王缉思:China’s Changing Role in Asia[1]

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  This paper is aimed at providing a Chinese perspective on China’s role in Asia and strategy toward its Asian neighbors. It attempts to answer three conceptual questions: (1) What is China’s response to the widely shared perception in recent years about the “rise of China”? (2) What are the principal Chinese concerns in Asia that shape China’s strategy toward the region? And (3) what are the main threads of China’s strategy toward the region against the broader background, especially its relations with the United States?

  

  THE RISE OF CHINA

  

  Despite the aftermath of 9/11 and the war against Iraq, the “rise of China” continues to attract a great deal of international attention. While there are pessimistic assessments pointing to the “coming collapse of China,”[2] most observers are impressed with China’s economic achievements and social progress.[3] The leadership transition in 2002-2003 went smoothly. Both Hu Jintao, the new general secretary of the Communist Party, and Wen Jiabao, the new premier, have projected the image of being moderate, confident, and competent leaders. Few analysts predict political upheavals in the People’s Republic of China in the foreseeable future. At least in the next few years, there will be more continuities than changes in the PRC’s foreign as well as domestic policies.

  

  The international discourse on the “rise of China” and its global and regional impact has already caught the attention of the Chinese leadership. It goes without saying that praises of China’s successes are well received by Chinese leaders and ordinary citizens alike and arouse their sense of national pride. Chinese official speeches, reports, and media coverage for domestic consumption are inundated with descriptions of success stories that have proved the accountability of the Communist Party and the correctness of its policies. They call for the Chinese people to unite and work together to realize the “great revival” of their nation by the middle of the 21st century by building up a “well-off society,” the goal set up by the 16th Communist Party Congress held in November 2002.

  

  By contrast, however, in the international arena the PRC leadership is rather restrained in promulgating the notion of the “rise” or “revival” of China. The Chinese are aware that, despite the progress China has made so far, the existing gap between China and the developed nations, and the United States in particular, is enormous in term of national wealth, standard of living, education, and science and technology. It will take at least decades for China to catch up with the Western world. In the interim, formidable impediments lie on the road ahead that might derail modernization programs.[4] The latest example of such impediments is the unexpected consequences of the epidemic of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which has caused a sharp reduction of tourism and international commercial activities in China in the spring of 2003 and damaged China’s image abroad.

  

  China has been keeping a low profile faced with increased international attention to a “rising” China. The Chinese leadership is conscious of the ambivalent feelings in neighboring countries as well as in the United States and Europe about the growth of Chinese power. The Chinese carefully read comments on “the China threat,” “the coming collapse of China,” and other opinions expressed in international media, but have not overreacted to them. As Vice Premier Qian Qichen, China’s foreign policy architect, commented on Gordon Chang’s book The Coming Collapse of China, “[The author] only wants to promote sales by giving the book such a sensational title.” Qian added, “The ‘China threat’ theory and the ‘China collapse’ theory appear to contradict each other, but they are in fact two sides of the same coin. They both reflect the views of anti-China elements in the world. …They are not worth refuting anyway.” According to Mr. Qian, if China’s comprehensive power today were at the same level as it was decades ago, there would be no such loud voices about the “China threat,” and there will be no market for this theory in a few decades from now when China becomes much more developed.[5] The Chinese leadership has reached the realization that exaggerations of Chinese economic achievements, either by foreigners or by Chinese themselves, might result practically in a reduction of foreign aid and pressures for China to reevaluate its currency and to use more of its foreign trade surplus. In the coming years China is likely to make strenuous public relations efforts to reshape its international image, especially in Asia.

  

  Among Chinese political analysts, a general consensus is that China’s comprehensive national strength is more often than not overrated by the media, including China’s own official media, and the projection of Chinese power abroad will remain very limited in the coming years. However, there are divergent views among Chinese political analysts regarding how China should respond to its actual and perceived growth of power and influence in the world.(点击此处阅读下一页)

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