Disclaimer: This dissertation has been written by a student and is not an example of our professional work, which you can see examples of here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this dissertation are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKDiss.com.

China's Position as a Superpower

Info: 10209 words (41 pages) Dissertation
Published: 7th Oct 2021

Reference this

Tagged: International RelationsInternational Studies

"China is a sleeping dragon. When it awakes, the world will shake”.

(Eccleston H, 2004, p290)

Napoleon Bonaparte made this prophetic comment regarding China in 1808 and it would seem that today China has indeed awoken. (Optimize, 2004p. 1). China has had unprecedented economic growth at around 9.5% perineum, a statistic even more impressive amazing bearing in mind that only in 1978 China was poorer than Korea and Taiwan were in the 1960s. (Nye 1997-98 p. 67). China also shows signs of extending its economic reach and is expanding its ventures into developed states.

Only recently the Chinese firm Nanjing bought the British ailing car firm MG rover for £50 million. (BBC News 2006 p. 1). Also in 2005 the Chinese Lenovo Group acquired IBM’s PC business making Lenovo the third largest PC Company in the world. (Economic Times, 2005 p. 1) There is also a huge inflow of FDI (foreign direct investment) into China. China has established 22,245 new firms attracting $59.2 billion in FDI making a total of $33.4 billion in 2003.

This makes China the top destination for FDI and a country that firms want to do business with. (People’s Daily, 2003). It is thought by some observers that China’s economy at its present rate could eventually overtake that of the US(United States). (Nye 1997-98 p. 67). If this is so, could China surpass the US in other areas and displace the US as the world superpower. There will be huge implication for international relations if this is to be the case.

The writer’s hypothesis is that China’s rise to superpower status will mean a shift of economic, military and cultural power from the west tithe east. Drawing on the work of John Mearsheimer that states are power maximizes, China will continue to pursue power in a bid to become the most powerful state in the international system, a position currently occupied by the US. (Mearsheimer 2001 p. 21).

Even those who advocate that the spread of liberalism will lessen the need for the pursuit of power have not been able to ignore this development. Fukuyama in his book “America at the Crossroads” says that social engineering like that seen in Iraq leads to unexpected consequences and undermines its own ends. Therefore actions which are put forward as promoting peace and democracy turn into something they were not intended to be, the promotion of the national interest of the US. (New York Times, 2006 p. 2).

Therefore a state whose power is so big it is unchecked is unable to police itself and act benevolently in the anarchic system. Its main concern is the accumulation of power and it will not be satisfied as purported by Waltz’ defensive realist view, by only seeking to acquire as much power so as to feel secure. (Bailys& Smith 2005 p. 169-170).

A world dominated by China

A world dominated by China may be very different than the present world that has for the last two centuries been dominated by a western power. As already mentioned China’s rise will not result in it being status quo power and therefore it will not be happy to work within system determined by western values. (Guardian 2005 p. 2). China has different values to that of the west and its rise will lead to the promotion of those values through its economic, military and institutional power.

Therefore as Huntingdon notes, the new fault-lines will not be between ideologies like the two World Wars and the Cold War but between civilizations. This is due to the different views that cultures have in regard to relationships such as the citizen and the state, husband and wife, liberty and equality. (Huntingdon 1993 p.25). The west has promoted its values of liberalism as being the universal values of the world community. But due to the anarchic structure of the system these values have been used to promote its national interest.

China will appeal to those states who have different view of the world that the one being put forward by the US and other western states. These states will have similar cultural values to China which stress the subordination of individual rights and elevate consensus differ from the western beliefs of liberty, equality and individualism. (Huntingdon 1993 p. 29).

Indeed China is forging links with states that the US deems as rogue states such as Iran with its recent gas deal worth $100 billion. The US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran and this gas deal is a clear sign that China does not intend to work within a system determined by the US. Further, Iran is looking to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which could act as a counterweight to US institutional power. (Asia Times 2004 p.1-2).

The writer will look at China’s potential superpower status using the neo-realist theory and its conceptual and methodological framework. This will entail the use of secondary research methods by exploring the concepts of neo-realism through the scholars in this field. This theory rose to prominence during the late 1970s due to the writings of Kenneth Waltz. (Buzau in Zale ski 2002 p. 49).

It rests on the earlier realist perspective of writers such as E H Carr and Hans Morgenthau, which was dominant in international relations in the post-World War II era. Realism also rose due to the inability of the liberal perspective and its principles to maintain peace in Europe. (Bur chill, 2001 p. 71). It was concerned with the causes of war and ways in which it can be prevented. (Buzau in Zale ski 2002 p. 48). EH Carr’s “The Twenty Years Crisis” was a critique of the liberal view that co-operation, under institutions such as the League of Nations, would render war obsolete. Carr’s theory was proven when World War I broke out the day after his book was published. (Bur chill 2001 p.71).

Morgenthau’s work, Politics Amongst Nations (1948) sought to apply positivist methodology used in the natural sciences to international relations. Thus we can draw objective knowledge and laws from the social world in the same way that we can from the natural world. (Bur chill 2001 p. 77). He maintains that politics is governed by objective laws rooted in human nature and that human nature is reflected in the way states behave.

The outcomes of the interaction of states are due to the behaviour of statesmen and thus human nature. (Bur chill 2001 p. 83). Morgenthau and Carr draw on a long philosophical heritage going back to the writings of Thucydides 460BCto 406BC and Niccole Machiavelli 1469 to 1527.

The neo-realist perspective came about in response to the rise of liberal internationalism and their interdependency theory in the1970s. Neo-realism engages with this approach that deems the state tube less significant in an interdependent world due to the rise of institutions, regimes and transnational corporations. (Bailys &Smith 2005 171). Realism recognised that it had to develop new tools to analyse these new developments.

Thus realism reinvented itself sane-realism, acknowledging that such non-governmental actors exist, but they have to work within an anarchical international system where there is no overall authority above that of the sovereign state. This means states can never fully co-operate within these institutions due to the possibility that one state may gain more out of this co-operation. The anarchic structure of the system is where neo-realism departs from the earlier realist theory that human nature determines how states behave.

Waltz’ systemic approach

Waltz’ systemic approach is that it is the structure of the international system that determines the way states behave and not human nature. Despite this departure it can be said that there are core theoretical elements that underpin the earlier classical realism, modern realism of Carr and Morgenthau and Waltz’s structural realism. This is known as the realist triangle of state, survival and self-help. (Bailys & Smith 2005 p. 163).

The primary actor in the international system is the state. This can be traced back to Thucydides’ time when the unit of analysis waste city-state or polis. (Bailys & Smith 2005 p. 163). That said, Carr and Morgenthau were less state-centric in that they did not envisage the state as the final form of political community. (Burchill2001 p. 76). The state is the only legitimate representative of the people and it uses this legitimacy to wield its authority within and outside the state. (Bailys & Smith 2005 p. 163). The second core element is that of survival.

The priority of the state is to ensure its own survival in the anarchic structure of the international system. This concept is present in Machiavelli’s “The Prince” which details what leaders must do to keep hold of their power. (Bailys& Smith 2005 p. 174). The third concept is that of self-help that Waltz deems necessary to gain security in an anarchic structure. Hedley Bull’s “The Anarchical Society”(1977) concurs with Waltz that all states exist in an anarchical society where there is no higher authority than the sovereign state.

Therefore national interest is the state’s first duty that ensures the right for citizens to feel secure within state borders. Self-help is necessary as this cannot been trusted to anyone else and this is achieved through the accumulation of power to reduce vulnerability in the anarchic system of states. The state’s first “law of motion” is to preserve the state and in order to do this it must pursue power. (Bailys & Smith p. 162-3, 169).

The writer has also been inspired by the academic Paul Kennedy (1989)in his book: “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. The writer will use this thesis to assess whether China is rising at the expense of the decline of the US. According to Kennedy’s thesis the rise and fall of power is cyclical thus once a great power has arisen it must inevitably fall. A state that has achieved economic strength will protect that strength using military power but this involves great cost.

Eventually the cost will be too great and the power will decline and be replaced as evidence by the decline of Britain in 1873. (Nye 1990 p. 3) The United States has undoubtedly been the great power of the 20thCentury. Will it remain so during the 21st century or will it fall and be replaced by China thus confirming Kennedy’s thesis that all great powers will eventually follow this decline thus paving the way for the next great power?

There are those who believe the era of the superpower is coming to amend. Fukuyama believes that states will not need to rival each other for power. The spread of liberal democracy and its sidekick liberal economy has “triumphed” over other regimes. (Fukuyama 1992). It is further believed that open economies create interdependency and sharing of common interests. (Nye 1997-98 p. 76). Also, the state is in relative decline due to the emergence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and (World Bank) and also MNCs (multinational corporations. (Bailys& Smith 164).

Even in the US Congress the former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich does not regard China’s growth as in any way a threat whilst there are those who have views to the contrary. This highlights how the theoretical debate translates into apolitical one. There are those who view the universalism of western liberalism as unchallengeable and now the norm.

This view may be borne out by the fragmentation of the Soviet Union but Matthew Rees views China’s position as similar to that of the Soviet Union in that it threatens western values of liberty and democracy. (Nye 1997-98 p.65-66) . Mearsheimer has also warned of complacency against the Chinese threat, stating of the current good relation between the two states: “this US policy (of containment) is misguided. A wealthy China would not be a status quo power, but an aggressive state, determined to achieve regional hegemony” (Mearsheimer 2001)

Another writer in this field Joseph Nye refutes the claim that the state is in relative decline. His thesis is that the classic realist view of states as the most important actors cannot be disputed due merely to the rise of NGOs. This is because it underestimates the nature of the system of states that is anarchic in structure. Therefore if there is no higher authority to settle disputes the state cannot leave its survival to others.

It must ensure its own survival and the only way this can be done is for the state to increase its power capabilities. (Bailys & Smith 164). Thus in regard to on-state actors it is “business as usual” in that non-state actors must still work within a system of states. Thus states will still vie for power within these organisations. (Bailys & Smith p. 173). This is the soft power element of the state.

Definition of power

“Man’s control over the minds and actions of other men”.

(Morgenthau (1948) cited in Bailys & Smith p. 173)

Power is a highly contested concept because it is difficult to assess what elements actually constitute power. The traditional view of powers the possession of resources that include the size of population and territory, military might and economic strength. (Nye 1990 p. 26). Thus the resources of each state can be measured and compared.

But measurement is not enough as evidenced during World War Two when France and Britain had more tanks that Germany but still Germany was able to outmanoeuvre the allies. Therefore when assessing power we also need to assess a state’s ability to convert its resources into such power assume states can do this more effectively than others. (Nye 1990 p.27). These avenues to power will be explored and the evidence that China has these capabilities will be extrapolated.

The basis for power does not remain unchanged and must be assessed in its own context. For example the basis for power in 18th Century Europe was its population as it provided soldiers and tax resources. Today it is much more difficult to pinpoint the resources that provide the basis for power. (Nye 1990 p. 27) It is therefore not sufficient to look at the concept of power merely in terms of hard power or tangible resources. As Nye has noted in the post-cold war era there has been a shift in the balance of power in the anarchic system.

The bipolar world has shifted to one that is unipolar with the US as the sole superpower. The US has exhibited all the usual traits associated with this position such as military, economic and territorial strength. But advances in technology and the emergence of NGOs and MNCs have meant a closer more interdependent world. Interdependence between states does not mean co-operation as liberals purport. It can be used to further national interest and this type of influence is the intangible soft power element of state apparatus. (Nye 1990 p.30).

We can see soft power in action through the Washington consensus where the US is the leader in these institutions. We can also see soft power through the spread of the US’s liberal ideology in terms of economics and politics in what Fukuyama has called the “Triumph of Liberal Democracy”. (Fukuyama, 1992). This soft power has served to reinforce the US’s hard power resources by gaining it consent and legitimacy as the dominant power. (Nye 1990 p. 33).

The universalism of American culture has also helped to further the power of the US by enabling it to establish values and beliefs that are consistent with its own society. Therefore the thesis of this dissertation is that China will be the next superpower by maximizing it’s hard power resources to secure itself in the anarchic system of states. Also, due to interdependence among states and the growth forgoes and MNCs it will seek soft power in its pursuit of power capabilities. The consequences of this systemic shift will mean the promotion of Eastern collective values over Western liberal individualistic tendencies.

Part One: Hard Power Resources

The Economy

If, as Kennedy suggests, China’s rise will be at the expense of the US, then at present most US concerns are directed at rapidly growing Chinese economy. There are certainly some impressive claims being made about the rise of Chinese economic power. Jeremy Warner writes that “like it or not, from China’s impact on finite world resources to climate change and the laws of supply and demand, it is transforming the way we live with a speed barely imaginable just a few years ago(The Independent January 27, 2006).

Over the last 27 years, China has grown at an average rate of 9.6 present per annum, reaching a GDP of £2.2 trillion in 2005 (The Independent January 27, 2006). In 1979, China represented 1 per cent of the world economy, with foreign trade totalling $20.6 billion. Today China accounts for 4 per cent of the world economy, with $851 billion in foreign trade, the third largest in the world (Fijian 2005, p19).There is of course still a lot of progress to be made – China’s economy for example is still only one seventh the size of that of the US(Fijian 2005, p19) but it is the rate of growth, along with plans for future expansion, the country’s high savings ratio, and plans to expand supplies of nuclear , clean coal, hydro-electric and renewable forms of energy that lead US experts to believe that one day China will challenge the US as the world’s dominant superpower. Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary has compared the integration of China into the world economy as one of the three great economic events of the last millennium – on a par with the renaissance and the industrial revolution (The Independent, July 23, 2005).

The US has had similar fears about economic competition in the past. In the early 1980s it had concerns about the economic successes being enjoyed by Germany and Japan – fears that were allayed after stagnation in both countries. With China however, US fears appear to be deeper-rooted, primarily at the incredible rate of progress seen in China. Whilst the US economy may still be much larger at present, the rate of growth in China will continue to narrow the gap quickly. And of course, there is an ideological issue at the heart of the US fears about China– how is a Communist country succeeding where others have stumbled?

The answer lies partly in America’s own attempts to take advantage of the economic conditions in China when Deng Xiaoping began to open up China to the rest of the world. China had historically been an insular nation, separated from the rest of the world and failing to make the most of its earlier technological advances. Deng understood that whilst China had a huge labour force, to succeed it needed to be organised, competitive in international markets and producing the type of goods that the rest of the world wanted to buy.

For this to happen, China would need help from the outside world. The result has been huge foreign investments as companies from across the world have attempted to take advantage of China’s low labour costs. As Stephen King concludes, foreign investors have turned China into the world’s biggest assembly plant: “China may be a one-party state, but the authorities know all about Adam Smith and the division of labour” (The Independent, February 13, 2006).

China is gradually picking off the economies of other G7 nations. Whilst its economy is still considerably smaller than Americas, by the end of 2004 it was bigger economically than France, Italy and Canada(The Independent, February 13, 2006). Germany and Japan are likely tube overtaken soon and then China will have the US firmly in its sights. It will have the opportunity to challenge US regional and global hegemony.

Whilst there is an optimistic view that the economic growth in China will lead to long-term mutually beneficial cooperation with the US, more likely outcome is growing tension between the two. As China continues to grow, it will gradually begin to demand more of the world’s scarce resources – oil prices for example are already high and may be pushed higher by Chinese demand. The same will happen with other commodities with the result that China’s success increases the commodity bill for US consumers and increases global competition for raw materials. The US consumer may also put pressure on the government to curb Chinese economic expansion. With petrol being so lightly taxed in the US, motorists are affected directly by oil price rises. As The Economist reports: “they want somebody to blame and they may have heard that China is scouring the world to lock op oil supplies for its own ‘energy security’” (The Economist, September 3, 2005).

Both the US and China have some common economic interests. Both benefit from free trade for example. However, with China now exporting six times as much to the US as it imports from it (The Economist, September3, 2005)., it is now China that has the most to gain, something of an irony after years of America hammering on its door to access Chinese markets. There have also been concerns in the US that China is trying to but its way into strategic assets within the US. In June 2005,CNOOC, a Chinese state controlled company attempted to buy Unocal, medium sized US oil company. Hawks within the US administration argued against allowing oil firms to fall into Chinese hands and, with public opinion in the US against the deal, it eventually fell through.

The Chinese view on globalisation has been mixed. There is a view that globalisation gives a stronger reason for economic cooperation between economically strong states and certainly the acceptance of global brands into Chinese culture supports the argument that it has embraced globalisation. On the other hand, globalisation tends to reinforce US and Western interests first and foremost and the 1997-99 Asian financial crisis has convinced many within China that it could expose Chinese economic vulnerability. As Foot concludes: “with America’s advantage in technological innovation, revolution in military affairs and cultural domination, globalisation seemed to confer gains on Washington and thus further to reinforce the unipolar structure” (Foot2006 p82).

Military Power

To assess China’s rise to Superpower status we need to look at how it ranks in regard to military strength and capability. (Waltz 1979 p.131). The Neo-Realist view is that the nation-state is the most natural form of society and it should be defended for the national good. (Kennedy p. 90). Armies are essential for controlling land and bringing security to the nation state and which is the main objective in a world of states in a system of anarchy. (Mearsheimer p. 86). Due to competition for resources in a world of anarchy military powers a crucial instrument of the national interest. (Garnett, 1987 p.71). Thus military power is monopolised by states and used to protect states from external force. It is the capacity to kill, coerce or destroy and plays a significant part in international politics that will not be supplanted until the system of states is transformed. (Garnett 1987, p. 69-71). Those who have the most military strength are usually the most influential and the most respected in the system and certainly a proposition shared by Mao Ste-Tung’s saying that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. (Garnett 1987, p.74).

Recent analyses of the Chinese military threat from Washington have expressed growing concern. The 2005 Pentagon report concluded that China could threaten not just its smaller regional neighbours like Taiwan but eventually “modern militaries operating in the region.” This can be taken to include the US. (Washington Post July 23, 2005).

Yee and Storey suggest that there are a number of contributing factors to the belief that China is gradually attempting to extend its influence in the region – 1)its territorial disputes with other countries in the region have intensified, 2) its rapid economic development has accelerated its military modernisation process and 3)China has elevated re-unification with Taiwan as a higher priority following the successful retrocession of Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in1999(Yee and Storey, p4).

These factors can be interpreted as evidence of strategic expansion in the region, with territorial claims on the islets in the South China Sea being seen in particular by China’s neighbours as a sign of a policy of expansion. The hard-line policy on Taiwan and the refusal to abandon the threat of military force against it is also seen as evidence of an aggressive state. As Harry Harding writes:

“the rest of the world has viewed the prospect of a Greater China with both fascination and alarm. Some see it in benign terms, as a dynamic common market that provides growing opportunities for trade and investment. More frequently, however, there has been concern that the combination of economic and military resources available to China will pose a significant threat to the commercial vitality and the strategic stability of the rest of the region” (Yee and Storey p4).

There is certainly evidence that China is building up its military capability to the point where it could at least challenge the US in the region. Whilst Kennedy had written in 1989 that China’s army is strong numerically but “woefully under equipped in modern instruments of war”(Kennedy 1989, p577), more recently China has bolstered its naval, submarine and cruise missile capabilities, is in the process of purchasing advanced aircraft systems and is building a nuclear missile arsenal that is capable of striking virtually all of the United States(Washington Post, July 23, 2005).

Whilst much has been made of Chinese reforms since 1979 since in terms of economic growth, it is important to realise that there have been great efforts made to reorganise the military from the early 1980sonwards. Plans were put in place to reduce the People’s Liberation Army from 4.2 million to 3 million (Kennedy 1989, p579) and develop a much more professional force with a higher quality of personnel.

In 2000, the total estimated strength of the Chinese military was 2.5million, of which an estimated 1.8 million are ground forces. The overall strategy for the PLA is an overall reduction and reorganisation of both equipment and personnel with a view to creating a more modern and mobile army.

In terms of equipment, China falls a long way behind the US military but is looking to modernise. It has a tank inventory of around10,000,many of which are Soviet or Chinese built. Its air force possesses around 4,350 aircraft, the majority of which are combat aircraft. The government is also looking to develop a local aerospace industry that would have the capability to produce technologically advanced aircraft, whilst continuing to import aircraft from Russia. The government also has plans to buy a number of AWAC aircraft from Israel.

More recently there have been statements from Chinese military strategists that indicate that China is gearing up to use its military hard power resources. Taiwan will be the most likely arena for the flexing of Chinese military power. General Wen Zinger , political commissar of the Academy of Military Science has stated that the Taiwan problem “is of far reaching significance to breaking international forces blockade against China’s rise… to rise suddenly, China must pass through oceans and go out of the oceans in its future development(Washington Post July 23, 2005).

For proponents of the Chinese threat, such statements support the realist view that China is seeking to increase then demonstrate its power in the international arena. Just as Morgenthau argues that the pursuit of power in world politics is both natural and justified, surrealists will argue that China will become unsatisfied with the existing global power structure and adopt a policy of imperial expansionism aimed at attaining both regional and global hegemony (Yeaned Storey 2002, p7). Whilst China also has the option of economic and cultural means to accomplish its strategic objectives, military force remains the most traditional form of imperialism, and the most likely course for China to take once its economy is fully developed.

Joseph Nye observes that the ‘rise’ of China is actually a misnomer and that a more accurate term would be the re-emergence of China. Certainly, China has long been a major power in East Asia, and technologically and economically it was the world’s leader (though without global reach) from 500 to 1500, before being overtaken by Europe and America. Indeed, China’s re-emergence would equate with Kennedy’s argument that power across the globe is cyclical.

China already has some issues with the US and the other great powers over foreign policies. As a member of the UN Security Council it has traditionally opposed the views of Western states on the international arena and is continuing to do so in spite of its closer economic ties with the West. Whilst China may accept that at the present time it must operate in a US-dominated unipolar world, it believes that its future should at least lie in a multipolar world encompassing the US, China, Europe, Russia and Japan (Foot, 2006, p81).

Certainly during the 1990sthere was Chinese unease at the continued American dominance in global affairs with issues such as further NATO expansion eastward, the renegotiation of terms of the US-Japan alliance, US defence missile systems and intervention in Kosovo being of particular concern.

China’s population can be both a hard power resource and a burden. Its current population of 1.3 billion is expected to continue to rise until2030 when it will peak at 1.5 billion before going into decline. Population of such a size is of course a huge resource in terms of manpower, yet a huge burden on the domestic economy and from a domestic security point of view and massive number of people over which to maintain effective control. Western states continue to lobby the Chinese government for greater democratisation, yet the fear of anarchy from a more liberalised system would appear to be keeping the leadership committed to an authoritarian regime.

From a realist perspective, it is the combination of economic and military power of China that will ultimately lead to conflict with thus. The build-up of such hard resources will be seen as a threat by thus regardless of any ‘good neighbour’ policies that Chinese diplomats may point to. Realists within the US policy making sphere will argue that China is merely biding its time until its economy is strong enough to provide a basis for future hegemony. Thucydides argument that the belief in the inevitability of conflict can be the cause of war is appropriate here – if both sides believe they will eventually end up in conflict, the military build-up will continue, economic cooperation will fade away, and conflict will become unavoidable. China will eventually have to seek further power in order.

Certainly, as the Chinese economy continues to grow, it is likely that its military power will increase. For example, early in 2005, it announced a 12.6 per cent increase in defence spending (Nye, Daily Times March 27, 2005), something that makes it appear more dangerous touts neighbours and further complicating US military commitments in Asia. A RAND study has projected that China’s military expenditure will be more than six times higher than Japans by 2015 and accumulated military capital stock at around five times higher (Daily Times, March27, 2005), again something that suggests it is looking to achieve regional hegemony before aiming its sights higher and looking for global hegemony.

Whilst a global military challenge to the US in the short term is unlikely, there is certainly a possibility that China could challenge the US in East Asia, or even more probably over Taiwan. China would almost certainly intervene militarily if Taiwan were ever to declare independence, irrespective of the military or economic cost. No Chinese leader can afford to be seen as the one that lost Taiwan permanently and at present, the West’s main concern about the Chinese military rests around possible action in Taiwan.

China’s perception of US strategic aims is also an important factor, particularly set against the theory that two nations that believe in the inevitability of war will eventually come into conflict. There has been criticism within China of the Bush administration’s attempts to move the focus of strategic policy away from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This has included an increase in military assistance to Taiwan, and, in the eyes of some Chinese commentators, adjusted China into the position of strategic enemy. Undoubtedly, in the eyes of some US officials, China is already a strategic competitor or opponent rather than a partner. Zhou Jamming has commented that the US view of China is something that could escalate tension between the two nations:

“the security situation we face now is that we are being treated as the main opponent, not the secondary opponent, by the world’s only superpower. The situation is not temporary, but will continue for a long time. When faced with such a situation, we must consider our country’s national security strategy, national development strategy and national unification strategy from the perspective of a worst not best, possible (scenario) and from a practical situation rather than idealistic principles. Only then can we stand firm and face the current severe situations” (Nye and Storey p31).

Similarly, at present, whilst the US still has an undoubted military and economic superiority over China, it can be the perception of threat that can lead to tension between China and other nations. Yeaned Storey argue that it is an imagined or hypothetical Chinese threat that may hinder its relations with other countries, distorting its image across the globe and so having a negative impact on its open door policy and the process of democratisation (Yee and Storey p33).

Many Chinese, including elements of the leadership find it difficult to understand that the West sees the country as such a threat. There is feeling amongst the Chinese that the West is attempting to demonise China and that the idea of China as a threat is indeed becoming threat to China in itself. The neorealist view that an emerging power will eventually generate confrontation with an existing power is almost self-perpetuating – the belief in the West that China is a threat will eventually force China to act aggressively in its own defence.

Within China, the theory of the Chinese threat is seen as evidence that Western powers do not wish China to become strong, powerful and prosperous. In fact, the idea of a Chinese threat has itself become motivating force for Chinese nationalism. The accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 sparked a wave of anti-Western demonstrations across China. Clearly there is an element faint-Western feeling that may manifest itself in a more serious form in the future.

China continues to strengthen its regional alliances, a further sign that it sees itself as a long-term challenger to US dominance. In August 2005, it carried out its first joint military manoeuvres with Russia (The Economist September 3, 2005) and whilst both nations stated that the event was an anti-terrorist operation, it is hard to believe that there was not an implicit message to the US involved. Of equal concern to the US, is Russia’s supplying of military equipment to China. During the recent joint manoeuvres, Russia deployed strategic bombers that military analysts believe China would like to buy as part of preparation for possible future conflict with the US over Taiwan.

China’s hard power resources are still a good way behind those of thus. However there is evidence that its economy will certainly continue to grow in the coming decades into a position where it becomes a direct competitor to the US. The Chinese military is also reorganising and building up its strength. If it can do so to the same extent that the economy, then China will have the hard power resources to challenge US dominance.

Soft Power Resources

Soft power resources can encompass a number of different factors, from a nation’s ability to influence and set the agenda on the international stage, to the appeal of its culture, values and beliefs. In the case of China, its lack of democracy and poor human rights record have led to questions about its values and beliefs, yet its recent economic development, the positive nature of its public and official diplomacy and the strength of its business community have contributed to an increase in its soft power. It is an important concept; whilst there has been a great deal of attention paid to China’s growing economic and military power, far less has been paid tithe rise of its soft power, and – as Nye suggests: “in a global information age, soft sources of power such as culture, political values and diplomacy are part of what makes a great power. Success depends on not only whose army wins, but also on whose story wins (Wall Street Journal Asia 29 December 2005).

Chinese leaders have primarily utilised soft power resources in an attempt to portray itself as a still developing nation with a long term strategy no more ambitious than establishing itself as a great power, yet still secondary to the US in a still unipolar world. Whilst realists will argue that China is a long-term threat to US global dominance, a number of other commentators see China’s aims as peaceful. This is very much the impression that the leadership likes to portray. General Xing Sizing, President of the National Defence University has written:

“Chinas socialist system determines that my country will always adopt an independent and peaceful foreign policy, aiming at retaining world and regional peace as well as a good neighbourly policy towards our border states. China’s socialist system also determines that my country will always adopt a defensive national defence policy and military strategy. Now and in the future, my country will not seek global or regional hegemony, nor will join any military alliances, nor will participate in any form of arms race, will not station troops or establish military bases abroad, and will not start a war to invade another country” (Nye & Storey, p27).

Rosemary Foot argues that the Chinese accept US dominance on the international stage, whilst being confident that China is at least on the rise, unlike former superpower rival Russia. Whilst China has increased its military spending over the last decade it is not about to exhaust itself in an unproductive arms race with the US (Foot 2006p83).

Foot suggests that from the start of its reform period in 1979, the key goal for China has been achieving a comprehensive national strength, something that requires a peaceful regional and global environment. Again, the Chinese leadership has attempted to influence others that its rise would be benign and mutually beneficial – the Foreign Minister stated in 2002 that “the development of China is not challenge, nor a threat, it is a new opportunity for development” (Foot2006, p85).

The messages coming out of China, in effect the show of soft power, consistently suggests that the nation simply wants to concentrate omits economic development without any form of conflict. Sheng Fijian argues that China will transcend ideological differences to strive for peace, development and cooperation with other nations that will be beneficial for all (Fijian 2005, p22). China’s development targets for the next 50 years are also designed to reassure the US that its intentions are peaceful, targeting a doubling of its GDP by 2010, further doubling by 2020, with an aim to advance until 2050 until it Isa prosperous, civilised nation, on a par with the middle rung of nations (Fijian 2005, p24).

The Chinese leadership would also like to portray its acceptance that the US remains the only country with the capacity and ambition for global primacy. It will argue that the US has sufficient hard power advantages over any other nation to remain dominant, that military victory in Afghanistan has strengthened the US position as it now has political, military and economic footholds in Central Asia and that it has also strengthened its military presence in South East Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula.

Wang Jixi supports the Chinese leadership in attempting to set this type of agenda, arguing that the gap between the two nations is too great for a US-USSR style confrontation. He states, “China’s political, economic, social and diplomatic influences on the US are far smaller than the US influences on China” (Jixi 2005, p41).

From 1996,China has adopted a ‘new security concept’ as a way to boost its soft power. With this concept it has moved away from power politics to develop a more prominent role in promoting regional security. Number of its actions have been designed to boost its standing in the region: it offered assistance to neighbours during the 1997-99financial crisis; it has engaged with the ASEAN regional Forum Adaptec; in November 2002 it signed up to the Declaration of parties in the South China Sea, renouncing violent means of dealing with disputed sovereignty claims in these waters, and; in 2004 it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group and applied for membership of the Missile Technology Control Scheme (Foot 2006, p86).

China has also stepped up its contribution to UN peace building and peacekeeping operations in an attempt to portray itself as a responsible emerging power. Even in its direct relations with the US, China has attempted to accommodate when possible. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, China allowed the FBI to set up a legal attaché office in Beijing (Foot 2006, p86)and whilst disagreeing with the war in Iraq, was less vocal in its criticism than the likes of France and Germany. The only issues over which China has consistently disagreed with the US in recent years are Taiwan, US criticisms of its human rights record and China’s view that the US has attempted to undermine the role of the UN Security Council.

Whether the Chinese government actually has a defined strategy for soft power is debatable. Soft power generally stems from non-governmental institutions such as businesses or cultural groups rather than particular governmental actions, yet in China it would appear that soft power tools are operating within a framework developed by the government. Whilst it lacks the economic power of more developed nations, China has stepped up its aid to developing nations and has built up a range of bilateral relations with nations as diverse as Russia, India, France, Iran and Brazil (Foot 2006 p85) to serve as a form of insurance policy should relations with the US deteriorate.

Soft power can also include the promotion of language and culture. China promotes the spread of its language and culture both throughout South East Asia and the rest of the world and more recently there has been an increase in outbound tourism, again boosting the image of China, particularly across South East Asia. Enrolment of foreign students into China has increased from 36,000 to 110, 000 over the last decade and the number of foreign tourists has increased to 17 million(Wall Street Journal. 29 December 2005). Chinese books, television shows and brands are growing in popularity across the region and into Europe – for example Kieran, shirt sponsors of Everton FC, used the profile of the Premiership to build awareness of its mobile phone brand. (Eaves, Epson & Fletcher 2005).

China is attempting to enter the area of global popular culture as well, a further method of exercising soft power. The 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature was won by Chinese novelist Gaol Xingjian and the Chinese film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was the highest grossing on-English film (Wall Street Journal Asia, December 29, 2005). In thus, Chinese basketball player Yao Ming is the star of the US National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets and of course Beijing is set-to host the 2008 Olympic Games.

China will also point to its lack of resources in some areas as another tactic in the sphere of soft power. Whilst its economy has made huge gains, Chinese officials will argue that in per capita terms it remains ranked 100th in the world (Fijian 2005 (p20), a fact that leaves it ranked as still a low-income developing country. China will also suggest to those who see it as a threat that is still has huge poverty and a scarcity of natural resources. It’s per capita water resources are one quarter of the world average, it’s per capita resources of cultivable farmland 40 per cent of world averages and its per capitol and gas resources are 8.3 per cent and 4.1 per cent of world averages respectively (Fijian 2005 p20). In diplomatic circles, China will use facts such as these to play down its ambitions. It will suggest that it is different to emerging powers of the past in that its rise is driven by capital, technology and resources acquired through peaceful means rather than by wars of aggression.

Ultimately China’s greatest soft power resource is its ability to influence on the international stage and maintain the concept that it’s not a threat to the US or the second rung of world powers. Whilst realists may ignore this line of argument, there are many others who have been persuaded. Rosemary Foot summarises the views of those who accept the Chinese line: “China does not seek hegemony or predominance in world affairs. It advocates a new international, political and economic order, one that can be achieved through incremental reforms and the democratisation of international relations. China’s development depends of world peace – a peace that its development will reinforce(Foot 2006, p25).

China’s soft power is an important resource. The spread of Chinese culture across south east Asia is gradually extending its influence throughout the region and its ability to sell itself as a peaceful nation on the world stage is convincing some to turn a blind eye to the dangers of its economic and military gains.

Part Three: Liberalism or Authoritarianism?

China’s authoritarian socialist political system is seen as another important factor contributing to the Chinese threat. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, China has taken on the mantle of being the world’s last major communist power. Over the same period, a number of other regimes in East Asia have overthrown authoritarian regimes and embraced democracy – for example South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines.

China has made little progress in moving towards democratic reform, despite Western pressure that followed the Tiananmen Square incident in1989 and this remains one of the major sources of tension between China and the West. The Chinese leadership refuses to accept or adopt Western democratic values or to share its centrally controlled political power with its population. Those who have attempted to push for peaceful political reform in China have been frustrated despite the spread of liberal democratic values and ideas in other parts of the region. It Isa situation that continues to put China at odds with the US and other major powers. As Yee and Storey conclude:

“As far as the West is concerned, socialism is no longer a viable political system and there’s continuous resistance to democratisation is unacceptable” (Yeaned Storey, p3).

There are of course vast ideological differences between China and thus, the superpower that it may one day usurp. From a realist perspective, it is these differences that will lead the two nations almost inevitably into conflict should China’s economic rise continue. There are two broadly contrasting views of relations between the US and China: firstly the hope that China will find long-term accommodation with the US and the economic benefits of partnership will outweigh the need for confrontation and; secondly the realist view that predicts conflict on the grounds that China will eventually be tempted to try-out its military strength, and also that the US will never tolerate China as a world power of even as a secondary world power in Asia and the Pacific.

The ideological differences between the two are beginning to emerge, particularly amongst US conservatives. Many feel that China’s military build-up plus its sale of arms to states seen as ‘rogue’ by the US is threat. Others are concerned that Chinese bids for US oil firms are part of a strategy to ‘buy up’ America and threaten its security, whilst ideological differences with the American Christian Right are even more pronounced – the lack of religious freedom and birth quotas in particular are repellent to many in the US (The Economist, September2005).

The US military and defence policy makers also view with concern the improvements in the military capability of what they see as a nasty authoritarian regime. The Pentagon is rightly concerned that China’s rapidly modernising army appears to be far larger and better equipped than its own defensive needs require. A recent review concluded that:

“China does not now face a direct threat from another nation. Yet, it continues to invest heavily in its military, particularly in programmes designed to improve its power projection” (The Economist, September 3,2005)

China most certainly appears willing to make alliances with countries that are seen as unacceptable to the US – Iran is the most obvious example of this. The West also needs to realise that there are plenty of other nations that do not necessarily aspire to the Western democratic model of government and may look to China than the West’s liberal democracies for future alliances. China’s economic success under an authoritarian regime must give food for thought to political leaders elsewhere. Russia for example, with its history of autocratic tsars and a communist one party state may come to see China as a role model for economic recovery.

As Stephen King argues:

“China’s strength not only changes its relative economic position vis-à-vis the US, but through boosting the incomes of commodity-producing nations around the world, is making them think twice about their support for US economic and political hegemony” (The Independent, February 13, 2006).

There are in essence, two fundamentally contradictory forces within Chinese politics that mirror encapsulate the tensions between liberalism and authoritarianism.

Economically, China has fully embraced capitalism and has made a success out of doing so. Domestic politics however remains based on an old-fashioned Soviet style Politburo and Central Committee. The free market economy has been readily accepted, yet at the same time the leadership governs in a repressive manner, keeping a tight control over many aspects of people’s lives. Censorship of the media is strictly controlled and the government goes as far as employing large numbers of bureaucrats whose sole job it is to censor internet website deemed as ‘contrary to the revolutionary ideals of the government” (www.queensjournal.ca).

China has also realised that US global hegemony is not merely economic, military or territorial. The US also uses ideology as a weapon across the globe, highlighting democracy and human rights as values that should be the international norm. US intervention abroad for example, is usually carried out under the flag of fighting for democracy. Obviously, the two nations have little in common in this area – China may well see itself as a standard bearer for other forms of government, those that do not necessarily conform to the Western style forms of liberal democracy.

The clash between authoritarianism and liberal democracy is likely to remain a key element of relation between China and the West. The US remains outwardly committed to the spread of Western friendly democracy across the globe, whilst Chinese leaders remain steadfastly opposed touch values. Such a clash of values leaves little real hope furlong-term strategic partnership between China and the US. If China reaches a point where its economic and military strength equals that of the US, conflict over ideology is a likely consequence.


The US holds the unchallenged position of being the world’s only superpower at present. International relations take place in a unipolar world, where a tier of great powers such as Germany, Japan and the Unveil for position in a second tier of states. None of these states are likely to challenge the global hegemony enjoyed by the US.

China however is different. It may at the present be time be further behind the US than other powerful states, but such is the speed of its economic growth that it seems inevitable that it will, within the next two to three decades, be best placed of the rest of the nations in the world to challenge US dominance.

There is some debate as to whether China really wishes to challenge thus – it may be more beneficial to work as a strategic partner and assume the benefits of economic cooperation with the US. The difficulty however, is that the established nation state system may not allow this to happen. The temptation to pursue further power from a position of strength has guided states for many centuries.

The fact that China’s economic growth may one day put it on an equal footing with the US will almost inevitably lead the two into conflict. The US will increasingly see China as a threat, and China will eventually reach a point where, for its own security, it will feel it necessary to challenge the US.

There are contrasting views as to how China’s rise will affect the future international order. Whilst the argument of Kennedy et al is that the dominance of all superpowers must eventually to end, there Isa view that the US position is simply too strong to be overtaken and certainly that China is too far behind ever to challenge the US militarily. China certainly prefers to suggest that is unlikely to ever seriously challenge US hegemony.

The relative hard power and soft power resources of the existing superpower and the emerging power give some idea as to whether China can overtake the US. At present, the US economy remains considerably larger than the Chinese, yet notably the gap is shrinking. Most economic analysts predict Chinese parity in the next 30 to 40 years. In military terms, the US appears even further ahead of China, yet it would seem that China is now making a determined effort to rectify this.

Military spending is on the increase and a more modern, professional military is appearing. Much of the Chinese military still remains outdated, yet as its economy grows, as does its capacity to invest in its military. It may be some time before China can challenges global hegemony, but gradually China is flexing its military muscles and exerting a greater regional influence. Neorealist theory argues that a growth in military strength will follow a rise in economic power and this is what is happening in China. Its increase in defence spending in recent years would suggest that it has ambitions greater than simply maintaining its own regional security.

China would appear to have advantages over the US in terms of soft power and is becoming increasingly influential on the international stage because of this. The war in Iraq has damaged the international reputation of the US and thus its ability to influence indirectly the actions of other states. The deaths of Iraqi civilians and a growing belief that the conflict was engineered to give the US access to Iraqi oil has lessened the ability of the US to utilise soft power and win the hearts and minds of other states.

China’s opposition to the war and support for the role of the UN in contrast has put it in a better light with other states opposed to the US action. The continued efforts of Chinese diplomacy to sell the idea of its ‘peaceful rise’ is again a triumph for soft power and something that is allowing the Chinese to continue its economic and military growth without the concern that it perhaps justifies. China’s ability to form partnerships and alliances with nations from different parts of the globe and with a variety of political systems also serves of evidence of its growing influence. With this there is a likelihood of a growing movement of social, economic and political power from West to East. The continued growth of Chinese influence may lead to the Western liberal democratic values becoming more marginalized across the globe.

The classic realist argument of the likes of Morgenthau was that the tendency to seek power and dominate is a natural element of all human associations and thus part of the essence of international politics. Agnation state will pursue its political power and national interest ball available instruments. China is doing this at present through economic growth. It is its most effective means at present of maintaining the national interest. At some point however, China will have to consider the use of military force to further its interests.

The scarcity of natural resources will almost certainly bring China into confrontation with the US – a state that is unlikely to accommodate an equal in military or economic terms. China may have peaceful ambitions but this will matter little once its economic strength begins to threaten US dominance – the two nations are to far apart ideologically to accommodate each other in a multipolar strategic partnership. At some point conflict will arise, and if China’s military over the next few decades can match the economic growth already seen, it will be well on the way to overturning US dominance and becoming the next world superpower.


BIJIAN Z, China’s Peaceful Rise to Great Power Status, Foreign Affairs Journal, vol 84 (5), September 2005

BULL, H., (1977). The Anarchical Society. London: Macmillan

BUZAN,B., (1991) People, States and Fear: An Agenda for InternationalSecurity Studies in the Post Cold War Era. (2nd ed). London: HarvesterWheatsheaf

BUZAN B, FOOT R, Does China matter?, 2004, Routledge, London

ECCLESTON H, Megacrises, Xlibris 2004

FOOT R, Chinese Strategies in a US-hegemonic global order:accommodating and hedging, International Affairs Journal, VOL 82 (6),January 2006

FUKUYAMA, F., (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. London: Penguin

HUNTINGDON, S., The Clash of Civilisations. Foreign Affairs Journal. Summer 1993, 72: 3

JISI, W, China’s Search for Stability with America, Foreign Affairs Journal 84(5) September 2005

KENNEDY, P., (1989). The rise and fall of the Great Powers: EconomicChange and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. London: Fontana Press

KING STEPHEN, Deng's revolution means China is set to overtake Americaas biggest economy within 30 years, The Independent, February 13, 2006

MEARSEIMER J The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York, Norton 2001

KEOHANE, R., AND NYE, J., (1988) Complex Interdependence in theInformation Age in KEGLEY, C., AND WITTKOPF, E., (2001). WorldPolitics: Trends and Transformations. 8th ed. St Martins: New York

NYE, J., (1990). Bound to lead: the changing nature of American Power. New York: Basic Books

NYE, J., China’s Re-emergence and the Future of the Asia-Pacific. Survival. Winter 1977-98, 39: 4.

NYE J, China’s Peaceful Rise?, Daily Times, March 27, 2005

WARNER JEREMY, Excitement, confusion and fear: the reaction to the Chinese phenomenon, The Independent, January 27, 2006

YEE H & STOREY I (2002), The China Threat, London, Routledge


BBC NEWS: (2006) Chinese get more time over Rover.

OPTIMIZE MAGAZINE: (2004) Exploring Global Paths.

THE ECONOMIC TIMES: (2005) New emerging trends in India, China. www.economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/978117.cms [Accessed 5 March2006]

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

Related Content

All Tags

Content relating to: "International Studies"

International Studies relates to the studying of economics, politics, culture, and other aspects of life on an international scale. International Studies allows you to develop an understanding of international relations and gives you an insight into global issues.

Related Articles

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this dissertation and no longer wish to have your work published on the UKDiss.com website then please: