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Foreign Policy

What Kind of Future Order Should China Pursue?

Feb 12, 2019
  • Xue Li

    Senior Fellow, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

What kind of future order will China pursue? What’s China’s relationship with the current international order? This is not only about China’s own future and destiny, but also that of the world. My answer is that this order must have the following characteristics to survive, and stabilize and enhance the well-being of China and other countries.

First of all, it must be compatible with the current international order, which was established via leadership of Christian states and the participation of other countries, with the United States playing the most predominant role. This is directly related to the overwhelming hard and soft global power of the United States after World War II. In the process of designing this order, the variable—— rising China——has not been taken into account, or at least not enough. With its huge volume and potential, China will inevitably have a huge impact on the current international order in the process of its rise. The internal and external environment determines that China must go through a path of peaceful rise. This makes it a necessity for China to participate in building an order which is compatible with the current order if it does not want to be rejected.

Building a future order in a peaceful environment is bound to be a gradual process. During the process, China and other countries will, in many fields and on many issues, find a new equilibrium. This process will last until the kind of order advocated by China has been steadily set up, which on the one hand shows China’s hard and soft power and on the other, has been accepted by the current international order. Certain conflicts, and even wars, may occur during the process, though the possibility of a full-scale war is very small. External influences are important, but what’s most important is China’s own choice. If China is fully aware of its strengths and weaknesses, and acts accordingly, then it’s possible to achieve the goal with relatively low costs in a relatively short period

Secondly, it must have distinctive Chinese characteristics. In contrast with barbarism, civilization is the exploration and cultivation of humanity and human potential, including commonality and difference. The “genetic improvement” of civilization is generally achieved through exchanges between different civilizations.

Chinese civilization also has its own characteristic genes and has undergone several “genetic improvements”. This is the main reason why Chinese civilization has been passed down for thousands of years. This also lays a civilized foundation for the rise of China. In the process of building the future order, what China needs to do is identify the “genetic components” that strengthen or weaken it, maintain strong elements, eliminate weak, and combine its strong elements with the powerful ones of other civilizations. By doing so, Chinese civilization can be “genetically improved” again under the context of modernity, thus reconstructing the core value system of Chinese civilization

Thirdly, it must not go beyond the limits of competence. The cost of governance across civilizations is tremendously high. Never has one civilization ruled the whole world. It’s unlikely that such a civilization or country will emerge in the future either. Therefore, every civilization or great power must clearly evaluate the influence of its hard and soft power in order to avoid overstretch.

Among the two major civilizations with relatively strong global influence, the inherent cohesiveness of Islamic civilization is quite strong, but it lacks attraction, and its hard power is also limited, which limits its influence in non-Islamic countries. After its modernization, the inherent cohesiveness, hard power and outward influence of Christian civilization have surpassed other civilizations, and thus become the leading one in the modern international system, but it also fails to achieve the global homogenization of its soft power. As a representative country of Christian civilization, the United States has gathered and used global talents and led the world. Even during its peak period of power after the Cold War, however, it was not able to rule the world.

As a typical regional civilization, Chinese civilization is even less likely to lead the world in the future, and it is impossible for China to replace the United States. Even at the peak of its power, China’s influence will be limited in the region.

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