"The Chinese side stated: Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. Countries want independence, nations want liberation and the people want revolution -- this has become the irresistible trend of history. All nations, big or small, should be equal: big nations should not bully the small and strong nations should not bully the weak. China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind."
Joint Communique of the United States of America and
the People's Republic of China
February 28, 1972
Since no other country claims a more powerful link to its ancient past and classical principles, any attempt to understand China's future world role must begin with an appreciation of its long history. For centuries, China rarely encountered other societies of comparable size and sophistication; it was the "Middle Kingdom," treating the peoples on its periphery as vassal states. At the same time, Chinese statesmen - facing threats of invasion from without, and the contests of competing factions within - developed a canon of strategic thought that prized the virtues of subtlety, patience, and indirection over feats of martial prowess.
Almost from the beginnings of her history, China has been the central figure in a world, largely of her own creation, in which she was the final dominant moral force. She has been the center, the powerful civilized and cultivated empire, surrounded by a circle of admiring satellite kingdoms. They flattered her by that most delicate and subtle form of flattery, imitation. They copied her form of civilization, modeled their governmental systems after hers, borrowed her religions. As one of most prominent Chinese international relations scholars, from Tsinghua University in Beijing, Yan Xuetong seeks to enrich the current study of international relations theory by drawing intellectual resources from the era before China was unified by the Qin state in 221 BC. Yan states, “Should China increase its material power without at the same time increasing its political power, China will have difficulty being accepted by the international community as a major power that is more responsible than the United States”.
Maoism no longer justifies the Communist Party's monopoly on power, as few Chinese believe in in Communism. Nationalism is now the dominant ideology, and the rulers have to prove their mettle, especially toward Japan. This need is particularly acute when a new leader takes power. The latest party boss, Xi Jinping, needs to show people, not least the military brass, that he is in adequate to the task at hand.
Along with rising economic development, nationalism is one of the two pillars of regime legitimacy. The marked increase in China's international prominence and national prestige over the past decade has prompted an upsurge in patriotism and nationalism among coastal urbanites and reinforced longstanding student nationalism. There is a growing sense of national pride at China's emergence as an economic and political power. China's urban population, particularly educated professional and business elites, are increasingly critical and sophisticated, knowledgeable about the outside world, and exposed to multiple sources of information. The Party has been compelled to carefully manage sporadic, emotional urban demonstrations by students over international issues, primarily anger at Japan, even as it sometimes stokes such nationalist sentiment to serve its own ends.
The Chinese government needs "stand up to" the United States and other countries to keep public constituencies happy. Chinese rulers are technocrats, not ideologues or real opinion leaders. Therefore, when presented with a crisis, they have to follow the wind instead of taking a clear position.
By 2009 China's diplomacy had taken on a tone of muscle-flexing, triumphalism and assertiveness. Foreign diplomats note that China is making no friends with its newly pugnacious attitude, but the popular assessment of China's stance, personified by the nationalistic, jingoistic and Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao), is "it's about time." More thoughtful observers in China argue that this attitude has more form than substance and is designed to play to Chinese public opinion.
The Europeans were among the most vocal in their criticism. EU leaders had not been happy that at the November 2009 PRC-EU Summit, Premier Wen Jiabao had stated that China "expected" the EU to lift its arms embargo before the next summit. China's behavior at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December 2009 had been "truly shocking" and that Chinese officials' attitude toward other delegations had been rude and arrogant to the point where both the UK and French Embassies had been instructed to complain formally about the treatment their leaders had received from the Chinese, specifically from Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei. The MFA had not been receptive to these demarches and neither the UK nor France had received a response. Japanese corporations had been experiencing some of the same difficulties doing business in China as other international companies had reported. Japan had noted a degree of "hubris" in China's attitude.
China's more aggressive defense of its interests abroad is new; this is a change in how China presents itself abroad. This stance was popular with the Chinese public, but some wonder whether the policy had been thought through completely. The Chinese people would be disappointed if China's more aggressive stance backfired and caused China to lose face. If China were to experience diplomatic setbacks, the people would again feel that the government had overstated its strength relative to other states and exposed China to humiliation.
Some thought China was changing its diplomatic tune and re-focusing on Hu Jintao's "harmonious world" concept. Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who became Premier in 2012-13, gave a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos 28 January 2010 that stressed the importance of collaborative efforts to solve global problems, emphasized twice that "we are in the same boat" (the same metaphor the Secretary used in her public remarks in Beijing in February 2009), and reiterated that China relied on a stable international situation so that it could concentrate on its own internal development challenges. Though there were a couple of digs at the United States, such as a call for "a suitable degree of responsibility and constraint on global reserve currency issuers," the criticism was subtle compared to Chinese public statements in other international forums, such as the EU Summit.
China adopted a much more assertive international profile in 2010, to include actions such as harassing US survey vessels operating in international waters off the Chinese coast, aggressively pressing unrecognized territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, and supporting North Korea in the aftermath of unprovoked acts of aggression against South Korea. This behavior has unnerved neighboring countries and undone much of China’s goodwill diplomacy of the past decade. Alongside these provocative actions, the messages emerging from China about its foreign and national security policy were also in a state of flux over the year, as new policy directions were debated and a more diverse group of PRC foreign policy actors promoted their views.
- The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] free trade area is considered a rival to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP as they both include ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam as well as India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea. But, unlike the TPP, the RCEP includes China, the world's second largest economy and biggest trading nation, and not the USA.
- China’s 2014 plan to work with 21 countries to create a new $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is seen as a rival to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), hich China views as dominated by the USA and Japan.
In addition to Taiwan and other sovereignty concerns (e.g., Tibet and the Dalai Lama and Xinjiang and Rebiya Kadeer), China has begun to articulate additional "core interests" in Chinese foreign policy. So far, these core interests center on China's access to energy resources.
Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and chairman of the China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS), spoke at the second "Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region" international academic symposium jointly held by the CIISS and Katie Chan Foundation of Hong Kong which kicked off in Beijing on May 27, 2014. Sun Jianguo delivered a keynote speech titled "Creating Together the Asia-Pacific Community of Solidarity and Common Destiny". He promoted an an Asia-only regional security arrangement, with China at the center, that would replace the 60-year system of American alliances.
Sun Jianguo wrote in China Daily on 18 June 2014 that "We should adapt to the changing situations and explore a new framework for regional security cooperation. The establishment of a comprehensive, orderly, inclusive and coordinated regional security cooperation mechanism is a firm institutional guarantee for the resolution of regional security issues. An exclusive military alliance that is explicitly targeted against a third party is inconsistent with the regional trend of peace, cooperation, development and win-win arrangement."
China has used punitive trade policies as instruments of coercion during past tensions, and could do so in future disputes. For example, through trade tariffs, tourism restrictions, and limits on foreign direct investment.
- In 2012, China restricted Philippine fruit imports during the height of Scarborough Reef tensions, but Chinese leaders avoided taking major economic actions during frictions with Vietnam and the Philippines in 2014.
- In 2010, China used its market-dominance in the rare earth industry as a political and diplomatic tool, restricting exports of rare earth minerals to Japan following tensions over a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese patrol ship. Chinese officials said the action was intended as a means of environmental protection, but the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2014 ruled China’s restrictions were discriminatory and violated WTO rules.
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