As a new rising power, China is undergoing growing pains from both inside and out. China must overcome those pains to mature while implementing its two centennial goals: complete the building of a moderately prosperous society and become a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious. But what kind of path must China take to meet these goals as the People’s Republic of China and the Communist Party of China celebrate their centennial?
First, and key to its development, China must establish itself through the increase of both soft and hard power. China does pay the price for its development, such as serious environmental pollution, income inequality and unsound industrial structure. China has the world’s second-largest economy, yet its per capita GDP still ranks around 100th in the world, far less than one tenth that of the United States. More importantly, China has no tradition of expansion and will not repeat the way major powers could lord it over small ones. Therefore, China’s development will rely on upgrading its hard power on politics, economics, national defense and increasing its soft power on culture, art, and media.
Second, China must grow by dissolving US economic restrictions. The growth is there all the time, although China has no intention of challenging the US and the current international system. The growth of China, which is vast and fast, imperceptibly had already become a challenge and pressure to the world. In this narrative, China suffering restrictions is natural. If China wants to continue developing, it has to co-exist peacefully and coordinate development together with the United States.
Third, China can grow stronger by comforting neighboring countries. For China, its regional situation is the biggest present challenge. In fact, China has always been surrounded and even hurt by unstable surroundings, including the Korean Peninsula to the East and South China Sea. China could face a deterioration of regional ties if it cannot calm neighboring countries and establish a peaceful, cooperative situation. If arguments in East and South Asia keep escalating into even greater conflicts, it will jeopardize Sino-US relations, especially considering the US’s high-profile attention and intervention into Asia-Pacific affairs, which creates a dilemma for Beijing and Washington.
Fourth, China must move forward by playing an active role, and even making sacrifices, in global affairs. While developing itself, China must break with traditional thinking and actively join the global governance. At the same time, China must handle more pressure, duty and responsibility. China could enhance coordination and cooperation with the US in non-traditional security aspects such as ocean development, maritime security, climate change, use of outer space, and international and regional hotspots. A good way to reflect on the significance of Chinese development and influence the Sino-US relationship is to provide more public products with a variety of approvals to the world.
In an interview with the Global Times on March 7, Zbigniew Brzezinskif said China has developed to a stage where it has to consider global effects. It is a reality no matter good or bad. Under such a background, China should try its best to become a major country that does not let US worry, does not cause neighbors’ anxiety and does not make the world alarmed. As a rising power, this is the only realistic choice and path for China during its growing pains.
Chen Yonglong is Director of the US Center of the China Foundation for International Studies.
Xue Junying is a Researcher at the US Center of the China Foundation for International Studies.