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The ‘China Threat’ Fallacy

Mar 23 , 2018
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies


Since the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China articulated the development strategies for China, fears of a ‘China threat’ have emerged once again in the West. The 13th Session of the National People’s Congress has further crystallized the spirit of the 19th National Party Congress, with both domestic and foreign policies supporting peaceful development. Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked about major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the new era, categorically refuting the China threat fallacy.

What is the China threat? Where does it come from? As I see it, the ‘China threat’ has five features.

It is first of all fictional. The China threat has arisen because of the sustained rapid growth of the Chinese economy. As the country’s mode of development produces great results, the ‘rise of China’ and its ‘strategy to become a strong nation’ have caused external hostility or suspicion.

In the nearly seventy years since its founding, New China has all along pursued peaceful development. Starting with the five principles of peaceful coexistence in the 1950s, China now holds high the banner of peace, development, and win-win cooperation. Time has proven the non-existence of any China threat. Which other country has openly committed to ‘no first use of nuclear weapons’ as China has? Which other country has provided as many UN peacekeepers as China has?

The China threat arguments originate from a Cold War mentality, which turns good things into bad. For example, even though the Belt and Road initiative follows the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, it is still viewed by some as expansionist.

The ‘China threat’ has dominated the Western view of China since the end of the Cold War, especially that of the US. It is the fundamental reason behind the American reluctance to respond to China’s proposal to jointly develop a new model of major-country relations, resulting in twists and turns in bilateral relations.

The fabricants and pushers of China threat arguments don’t like socialism. They always want to change China’s color, and use the China threat as an excuse. As the Chinese proverb goes, ‘the well water does not intrude into the river water’, i.e., each one should mind his own businesses. History has made it very clear that any attempt to impose oneself on others will go nowhere.

Therefore, the China threat arguments are made to threaten China.

Second, the China threat allegations are paroxysmal. Since the founding of New China, China threat theories have been common. But there have been ups and downs along with the changing international situation and attackers’ mindsets.

In the nearly thirty years since the end of the Cold War, there have been three waves of China threat choruses.

The first came upon Soviet disintegration and the outstanding achievements in China with reform and opening-up. While congratulating itself on the Soviet collapse, the West resorted to China threat propaganda to try to break down socialist China. Deng Xiaoping saw it clearly and proposed the approach of observing calmly, holding our position, meeting challenges with composure, keeping a low key, never taking the lead, biding our time, and making some difference when opportunities allow. As such, China stood unmoved and continued steadily along the path to peaceful development.

The second wave arrived when the US started to go downhill. Since the beginning of the new century, the US suffered from the September 11 attacks, the Iraq War and the financial crisis, whereas China became the world’s second largest economy in 2011. The striking contrast between the malfunctioning capitalist system and the successful China model prompted another round of China threat warnings.

The third wave is most recent, emerging after the 19th National Party Congress produced a grand plan for China. In face of the glorious achievements in developing socialism with Chinese characteristics, various new terms, such as ‘sharp power’, ‘creditor imperialism’ or ‘new imperial power’, have emerged, adding inflammatory new details to the China threat fallacy.

Third, scoundrelism plays a role. Fabricants and propagators of the China threat fallacy have rather different backgrounds. I’d say an overbearing arrogance was behind the initial creation of this theory. These are people who regard themselves as number one in the universe, do not accept diversities of civilization and do not allow other peoples to choose their own social system, path to development, or way of life on the basis of their own national conditions and popular will. Those people tend to have misgivings or concerns with China’s robust growth. Both fail to seek truth from facts or to shake off the Cold War mentality.

Fourth, the China threat arguments can be extremely deceptive. The West has strong mass media. The ‘China threat’ arguments are indeed able to deceive people with traditional bias against China, especially those who are ignorant of the facts. The mass media is used to distort China’s image, exaggerate existing problems (which are already being handled), and interpret everything along China threat lines.

It goes without saying that countries both cooperate with and compete against one another at the same time. The combination of cooperation with competition leads to mutual benefit. However, advocates of the China threat deliberately overstate the reasonable competition between countries as a confrontation, fooling many.

Fifth, the arguments are fragile. They can’t stand the test of time because fundamentally they are unrealistic and illogical.

There is another proverb in China: you may take the open road, I’ll walk my single-log bridge. China will continue moving unswervingly along its path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Which path will lead to success will be decided by practice rather than by someone’s wishful thinking.

China will continue developing peacefully amidst the clamor of the China threat. But there is reason to believe that as people know more about facts about China the market for the China threat fallacy will only get smaller.

The theories of China threat and China’s collapse are the two sides of the same coin. As the latter has already become an international laughing stock, the former will sooner or later be cast aside by world public opinion.

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