August 01, 2005

The Increasingly Eminent “China Factor” in the World Pattern

Ma Zhengang

(President of China Institute of International Studies)

I. The China Factor Carries More Weight in International Affairs.

“China’s rise is already reshaping the international order by introducing a new physics of development and power,” remarked Joshua Cooper Ramo, author of The Beijing Consensus, in its introduction. He also observed, “What is happening in China at the moment is not only a model for China, but has begun to remake the whole landscape of international development, economics, society and, by extension, politics.”

Ramo was certainly not the genesis of the view that China’s development carries global consequence. In the past ten years, the EU has issued five policy papers on relations with China. The first policy paper on China, entitled A Long Term Policy for China Europe Relations, was released on July 5, 1995 which was dominated by the theme of economic cooperation between China and Europe. The second policy paper – Building a Com- prehensive Partnership with China–was published on March 25, 1998. This paper made a significant change in that it regarded the expansion and deepening of political dialogue with China on regional and global issues as an important policy objective. On September 10, 2003, A Maturing Partnership – Shared Interests and Challenges in EU-China Relations was announced as the fifth policy paper. It identified five priority areas for fostering Europe -China relations, and gave first priority to enhanced political dialogue on world and regional security. Changes in these papers showed that the EU was more than ever attaching great importance to China’s inter- national economic, political and security clout.

In a speech with the China Institute of International Strategic Studies on January 8, 2004, former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out that the world of tomorrow would not be unipolar, bipolar or multipolar. Rather, it would be an asymmetrical triangle propped up by America, the EU and China. Later on he openly wrote that the deciding power for world development would hinge on the three major factors of America, Europe and China in the next twenty years. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also expressed his view in America’s Assign- ment, published immediately after the election, that “the emergence of a unified Germany over a century ago unbalanced the European system”, while “in our age, the rise of China is of even greater historical significance, marking as it does a shift in the center of gravity of world affairs from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”

It is already internationally popular to talk about the impact of China’s development on the world of today and tomorrow. Comments and appraisals appeared in a whole string of articles, and seminars came in quick succession. Every move China made, such as sending Chinese leaders on visits to other land and meeting important foreign leaders to China, would always be followed by a variety of discussions, many of which go beyond bilateral relations and penetrate deeper into the inter- national sense. Habitual rhetoric of distortion and vilification against China gradually lost its market, and was replaced by comparatively more rational and objective analyses.

Recognition of China’s importance is not a lip service by other countries, but rather has been increasingly reflected in activities countries take. Most countries set their China policies in the direction of enhancing relations and fostering cooperation. Some have entered into strategic partnership with China. Quite a few countries are shifting their attention from “westward” to “eastward”. And developing countries are showing strong interest in “the China path”, or “the Chinese mode of development”.

The international community can see and feel the China Factor more directly and deeply in economic and trade affairs. China accounts for only 4 percent of the world’s total economic volume, but it catches worldwide attention due to its rapid and sustained economic growth. In particular, China’s international trade has taken such a big stride forward that it overtook Japan as the third-largest trader in the world, with total import and export volume exceeding $1 trillion in 2004. China is also a huge market with even greater international fascination, and has been a top global destination for foreign invest- ment in successive years. China’s economic exuberance adds to world economic vigor. It is universally recognized that China, together with the US, has brought along the invigo- ration of the world economy. Therefore, China’s economic situation is shown every concern. In late 2003, when the Chinese economy appeared to be overheated, the whole of international community were concerned and distinctly hoped for a “soft-landing” of China in this regard. Likewise, the American economic circle took thought for the global implica- tions of the Chinese economy if it cools down. Stephen S. Roach, chief economist of Morgan Stanley said, “When today's Chinese economy sneezes, Asia and possibly even the rest of the world could well catch a cold.” The Chinese central bank’s decision in late last October to raise the benchmark lending and deposit interest rate by 0.27 percentage was enough to evoke worldwide responses. The fact that G8 has twice welcomed the parti- cipation of China also testified to the high degree of stress that the western countries lay on China.

In a word, when handling foreign relations and inter- national affairs, almost all countries will take the China Factor into serious consideration, regardless of their points of view, motives, or attitudes in the matter as such.

As a matter of fact, the China Factor began to influence the world pattern, and more often than not quite signi- ficantly, from the very first day of the founding of new China. A case in point was the global US-USSR-China triangle. Though China was herein like “four ounces moving a thousand pounds”, it did have a bearing on the broad international strategic pattern, and did affect the readjustments of relations between major powers of the world, including those between China and the US, and between China and the west European countries.

A thorough investigation into the historical strength of the China Factor showed that this strength flew from three sources. First, China was of such “big size” with a wide and densely populated area that no country could afford to ignore it who accounted for one fifth of the world’s population. Second, China held crucial sway on the Third World countries due to its traditionally friendship with them. Third, China was of great geopolitical importance due to its geographic position. Clearly, the China Factor then was not based on factual national power, but was dependent on the international situation and policy options, thus only functioning by stages on a limited scale as a result of human choices. Once the situation changed, strength of the China Factor would change with it. For example, China’s unique influence in the US- USSR-China triangle gradually vanished with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

The China Factor, as it stands now, is substantially supported by comprehensive national power. In other words, the economic growth has given impetus to a more asserting role in political, security and social fields. Therefore, the China Factor now exerts an all-dimensional impact on the world, covering various fields including economy, politics, foreign policy positions, mode of development, civilization and traditions, and population quality, etc. Such impact is not a subjective desire, but an inevitable objective result, functioning on an overall scale unaffectedly and continually. The most remarkable develop- ment in the international situation since the end of the Cold War was the expanding influence of China on the world. As China continues its step forward, the China Factor will be increasingly eminent on world affairs.

II. The China Factor in Regroupings of Regional Powers.

As the China Factor carries more weight, countries in the world set greater store by China, and expect more from China accordingly, calling for its bigger role in international affairs. Meanwhile, a series of deliberations and assumptions have been proposed so that countries concerned can rely on each other for support and self-interest. Some of these assumptions involving China are: enhanced relations between China and G8; development of Group 20; an emerging axis between China and Europe; “trilateral cooperation between China, India and Russia” as promoted by Russia; cooperation between China, Japan and ROK; Brazilian President Lula’s initiative to strengthen cooperation between developing countries; the role of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa); a “Europe- Asia Axis” between Russia, China, Turkey and Iran as advocated by General Ilhan Kilic, former Secretary-General of Turkish National Security Council. Similar cases are legion.

It is essential to safeguard the paramount interest of the nation and the people in state-to-state relations. Lord Palmerston, a famous British statesman, had it right over a century and half ago when he said: “we have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and these interests it is our duty to follow.” This became a well- known saying spreading far and wide since. Though the language smacks of nakedness, it is not without merit. The aforementioned assumptions all embody considerations for interest of one’s own. There- fore, it is only natural for China to make policy options pro- ceeding from and aiming at the fundamental interest of the nation and the people, while combining the interest of all peoples in the world as an organic whole.

As a big civilization in the world, China has always proposed to blend the interests of China with that of all peoples in the world, rather than seeking simply self- interest, let alone doing so at the cost of others. China now pays more attention than ever to mutually beneficial cooperation with others, and stands for the “double win” or “win-win” approach. In line with its power and reality, China lays particular stress on establishing with all parties mechanisms of cooperation and dialogue, such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation initiated in October 2000, the Forum on China-Arab Cooperation set up in January 2004, South Asia’s Forum on Economic Cooperation between Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar, and the brewing mechanism of cooperation and dialogue between China and Latin American countries. Such mechanisms represent an approach conducive to South- South cooperation, reflect the spirit of equality, mutual benefit and cooperation of developing countries, and are thus increasingly valued and embraced.

Discourse on BRICS stops at surface yet, showing that the international community is beginning to think highly of the big developing countries. However, no coordination mechanism has so far taken shape between these big countries, with the exception of consultations between India, Brazil and South Africa on irregular basis. Developed countries have long before formed the key consultation center of G8, which at least convened annually for policy coordination on major inter- national economic and political issues, and even went further to make some imposing “rules of the game”. On the contrary, developing countries have all along been in a passive state, with no effective consultation channels at all. Confronted with so many common chal- lenges, developing countries are called by the times to foster cooperation, seek common progress, and meet the challenges in joint efforts. If the BRICS countries and other big de- veloping countries can maintain close contacts and deepen collaboration with each other, then not only the whole of developing countries will benefit from it, but the effort to establish a fair and rational international political and economic order will as well.

Group 20 has taken shape and entered its initial phase of development, which is favorable for South-North exchanges and cooperation. China actively participates in this grouping as a member, and plays a responsible role. Since this is a venue seating both developed countries and developing ones, cooperation should prevail, though we must be prepared that it will not be free from conflicting interests and opinions, and that actions infringing upon China’s interests might occur.

In recent years, China has readjusted its policy toward G8, making a tremendous adaptive turn from having no contact with this “rich club” to taking part in some of its activities if invited. Changes were mutual in effect. G8 has also moved from sanctioning China to seeking cooperation with China. Last year, it invited China’s finance minister and central bank governor in the informal dialogue meeting, marking “a historic first engagement” (commented Under Secretary of US Treasury John Taylor) and G8’s acceptance of the importance of the China Factor in international affairs. Some G8 countries proposed to invite China as a formal member, but to date at least the US was not ready for that. Even if all G8 countries agreed on that, China, as a developing country, would probably have to consider the following three points in deciding whether to join: (1) whether authority of the UN will be affected; (2) whether China’s relations with deve- loping countries will be impacted; (3) whether the Chinese membership will be extended full equality, without being treated as “a second class citizen” in this grouping.

Such views and proposi- tions as “China-Europe axis” and “Europe-Asia axis” are merely individual. China consistently pursues an in- dependent foreign policy of peace, and has no other plans than to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation in deve- loping relations with the EU. Relations between China and the EU will doubtlessly have an impact on the US, and vice versa, thus knitting an inter- active triangle between China, the EU and the US. So far, no clear or logic sequence of ideas has been shaped in this trilateral relation, but there are signs of interactiveness in the decision-making process. To illustrate, EU’s effort to lift the arms embargo on China was hindered by US opposition. And China and the EU joined each other in opposing uni- lateralism and advocating multilateralism. In prospect, development of this broad triangle is likely to encourage all forces in the world to grow in a more balanced manner, thus tremendously impacting the international strategic pattern. However, the China-US-EU triangle of today is different from the US-USSR-China triangle of the past. It should refrain from pitting two sides against the other side, but rather it should seek an optimum confluence of interests of all the three parties through mutual coordination and joint efforts, and should take collective responsibility for the peace and development of the world. Only in this way will it be in keeping with the tide of the world, be favorable to the three parties herein, and be con- ducive to the international community.

China, Japan and ROK are the three biggest economies in Asia, who are geographically approximate, and endowed with many convenient conditions of cooperation. The three above countries have close economic contacts and are important trading partners with each other. In October 2003 a Joint Declaration on the Promotion of Tripartite Cooperation among the People's Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea was signed by their leaders, setting up a framework to extend cooperation from the economic field to all fronts, and laying a solid foundation to further integrate the tripartite relations. Nevertheless, due to Japan’s attitude toward history, in particular its visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, the tripartite political cooperation has been subject to difficulty, with the implementation of the Joint Declaration stalled to some extent. If Japan properly handles relevant problems, the China-Japan-ROK cooperation will get a new boost. In that case, the three countries together will serve as a more dynamic engine for regional cooperation in northeast Asia, benefiting not only themselves, but northeast Asia and the whole of Asia as well.

Whatever the regroupings, they should work essentially to promote global peace, develop- ment and cooperation in total elimination of the cold-war mentality, rather than to seek hegemony through confrontation.

III.China Sensibly Meets the New Challenges in the New Situation.

Watching the world from a physicist’s point of view, Nobel Prize winner Chen Ning Yang believed that the 20th century was marked by two most significant achievements. One is that the progress in science and technology has enormously increased human productivity. The other is the rise of the Chinese nation.

For China and the world at large, it is excellent to have the China Factor highly valued and positively functioning in the international community. However, we must keep a sober mind, truthfully evaluate our power and influence, and avoid being hotheaded, arrogant or conceited. Generally speaking, China’s comprehensive power is far from formidable. As far as economy is concerned, China falls behind over a hundred countries in the world with a per capita GDP of only $1200, though the GDP volume is around $1.65. When talking about the growing influence of the China Factor, we mean it in a “comparative sense”, not in a “present perfect tense”, because it is only reckoned so in comparison with the past. As a matter of fact, the China Factor is simply nowhere near playing a decisive role in each and every case of world affairs. Every coin has two sides, and gains and losses always accom- pany each other. The fact that China has been universally stressed poses many new challenges while presenting fine opportunities of develop- ment for it. First of all, those who have viewed China as a “strategic competitor” and have been hostile to China all along will raise louder clamors of “China Threat”, and will even go so far as to heighten “containment” and pressure on China. Secondly, some countries may become more doubtful and afraid about China’s development due to geographical, historical and psychological elements. Thirdly, some countries might also change their mental attitudes toward China, as the latter grows stronger in com- prehensive power. Fourthly, as China goes more extensively to the world, contacts with all parties will increase and get deepening, and collision of interests is unavoidable.

In view of these new circumstances, China should continue to demonstrate with deeds that it is a staunch force for world peace and common development. In addition, it should do more things to enhance trust and dissolve suspicion so that the inter- national community can be completely convinced that China is a responsible power, and that China’s development is in keeping with the interests of all peoples in the world. Further- more, it is essential to reinforce China’s own strength. Firstly, the comprehensive national power should be enhanced by all means. The “period of important strategic opportunities” needs to be seized to realize the objective of building a mode- rate prosperous society in an all-round way, and on that basis to realize China’s moder- nization. Secondly, the overall quality of the population needs to be raised to a higher level so as to display the outlook of a nation with a long-standing civilization. And the global influence of China should be projected with a good image and sensible deeds. In par- ticular, China should view and handle its foreign relations in a rational manner, rather than “follow its nose”.

Facts demonstrate that the China Factor is a force for world progress. It will help usher in a brighter future of peace, development, democracy and harmony if the China Factor is given full play in international affairs. (Translated by Shen Yamei)

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