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Foreign Policy

Understanding China’s Peaceful Development

Feb 17 , 2014
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

Since the concept of peaceful development was first proposed in 2004, it has been written into the reports of the 17th and 18th Party Congress, which has become one of the core international strategic tenets of China’s ruling party. China’s top leaders have also shown the determination and will to follow the path of peaceful development on a number of public occasions. In the international community, however, there is still quite a lot of doubts and misunderstanding of China’s peaceful development strategy. This is mainly reflected in three ways: (1) China’s peaceful development is expedient; (2) peaceful development is unconditional; (3) peaceful development can be used as a “magic screw” to restrict China’s international actions. 

Chen Jimin

For the first misperception, it is mainly because some Westerners hold an outdated international relations theory. In their view, a rising power always uses non-peaceful means to compel the international community to recognize its new international status. That is to say, the rising power challenges the hegemonic power with force to achieve a power transfer. In fact, it is a strategic choice for China to follow a path of peaceful development in light of the development trend of the times and the basic national conditions. The international community has been formed in a highly interdependent and interconnected pattern in the age of globalization. Anyone who seeks policies for absolute interests would not be worth listening to. In other words, the old thinking of zero-sum game fails to adapt to the current era. Chinese government and people have the wisdom, the will and the sincerity to avoid repeating the “tragedy of great power politics.” 

Chinese traditional culture is essentially introverted civilization, which focuses on the domestic affairs without any intention or enthusiasm for expansion. In modern times, however, China suffered passively in the international system dominated by the West and then experienced a tough and difficult period. In this regard, some foreign scholars believe that past suffering may lead to a surge in Chinese nationalist sentiments after China’s rise, thereby endangering other countries’ interests. On the contrary, China has learned two main lessons from modern history: one is that China needs to build a powerful, prosperous country; the other is that China must safeguard its peace and stability. As a matter of fact, the countries who have experienced suffering know the valye of peace and stability best. Additionally,  it is irrational for China to take any initiative to be assertive or aggressive, as it is likely to interrupt the process of China’s modernization. China has become an indispensible member of the international community, assuming important international responsibilities for maintaining world peace, stability and prosperity. 

Some foreign analysts regard China’s peaceful development as an unconditional strategy, which is one-sided thinking. To realize peaceful development for China as well as for the world needs equal effort from both China and other countries. Peaceful development for China and the world needs healthy and well-intentioned interactions between China and other countries. 

It is natural that a country should decide to prioritize its national interests, and this is China’s peaceful development strategy. It is unreasonable and unrealistic for some people to use China’s peaceful development strategy as a tool to confine China’s international behaviors. On October 26, 2013, when interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by the rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won’t be able to emerge peacefully.” Clearly, it reflected Abe’s attempt to evoke a new round of “China threat”, while it also reflected his lack of understanding of China’s peaceful development. In fact, there is the relationship of dialectical unity between China’s peaceful development and the maintenance of national interests. Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed that China will stick to the road of peaceful development, but will never give up its legitimate rights and will never sacrifice its national core interests. He also noted that no country should presume that China will engage in trade involving the core interests or that China will swallow the “bitter fruit” of harming its sovereignty, security or development interests. From this perspective, the related countries should not underestimate China’s determination and willpower to safeguard the core national interests. 

In recent years, the international environment China faces has undergone profound and complex changes, which has brought new challenges to China’s development. Facing a variety of risks and challenges, on the one hand, China needs to carefully design a comprehensive, coordinated, and targeted strategy. On the other hand, China should announce its foreign strategies and policies clearly, helping the international community to better understand China’s international strategy, which is necessary and useful for both China and other countries. 

Chen Jimin, Ph.D, is an Assistant Research Fellow for the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at the Party School of Central Committee of C.P.C.

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