in the world order to raise China's international influence, to adherence to international rules, and to the expansion of win-win approaches in foreign policy.

The future development of China will to a considerable extent depend on whether we can form and nurture a national consensus on the type of powerful China we want to build.

The author is a professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University.

(China Daily May 31, 2007)

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