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Foreign Policy

The Assumption that a Rising China Seeks Hegemony is Wrong

Mar 04 , 2015
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

China’s fast growth in the last few decades has caused certain misconceptions and anxiety among a few scholars on defense and security in the United States. A recent extreme case is the assumption that China has a “secret strategy” to replace the U.S. as the global superpower around 2049. Although it is claimed that this assumption has been formed by drawing on Chinese documents, speeches, and books (many of which have never been translated into English), Chinese scholars question the logic and inferences applied in the assumption that might have made a tiny error develop into an awful blunder. The strong desire from some American scholars’ to maintain U.S. dominance in world affairs is natural and easy to understand, especially when they are watching a rising China. However, they should be more objective in observing and conducting research on China and Sino-U.S. relations. To set the record straight in order to reach comparatively objective conclusions, the following facts are not to be ignored.

It has become a mainstream idea in Sino-U.S. relations that for the last half century, China and the U.S. have been constantly searching for and expanding common interests in line with the international situation and changes in the world structure. It took about 22 years for the two countries to end estrangement and hostility and to open up a new historical period of cooperation and consultation based on common interest and mutual benefits. Factors leading to the Sino-U.S. opening have involved a number of key issues, such as China’s position and role in world affairs, resolution of differences on Taiwan, the threat of Soviet expansionism, ending the war in Vietnam, and so on. Neither China nor the U.S. played a more dominant role in their relations because the historical situations have been so complex. It is harmful to purposely conclude that it is not the U.S., but China who dominated the processes, largely for resisting Soviet expansion.

Since U.S. president Nixon’s visit to China, common interest between the two countries grew not only for their cooperation in the struggle against the Soviet expansionism, but also for the expansion of exchanges in the economic and educational areas due to China’s policy of reform and opening-up to the outside world. It should be stressed that cooperation and exchanges in military and security areas are mutually beneficial, not bestowed as a U.S. unilateral favor to China. It is not realistic or even ridiculous to attempt to change China into a U.S.-style “democratic” state by providing China with technology or capital.

Beyond all expectations, the breakup of the Soviet Union, or the evaporation of the original strategic basis for Sino-U.S. relations, didn’t stop the momentum of developing bilateral relations between China and U.S. With China’s economic growth – even amid controversies over human rights, issues involving Taiwan and Tibet, arms control policies, regional security and business relations – Sino-US relations have witnessed unprecedented expansion in the past 23 years. Last year the bilateral trade volume surpassed 550 billion USD, bilateral investment reached more than 100 billion USD, and there has been remarkable progress in exchanges and cooperation in the areas of culture, education and tourism. Military exchanges, though short of cooperation in technology and equipment, have also increased in recent years in more areas than ever before. The encouraging tendency is that the two countries are moving from avoiding accidental conflict or confrontation to sustainable cooperation by increasing strategic mutual trust. With world economic globalization surging, the two economies are merging together at an irreversible pace. When one suffers, the other cannot remain free from being encumbered.

China’s rise is inevitable, which can never be stopped by any force in the world. China had been the largest economy in the world for centuries before prior to the 19th century, but lagged behind in the early 19th century, and the gap with the rising world powers became larger after the Opium War in 1840. It is not a surprise that China will again be the largest economy in the world in the near future. China has two “hundred-year dreams,” one is from 1921 to 2021, that is the dream of the 100 years of the Communist Party of China(CPC), the goal of which is for China to resolve the problems of food, clothing, housing and daily necessities for its entire population, and the other is from 1949 to 2049, that is the dream of the 100 years of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the goal of which is for China to reach a middle-level for developed countries in terms of economics and social development. Even by 2049, there will still be a big gap between China and the U.S., and there will be no such a thing as China’s replacement of the U.S. as the global superpower. China’s population is four times that of the U.S. When will per capita GDP of China be equal to that of the U.S.? Perhaps, the answer will not be available for a fairly long historical period. Therefore, it is purely an illusory assumption that China has a “secret strategy” to replace the U.S. as the global superpower in 2049, not to mention China does not have that intention at all.

With a Cold War mentality and zero-sum game logic, such a stale approach to observing China often leads to misunderstanding and misjudgments, resulting in the theory of China threat. Neglecting all the important characteristics of China’s rise are among the main causes for the blemish in observation and research. China is doing its utmost to make her rise peaceful and beneficial to all, believing that all countries, big or small, are equal in international affairs, and big powers, including China and the U.S., should and can build a new type of relations based on mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. A rising China can not only live in peace with the U.S., but also work together with the U.S. to realize the long-term goal of sustainable common security and common prosperity for the whole world.

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