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China: Will The 20th Century Giant Become A 21st Century Superpower

China: Will The 20th Century Giant Become A 21st Century Superpower?


AUTHOR LCdr. S. K. Singh, Indian Navy


CSC 1988


SUBJECT AREA Foreign Policy




Executive Summary



Title : China : Will the 20th century giant become a 21st century


superpower ?



I. Purpose : The purpose of this paper is to examine if China


will become a "superpower" by the 21st century.


II. Thesis : Current indications are that China will become a


major world power by the 21st century unless certain events slow


it down. What are these factors and what effect could they have


on the country.


II: Data : While the superpower of the world are reducing


their nuclear arsenal China is quietly enhancing its already


formidable nuclear and conventional military capability. With the


world's largest population of over a billion people China already


enjoys the status of a giant on the international scene. Yet it


is not regarded as superpower because of its inability to


influence world events.


The country's tumultuous political history from the time of


the communist revolution shows how changes in leadership leads to


changes in policy and, at times, is detrimental to the country's


progress. Its relations with the United States have improved in


the last two decades but are still not warm enough. Recent


overtures made to it by the Soviet Union have yielded some


results but are also far from desirable.


IV : Conclusion : The country is going to face some delays in


achieving its goals cut whatever happens to its people is bound


to affect the destiny of mankind on Earth











Thesis Statement : Current indications are that China will become a major


world power by the 21st century unless certain events slow it down. What


are these factors and what effect could they have on the country ?



I. Political situation


A. Last four decades


B. Current situation

C. Future outlook



2. Military situation


A. Current developments


B. Future plans

C. Export potential



3. Foreign Relations


A. Sino-America


B. Sino-Soviet



4. Conclusion


A. Influence of politics on economy


B. Military and social influences










At a time when the two superpower of the world are seriously


engaged in reducing their nuclear arsenal a so-called third-world


country is quietly engaged in enhancing its already formidable


nuclear and conventional military capability. With the world's


largest population of over a billion people and also the world's


largest armed forces totalling more than four and a half million


men and women, China already enjoys the status of a giant on the


international scene.


From the time of the communist revolution in 1949 the country


has made a great deal of progress. The Chinese industry has


undergone a record growth during these years especially from


1958-72 when the average self-sufficiency in all energy forms and


has located massive petroleum deposits in Manchuria and offshore.


It's coal reserves are rated to be amongst the largest in the


world and since 1980 the country has been exporting coal and


petroleum even though its petroleum deposits have only been


superficially tapped.(11:xvii)


On the agricultural front China's progress has been equally


remarkable. It has not only achieved the capability of feeding


its vast populace but is even able to export some of the food


items that it produces. The country's hydro-electric potential is


believed to be the largest in the world and its armament industry


has developed into recognized exporter of arms and equipment.


Leading economists of the world have predicted that the Chinese


economy will be the second largest in the world by the end of the


first decade of the next century.(12:7)


Despite all these factors China is merely regarded as a giant


on the international scene and not a "superpower" due to its


inability to influence world events at large. Will this 20th


century giant merely grow into a bigger giant in the years to


come or become a "superpower" of the 21st ? Current


indications are that it will ,indeed ,achieve the status of a


superpower sometime during the 21st century unless certain events


at home and abroad slow down its progress and delay this


transformation. What are these factors and what effect could they


have on the country ?


The first and the major factor is the political set up of the


country which has undergone varying degrees of turmoil from the


time the communists seized power nearly four decades age. Nobody


realizes this more than the country's ageing statsmen Deng


Xiaoping who, during his long political career, had been ousted


and disgraced no less than three times.


When the communist government came to power in China in 1949


one of its first acts was to sign a thirty year treaty of


friendship, alliance, and mutual assistance with the Soviet


Union. This treaty gave the Communist govenment in Peking enough


confidence to enter the Korean war six months later. The war and


a mass movement against the local "bourgeois" distracted the


country's masses long enough for the government to implement its


first five year plan in 1953. This five year period from 1953-57


is regarded as the period of "transition to socialism". During


these years Soviet assistance in economic and technical spheres,


strengthened by Sino-Soviet agreements signed in 1953-54, played


a significant role in the development of the country.(11:31)


The latter part of the fifties stretching into the early


sixties is, ironically, known as the period of the "great leap


forward". This actually refers to the scheme of Mao Zedong and


the communist party to achieve spectacular progress by arousing


the masses ideologically and driving them to do their utmost for


the country. In reality, this optimistic plan did not work and


was an economic failure. It forced Mao to step down from his


position as the chairman of the People's Republic leaving other


leaders like Deng Xiaoping and Liu Shaoqi to consolidate their


positions within the party. Deng, at that time, was regarded as a


radical leftist due to his support of the anti-rightist campaign


of 1957 and the founding of the people's communes in 1958. This


new leadership changed the country's foreign policy from


"peaceful coexistence" to a "hard line". An aggressive propaganda


assault was conducted against the United States for its support of


Taiwan. The offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu held by the


Nationalists were subjected to a massive artillery bombardment.


The Tibetan revolt of 1958 was brutally suppressed and in its


aftermath China's relations with India deteriorated as the


Chinese accused India of hardbouring the Tibetan refugees. Border


disputes between the two countries increased the bitterness


further. On the northern front, Sino-Soviet border disputes


,which had been brewing for some time, led to the termination of

a 1957 agreement between the two countries by which the Soviets


were to help the Chinese produce their own nuclear weapons and



In 1962 Mao Zedong, who had been sidelined after the debacle


of the "great leap forward" and had spent the previous two years


practically in semi-seclusion, decided to stage a comeback and


used his ability to arouse the masses against the "capitalist and


anti-socialist" tendencies in the country. This was the "great


cultural revolution" of the sixties which shattered the party


organization from top to bottom. With the seizure of power by men


like Lin Biao and other protagonists of Mao, Deng was removed


from all his posts and publicly humiliated.


The cultural revolution ended in 1969 but factional


infighting continued well into the seventies. In September 1971,


however, the death of Lin Biao led to a steady decrease in the


influence of the fundamentalist left wing radicals and they were


eventually purged out. The new swing to the right led to the


famous visit of President Nixon to China in February, 1972 and


the establishment of diplomatic relations with Japan later in the


same year. In April, 1973 Deng was rehabilitated by the then


Premier Zhou Enlai and appointed vice premier but three years


later, with the death of Zhou Enlai, he was ousted again. On


September 9, 1976 Mao Zedong died and the radicals lost their


major influence. Deng again managed to stage a comeback and at


the party session of 1977 he was reappointed to all the posts


that he had held prior to his dismissal ie. Vice Chairman of the


Chinese Communist party and member of the Politburo and it's


Standing Committee.


Due to his own tumultuous career Deng realizes that constant


changes in the party leadership, which generally lead to changes


in policy, hinder the country's progress. His efforts to provide


the country with a stable leadership after him have, however, not


been very successful partly due to his own liberal policies at


home and partly due to the conservatives opposition to China's


opening its "doors" to the west.


In 1975 Zhou Enlai started his four modernisations in the


fields of agriculture, industry, national defence, and science


and technology. These programmes were designed to put China in


the same league as some of the leading nations of the world like


the United States, Japan and West Germany, by the year 2000.


Although the majority of the Chinese leadership and the public


realizes that these liberal reforms have yielded substantial


results in the last eight years and that it is essential for the


country to import western technology if it is to achieve its


modernization goals,Chinese politics does not rely on the


"bourgeois concept" of democratic majorities. The desire for


power and personal likes and dislikes often take priority over


the country's needs.


Deng's desire to ensure political continuity has received a


severe blow with the forced resignation of his heir apparent, Hu


Yaobang, in January 1987. This was also a major setback for the


reformers as it allowed the conservatives, who favour a more


orthodox brand of socialism and tighter party controls, to seize


the initiative. There is widespread speculation that Hu's


dismissal was masterminded by none less that Deng himself because


of Hu's inability to implement the modernization programmes in


the spirit they were to enforced in. It is also possible that


Deng may have made Hu the scapegoat to pacify the conservatives


who had become increasingly critical of Hu along with various


aspects of these reforms. Whether the conservatives increase


their influence in time to come or are purged out by the


reformers is anybody's guess. In any case it is unlikely that the


conservatives would reverse the present liberal trend. They may,


at the most, slow down the pace of the reforms. As it is, of


late, the Chinese leadership has itself set back the year of


modernization from 2000 to 2020. At the Pac Rim conference, held


in 1986, the vice chairman of the Chinese State Planning


Commission stated that it might now take China 75 years to get


close to the well developed countries pushing the date further to




Zhao Zhiyang, the sixty seven year old premier, who has taken


over Hu's chair as the General Secretary of the party lacks Hu's


experience in youth league organs but ha acquired a considerable


stature as a national leader. He also does not share Hu's


extensive military background but has had close ties with the


military at both the regional and the national level. The rural


reforms introduced by him as the first party secretary of the


province of Sichuan in late 1975, were so successful that they


were adopted at the national level by the third plenum of the


eleventh central committee in December, 1978. His standing with


the military is much better than Hu's who is not regarded by the


military as a strong and a stable leader. In fact, it is believed


that the military was instrumental in successfully resisting


suggestions that Hu replace Deng as the Chairman of the Central


Military Commission.


It is obvious that Zhao's major task is to consolidate his


position and tackle the conservatives. Even if he succeedes in


this difficult task eventually, the process is expected to slow


down the reforms which are in the process of implementation and


delay the introduction of new ones. (8:14). If Zhao is to leave


the premiership open there would be two candidated for the job.


These are the two vice premiers Li Peng and Tian Jiyun. Li was


educated in Moscow and is well known in Beijing but not in the


country. He is, to an extent, regarded as a conservative. Tian


Jiyun, on the other hand, is a reformer who has been a close


adviser to Zhao for the last four years and has a reputation for


far sighted efficiency. (6: 10)

The conservatives feel that it is better to be aligned to an


unfriendly communist power than to a friendly imperialistic one


and their coming to power is expected to bring in a modification


of the foreign policy in that they may lean towards the East


European countries for their requirements. The ideology of the


reformers is, perhaps, not much different. In 1980 Deng pointed


out," The infiltration of Bourgeois ideas into China is


inevitable, (but) we shall never allow the worshipping of


capitalist countries at the expense of national pride and dignity


while learning advanced technology and management skills from




The second factor which is of importance and will affect


Chinese influence in world affairs is the military potential of


the Chinese armed forces. According to "The Military Balance


1985-86" published by the International Institute of Strategic


Studies, London, China's defence expenditure is estimated at $


34.5 billion which makes it the third highest in the world after


the Soviet Union and the United States. The presence of Chinese


defence firms at international arms exhibitions is becoming


increasingly noticeable. The People's Liberation Army which


celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in August, 1987 is currently


in the process of modernizing and reorganizing its 35 Field


Armies into 24 Integrated Mobile Armies.The eleven military


provinces have been reorganized into seven military regions. The


first of the newly integrated armies - the 38th - is already


deployed in the Beijing Military Region and the second in the


Shenyang Military Region.


China has been extremely successful in its rocket launching


programmes and since 1970 the Chinese have put no less than


twenty satellites into space with only two failures. The


temporary grounding of the American space programme also gave a


boost to the Chinese plans. They bagged a contract to put


Mailist, a Swedish communication satellite, into space for the


reported sum of $ 19.5 million and are believed to be negotiating


with no less than eight other countries including Great Britain,


Italy Austria, and Canada. (6:12)


The Chinese also have a considerable number of strategic long


range missiles. Of these the Dong Feng (East Wind), a solid


fuelled missile,is capable of carrying five megaton warheads over


a range of 8,078 miles (13,000 Kms.). Looking at the considerable


range of this missile it is interesting to analyze its possible


strategic employment. The army had equipped its "59" and "62"


tanks with laser rangefinders and the integrated armies are using


the 5.56 mm. similar in performance to the American M-16. The 105


mm. gun is in use alongwith the i55 mm. self propelled howitzer.


The army is also in the process of computerizing its signals


system. (6:13)


The Chinese Air Force has the second highest number of


aircraft in the world which are also in the process of


modernization. The F-6 bis fighters (MiG-19 variants) already


carry effective radar systems. The H-6 bombers (Tu-16s) are well


maintained to effectively deliver the nuclear bombs held in the


Chinese armoury. The Chinese Navy has become a blue water Navy


with nuclear submarines and missile destroyers.In addition to all


this the United States has agreed to supply the Chinese with


transport aircraft, helicopters, flight training systems, aerial


cameras, and certain types of radars as well as Tow anti-tank and


Hawk anti-aircraft missiles.


The American aid package is designed to sharpen the teeth of


the Chinese Armed Forces and force the Soviets to withdraw some


of their forces from the East Europeon border and place the on


the Sino-Soviet border where they are more expensive to maintain.


Although this package has has been carefully thought out to


prevent the use of these weapons or equipment contrary to the


interests of the United States it is very difficult to ensure it.


China is the fifth largest exporter of arms in the world after


the United Stated, Soviet Union, England and Grance. In its


desire to earn foreign exchange China is very likely to copy them


and sell them to whoever wants them irrespective of other


considerations. The use of Chinese Silkworm missiles by Iran to


disrupt the Persian Gulf shipping has no moral implications for


the Chinese. A future scenario could be the use of similar, if


not these, weapons by the North Koreans against the South




Although Sino-American trade reached a high mark of $ 7.3


billion last year making the United States China's third most


important trading partner the relations between the two countries


have not warmed up enough. The expulsion of "New York Times"


reporter John Burns in 1986 and two Chinese diplomats from the


United States recently is one such pointer. During the last one


year the Chinese press has devoted a great deal of its attention


to inform its readers about the shortcomings of the American


society and the American political system. On January 20, last


year the "People's Daily" described in detail how the economic


status of Blacks in America had declined over the past decade.


Taiwan remains a major thorn in Sino American relations. The


Chinese are obsessed about the reunification of Taiwan with


mainland China and have been offering a number of incentives to


engineer it. They have even decided to let Hong Kong maintain its


capitalistic profile after it reverts to them in 1997 to display


an example of their flexibility. The refusal of Taiwan to even


consider their porposals makes the Chinese feel that the United


States is not exerting enough pressure of Taiwan.


On the other hand overtures of friendship by the Soviet Union


have yielded some results. After two decades of animosity the two


countries have exchanged visits at the vice premier level.


Cultural and educational exchanges have recommenced and the


Chinese communist party has reestablished ties with its


counterparts in East European countries. Moscow is again actively


assisting the Chinese in modernizing the old Soviet style


factories which still outnumber the western or west-assisted


ones. A possible reason for this may be the fact that the present


day leadership, both within the party and the military, has been


educated at a time when the Soviet influence in China was at its


peak. Many of the top military officers of today were either


trained in the Soviet Union or in the military academies set up


under Soviet guidance.


China has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation


Treaty and its growing nuclear capability has already made it an


entity in the world's power equation. The economic reforms and


the growth rate of country, however, depends on its future


political atmosphere. A change in the country's leadership during


any time in the future may lead to a change or a reversal in the


economic or foreign policy and drastically affect the growth


rate. Even though this seems a remote likelihood at this time the


country's past history is ample proof that one cannot preclude


this possibility.


Deng has over the years reduced the role of the armed forces


in the nation's politics substantially possibly to avenge the


humiliation suffered by him during the Cultural Revolution at the


hands of the army-supported Red Guards. The modernization of the


armed forces has been given the lowest priority. A few cosmetic


changes in the form of badges of rank and new uniforms have been


made to appease the armed forces. Although the men in uniform


still maintain their high morale how long this lasts would have


to be seen. The pay and allowances of the armed forces are very


low compared to their civilian counterparts. An ordinary soldier,


in his first year of service makes an averge of $ 4.00 a month


which is just enough to gain him a single entry into any


provincial discotheque. The strength of the armed forces is being


reduced by a million in order tohave a qualitatively superior


force as opposed to the numerically superior one favoured by


"Maoist" doctrine.


The rehabilitation of these men is expected to pose a


substantial problem for the Chinese leadership. To add to this,


despite extremely strict family planning measures, the country's


population is expected to cross the two billion mark by the year


2050. The economics of employing and feeding these people and the


present fay problems of inflation and the rapidly rising cost of


living is going to be major worry of the future leaders. An


appreciation of these factors will not make it very difficult to


visualize a China of the future nurturing expansionist tendencies


and flexing its muscles to take what it needs or desires.


It is already apparent that, as the Chinese economic and


military power is increasing it is becoming more and more


involved in regional and world affairs. In December, 1985 Wu


Xuequian, the Chinese Foreign minister, stated that, "China will


not sit with arms folded if Vietnam invades Thailand, (but)


..will take forceful measures with Thailand. These "forceful


measures" have been the delivery of tank and artillery by the


Chinese to Thailand. By 1986 the Chinese had also supplied


Pakistan with eleven hundred type "59" tanks, twenty four fast


attack craft, and more than two hundred frontline fighter


aircraft (with over a hundred more on order). In Africa the


Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Somalia, Tanzania, Zaire, Zambia, and


Zimbabwe possess Chinese equipment. (2:24)


The economic problems being faced by the the Soviet Union are


expected to relegate its economy to the fourth position by the


year 2010 causing a decrease of its influence of China will


gradually change the bipolar world as it exists today. Although


this is not likely to occur till we are well into the next


century what happens to the Chinese till then is what happens to


every fourth human in the world and is surely an influene on the


distiny of mankind on the planet Earth.






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