US-China rivalry still a mismatch
  • Wed, 04/13/2011 - 12:00


Asia Times
Apr 14, 2011
By Jinghao Zhou

Over the past decade or so, the "China threat" theory has spread throughout the West, despite Beijing's repeated pledges that China's rise will be peaceful.

Now, as China replaces Japan as the world's second-largest economy behind the United Sates, fears arise that US dominance is being challenged. So much so that observers say Washington is preparing for a long cold war with China by strengthening its ground and air power in Asia. [1]

It is not constructive to Sino-US relations - the most important bilateral relationship in the world today - if Washington bases its China policy on the "China threat" hypothesis. It is necessary to clarify whether China's rise really poses a challenge to US dominance.

There are numerous reasons why a rising China poses no threat to the US - at least not for a long time to come.

China has no intention to challenge the US

Pessimists say every rising power desires global authority, to reshape the existing global order. [2] They believe China is seeking regional superpower status and plans to drive the US out from Asia, with imperialism next on the agenda. [3]

However, it is one thing for Americans to feel unhappy or jealous on seeing China become increasingly strong economically and militarily. It is quite another to conclude that China's rise is a threat. To take an analogy from life, one may feel envious to see a neighbor become more prosperous, but one is not threatened unless the neighbor shows an intention to do so.

For one country to pose a challenge or threat to another, it must have the intention to do so. There is nothing that suggests China has any plans to challenge the US.

China has made marvelous achievements in the past three decades through its "reform and opening up", which started in the late 1970s. But China launched reform and opening up primarily to save the country's economy from bankruptcy, not to challenge any country. The so-called "China model" or "Beijing Consensus" typically reflects such developmental intentions.

It is a very natural process for a rising power to expand its business interests worldwide, as the nature of capital is to flow to wherever profits can be made. It is inevitable that the US and other countries will face competition from China's growing economy. But in the era of globalization, no one should see economic competition as a threat.

With its growing economic muscle, it is also natural for China to gain greater influence in international affairs. But this does not mean China seeks world dominance. While reform and opening up may have enabled China to advance economically, it has also created thorny problems such as corruption, widening wealth gaps and social injustice, which threaten social stability and hence the legitimacy of the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Domestic problems remain the main headache of the Chinese leadership and in recent years the Chinese government has spent more on "wei wen" (maintaining stability) at home than on national defense. [4]

To tackle domestic problems through "deepening reform and opening up", China needs a peaceful global environment. There is no reason for China to upset the current world order by challenging US dominance. The current order is Western-oriented, solid and not easy to overthrow. The Chinese government does not believe that challenging the US serves China's best interests or that China's future rests on overturning the current international system. [5]

The CCP passed the resolution, "On Major Issues Regarding the Building of a Harmonious Socialist Society" in October 2006, placing "building a harmonious society" at the top of its work agenda. Interestingly, apparently in response to Western concerns, the party quietly modified the term of "peaceful rise" into "peaceful development". [6]

In practice, China has been striving to build a market economy which is within the Western-orientated system. China has yet to improve its fledgling market economy by introducing more reforms in finance and services. China still needs to learn from the West - declining as it may be following the global financial crisis, and the US and European Union are China's largest export markets. For China, to challenge US dominance may be economically self-destructive, and whenever possible, Beijing avoids public confrontation with Washington.

The Chinese government recently issued the Defense White Paper, which, once again, pledges that China will never seek hegemony or engage in military expansion.

A long time for China to catch up

A recent survey shows many Americans see China's growing economic power as a threat to the US.

China is the fastest growing economy in the world with its gross domestic product (GDP) growing 10.3% annually in past three decades. If the Chinese economy continues to grow at such a pace, China will surpass the US in the next couple of decades.

But the question is whether China will be able to maintain such high-speed growth. Although many scholars agree that the Chinese economy will continue to grow at 8% or higher annually in the next 5-10 years, David Beim, a professor with Columbia Business School, believes that the golden age of Chinese super-growth is nearing an end. [7] The Asian Development Bank has predicted that that China's growth rates in the next two decades will be only about half of what they were in the last 30 years. [8]

The Economist recently predicted that China will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy within the next 10 years. According to the Economist, if you double expected American growth from 2.5% per year to 5% per year, you push the key date back from 2019 to 2022. If you slow China's growth to 5% annually, you delay the transition to 2028. [9]

However, this prediction uses a simple mathematics model without taking social factors into consideration. At the present time, social protests in China are increasingly growing. Wei wen is growing more and more costly. Social instability may slow growth.

While China's GDP ranks as the second-highest in the world, it's still just about one-third of the US's. And China's per capita GDP is only some $4,500, about a tenth of the US, ranking below 100th in the world. In this sense, China is still an emerging economy. Moreover, of China's 1.3 billion population, about 800 million still live in rural areas and some 20 million live in poverty. In this sense, China is still a developing country and it may take a long time, if not a century, to really become an economic power.

Interestingly, more and more American people feel that China is catching up to the US. According to a survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 2011, about 47% of participants say China, not the US, is the world's top economic power, while 31% continue to name the US. The result of the survey obviously contradicts the reality, though it shows the American people's uneasiness with China's growing power. They worry that the US is at risk of falling behind in a global battle for influence with China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted that the US is struggling to hold its role as global leader. [10]

Policy of defense

Ever since the Great Wall was built more than 2,000 years ago, China's military policy has largely revolved around defense. So much so that Western powers had to use gun ships to knock out the doors of the Middle Kingdom in the mid-19th century.

Yet Washington is concerned about the development of China's military. The 2010 Report to Congress of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission pointed out that China has accelerated military modernization, including foreign purchases and indigenous production of high-technology equipment.

No doubt, China's military budget has rapidly grown. In 2010, the defense budget was 532.115 billion yuan (US$81.3 billion), while this year it is expected to hit 601 billion yuan. Western governments are wondering why China has accelerated its military modernization since it faces no obvious threat. After visiting China in 2010, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates concluded that China's military development will challenge US military power in Asia and may challenge the US military operation worldwide.

That China has sped up its military modernization is a fact. But this does not prove China has any intention of challenging US dominance. This kind of thinking displays a Cold War mentality, as if simply owning a strong military is a threat, then the US is the biggest threat to every country in the world.

China spends one-eighth of the US's military budget, if one accepts the official figures. The US has the largest defense budget in the world, accounting for 47% of the world's total military spending. There are about 154 countries with a US military presence and 63 countries with US military bases and troops. By contrast, China does not have a single military base in any foreign country.

Even now, the Chinese military lags far behind the US and European countries. Although China has nuclear-weapons capability, the Chinese army is ill-equipped. China does not have a large navy or a single aircraft carrier. China's air force does not have any long-range bombers. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie told Gates that China is not an advanced military country and poses no threat to the rest of the world.

This said, China needs to increase transparency of its military expansion, to let the world including the US know its military strategic intent, so as to assure the world that its rise is really "peaceful". China's military expansion will inevitably upset the existing balance of global forces with US in dominance.

It is common sense that a nation's strength must be supported by military power. China needs a stronger military to protect its growing global interests. Dispatching naval warships to escort Chinese commercial ships off Somalia and help evacuate Chinese nationals in Libya is a good example. China could not have taken such actions 20 or 30 years ago when its military was rather weak.

Another major reason for China to modernize its military force is to protect its territorial integrity, especially to prevent Taiwan from actually separating from China. If Washington sees this as a potential threat to US, then it has to gain a better understanding of Chinese people's feelings. The majority of the Chinese people clearly remember that China was bullied and humiliated by Western powers for a century.

Patriotism in China is growing increasingly strong. Nevertheless, the US has kept selling weapons to Taiwan. The Chinese government has no choice but to elevate its military capabilities. The reunification of Taiwan with the mainland is the common will of the majority of the Chinese people. If the Chinese government weakens its stance on the Taiwan issue, it could trigger an anti-government movement at home.

On the other hand, if Washington takes a wrong policy turn on the Taiwan issue, it could hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and trigger anti-American sentiments. Charles Glaser, director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University, wisely suggests that the US should modify its foreign policy, making concessions to Beijing, including the possibility of backing away from its commitment to Taiwan, in order to avoid a war between the US and China.

Many American scholars believe that China has begun to take a more aggressive strategy towards the US, [11] questioning if China is departing from Deng Xiaoping's foreign policy of tao guang yang hui (hide brightness and nourish cherish obscurity, or bide our time and build up our capabilities) toward the US. Elizabeth Economy, director for Asian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that the consensus of the Deng era has begun to fray and that Beijing will expand its influence to the rest of the world. [12]

However, in order for China to shoulder the responsibilities of a rising world power, many China experts worldwide maintain that China must become more assertive. There are also different views in China on why China's relations with bordering countries are deteriorating. According to the 2011 Pacific Blue Book published by the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, all problems with bordering countries are not the result of new Chinese foreign policy, but derived from the US returning to Asia. China believes that the United States seeks to contain China's rise or to block it.

China's soft power does not hurt global interests

There is a view that soft power is becoming more important to a country's comprehensive power in international society, while hard power is becoming somewhat less important. [13]

Since the 1990s, China has achieved impressive gains in using soft power through implementing its "smiling" foreign policy, providing scholarships for foreign students in Chinese studies, financially aiding many countries, playing critical roles in many international organizations and meetings, and hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 2008. Joshua Kurlantzick believes one of reasons for China's success is that China is using soft power to appeal to other countries and position itself as a model of social and economic success. As a result, China is winning friends and influencing people around the world almost as fast as the United States is doing the opposite.

Chinese government spending on education is still low. In addition, overwhelming evidence suggests that Chinese traditional culture is waning on the mainland. The CCP has recently attempted to revive Confucianism to help in developing harmonious society, but the result of this effort is uncertain.

It will take a long time for the West to accept Chinese culture. While China's trade surplus exceeded $21 billion in 2010, its cultural trade deficit is growing. According to a China Daily report in 2006, the ratio of China's imports of cultural products to its exports was 10:1, and is believed to be much higher today. This reflects that the influence of Chinese culture in the West is very limited. More importantly, the CCP has not solved the puzzle of how to integrate its political system, one of the most important aspects of soft power, into the current mainstream of the global order.

The US is worried about China's expansion in Africa and Latin America. In fact, China's policies toward Africa and Latin America obviously are more economically driven than cultural or political. China is acting similarly in Europe, the Chinese government has promised to help helping Spain and other European Union countries deal with their financial crisis and to regain market confidence.

Ideologically and politically, the world today is still pretty much dominated by Western ideas and values. Most of the accepted "cosmopolitan values" originated in the West, such as human rights and democracy.

According to Joseph Nye, despite China's efforts to enhance its soft power, the US remains dominant in all soft power categories. In terms of soft power influence, China is still no match for the US. And there is no telling how and when China will catch up with, let alone surpass, the US in this regard.

Non-democratic China can peacefully co-exist with US

Generally, Western societies view the political system in China as directly contradicting the core values of the West and see no fundamental way for the two sides to co-exist, because they assume that a democratic government would inevitably runs in conflict with a non-democratic one.

However, this is a misconception. A democratic government does not necessarily make peace with another democratic one. For example, there are many conflicts between the US and other democracies. On the other hand, a democracy could make friends with a non-democracy, such as the US and Saudi Arabia. So there is no reason why US could not co-exist with China, non-democratic as it may be for the time being.

To be sure, different nations have different national interests; and every nation puts its national interests as top priority. Conflicts of interest between different nations are very normal. Benign economic and cultural competition between different nations is healthy.

China is no longer a typical communist country; and China today is more open than 30 years ago. The CCP is willing to tolerate different opinions to some extent. Although it is proper to criticize China for its human-rights violations, the West should not ignore the substantial progress China has made since 1978.

China's political reform is pressing but it cannot be completed overnight. The CCP remains a powerful and pervasive influence in every sphere of the Chinese society. There is no other opposition party in China to compete with it. For the CCP to dissolved before the Chinese political system is successfully restructured could mean chaos. The best way for China is to reform the political system within the current political system.

It is necessary to continue to use the CCP as the main vehicle to drive China toward the future. John and Doris Naisbitts believe China has a different type of democracy than Western nations to deter an overly quick rush to judgment of China using Western values. [15]

The Chinese government has learned from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, and the ongoing popular uprisings roiling autocratic governments in the Middle East, so the CCP will approach political reform cautiously in order to maintain social stability. It is expected that the CCP will continue to resist political changes, even though this could delay China becoming a world superpower.

China is a huge country with a massive population and 56 ethnic groups, making it very difficult to govern. Any attempt to launch a "Jasmine" revolution in China is not only unrealistic but could also harm China's national interests. A fragile China simply could not afford a violent Jasmine revolution. An unrealistic bid for democracy would waste political resources and sacrifice the interests of the majority of Chinese people. [16]

China's political reform will be a very slow process. The US and the West do not have any other choice but to patiently work with China while continuing to do business with it. In reality, Western political leaders often push aside political disagreements in favor of maintaining the crucial economic relationship, because many Westerners see economic ties with China as a means of binding them together.

The Implications of the 'China threat'

Since a rising China poses no threat to the United States and the West, why the is "China threat" theory so popular in Western society? It is in part derived from the psychological impact of exaggerating China's rise.

Thomas J Christensen, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, points out that the press has often exaggerated the influence of China's rise. [17] The US remains the dominant power in the world. Also, mistrust from both sides contributes to the "China threat" theory. Some reports say most Americans not only distrust but despise China. [18] During the US mid-term election in 2010, about 30 anti-China advertisements appeared on US televisions. Beijing does not share many of the same interests and values as the US and its allies.

The US does not want to become the Number Two power in the world and refuses to tolerate China as a regional power. The majority of Americans are not happy that China is becoming the largest economy behind the United States. However, the United States cannot stop China's rise.

If the US tries to keep China weak, this will increase China's domestic instability, negatively and seriously affecting global peace and development. A strong China contributes to the world's development and to global peace, while the collapse of China will gravely threaten Western societies.

The most important thing for both sides is to understand each other and build trust. A rising power will not necessarily threaten the US and the West. The United States in the 20th century is a good example of a state achieving eminence without conflict with dominant countries. Hopefully, China's performance will be better in the 21st century.

US-China rivalry still a mismatch
By Jinghao Zhou

Over the past decade or so, the "China threat" theory has spread throughout the West, despite Beijing's repeated pledges that China's rise will be peaceful.

Now, as China replaces Japan as the world's second-largest economy behind the United Sates, fears arise that US dominance is being challenged. So much so that observers say Washington


is preparing for a long cold war with China by strengthening its ground and air power in Asia. [1]

It is not constructive to Sino-US relations - the most important bilateral relationship in the world today - if Washington bases its China policy on the "China threat" hypothesis. It is necessary to clarify whether China's rise really poses a challenge to US dominance.

There are numerous reasons why a rising China poses no threat to the US - at least not for a long time to come.

China has no intention to challenge the US
Pessimists say every rising power desires global authority, to reshape the existing global order. [2] They believe China is seeking regional superpower status and plans to drive the US out from Asia, with imperialism next on the agenda. [3]

However, it is one thing for Americans to feel unhappy or jealous on seeing China become increasingly strong economically and militarily. It is quite another to conclude that China's rise is a threat. To take an analogy from life, one may feel envious to see a neighbor become more prosperous, but one is not threatened unless the neighbor shows an intention to do so.

For one country to pose a challenge or threat to another, it must have the intention to do so. There is nothing that suggests China has any plans to challenge the US.

China has made marvelous achievements in the past three decades through its "reform and opening up", which started in the late 1970s. But China launched reform and opening up primarily to save the country's economy from bankruptcy, not to challenge any country. The so-called "China model" or "Beijing Consensus" typically reflects such developmental intentions.

It is a very natural process for a rising power to expand its business interests worldwide, as the nature of capital is to flow to wherever profits can be made. It is inevitable that the US and other countries will face competition from China's growing economy. But in the era of globalization, no one should see economic competition as a threat.

With its growing economic muscle, it is also natural for China to gain greater influence in international affairs. But this does not mean China seeks world dominance. While reform and opening up may have enabled China to advance economically, it has also created thorny problems such as corruption, widening wealth gaps and social injustice, which threaten social stability and hence the legitimacy of the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Domestic problems remain the main headache of the Chinese leadership and in recent years the Chinese government has spent more on "wei wen" (maintaining stability) at home than on national defense. [4]

To tackle domestic problems through "deepening reform and opening up", China needs a peaceful global environment. There is no reason for China to upset the current world order by challenging US dominance. The current order is Western-oriented, solid and not easy to overthrow. The Chinese government does not believe that challenging the US serves China's best interests or that China's future rests on overturning the current international system. [5]

The CCP passed the resolution, "On Major Issues Regarding the Building of a Harmonious Socialist Society" in October 2006, placing "building a harmonious society" at the top of its work agenda. Interestingly, apparently in response to Western concerns, the party quietly modified the term of "peaceful rise" into "peaceful development". [6]

In practice, China has been striving to build a market economy which is within the Western-orientated system. China has yet to improve its fledgling market economy by introducing more reforms in finance and services. China still needs to learn from the West - declining as it may be following the global financial crisis, and the US and European Union are China's largest export markets. For China, to challenge US dominance may be economically self-destructive, and whenever possible, Beijing avoids public confrontation with Washington.

The Chinese government recently issued the Defense White Paper, which, once again, pledges that China will never seek hegemony or engage in military expansion.

A long time for China to catch up
A recent survey shows many Americans see China's growing economic power as a threat to the US.

China is the fastest growing economy in the world with its gross domestic product (GDP) growing 10.3% annually in past three decades. If the Chinese economy continues to grow at such a pace, China will surpass the US in the next couple of decades.

But the question is whether China will be able to maintain such high-speed growth. Although many scholars agree that the Chinese economy will continue to grow at 8% or higher annually in the next 5-10 years, David Beim, a professor with Columbia Business School, believes that the golden age of Chinese super-growth is nearing an end. [7] The Asian Development Bank has predicted that that China's growth rates in the next two decades will be only about half of what they were in the last 30 years. [8]

The Economist recently predicted that China will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy within the next 10 years. According to the Economist, if you double expected American growth from 2.5% per year to 5% per year, you push the key date back from 2019 to 2022. If you slow China's growth to 5% annually, you delay the transition to 2028. [9]

However, this prediction uses a simple mathematics model without taking social factors into consideration. At the present time, social protests in China are increasingly growing. Wei wen is growing more and more costly. Social instability may slow growth.

While China's GDP ranks as the second-highest in the world, it's still just about one-third of the US's. And China's per capita GDP is only some $4,500, about a tenth of the US, ranking below 100th in the world. In this sense, China is still an emerging economy. Moreover, of China's 1.3 billion population, about 800 million still live in rural areas and some 20 million live in poverty. In this sense, China is still a developing country and it may take a long time, if not a century, to really become an economic power.

Interestingly, more and more American people feel that China is catching up to the US. According to a survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 2011, about 47% of participants say China, not the US, is the world's top economic power, while 31% continue to name the US. The result of the survey obviously contradicts the reality, though it shows the American people's uneasiness with China's growing power. They worry that the US is at risk of falling behind in a global battle for influence with China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted that the US is struggling to hold its role as global leader. [10]

Policy of defense
Ever since the Great Wall was built more than 2,000 years ago, China's military policy has largely revolved around defense. So much so that Western powers had to use gun ships to knock out the doors of the Middle Kingdom in the mid-19th century.

Yet Washington is concerned about the development of China's military. The 2010 Report to Congress of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission pointed out that China has accelerated military modernization, including foreign purchases and indigenous production of high-technology equipment.

No doubt, China's military budget has rapidly grown. In 2010, the defense budget was 532.115 billion yuan (US$81.3 billion), while this year it is expected to hit 601 billion yuan. Western governments are wondering why China has accelerated its military modernization since it faces no obvious threat. After visiting China in 2010, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates concluded that China's military development will challenge US military power in Asia and may challenge the US military operation worldwide.

That China has sped up its military modernization is a fact. But this does not prove China has any intention of challenging US dominance. This kind of thinking displays a Cold War mentality, as if simply owning a strong military is a threat, then the US is the biggest threat to every country in the world.

China spends one-eighth of the US's military budget, if one accepts the official figures. The US has the largest defense budget in the world, accounting for 47% of the world's total military spending. There are about 154 countries with a US military presence and 63 countries with US military bases and troops. By contrast, China does not have a single military base in any foreign country.

Even now, the Chinese military lags far behind the US and European countries. Although China has nuclear-weapons capability, the Chinese army is ill-equipped. China does not have a large navy or a single aircraft carrier. China's air force does not have any long-range bombers. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie told Gates that China is not an advanced military country and poses no threat to the rest of the world.

This said, China needs to increase transparency of its military expansion, to let the world including the US know its military strategic intent, so as to assure the world that its rise is really "peaceful". China's military expansion will inevitably upset the existing balance of global forces with US in dominance.

It is common sense that a nation's strength must be supported by military power. China needs a stronger military to protect its growing global interests. Dispatching naval warships to escort Chinese commercial ships off Somalia and help evacuate Chinese nationals in Libya is a good example. China could not have taken such actions 20 or 30 years ago when its military was rather weak.

Another major reason for China to modernize its military force is to protect its territorial integrity, especially to prevent Taiwan from actually separating from China. If Washington sees this as a potential threat to US, then it has to gain a better understanding of Chinese people's feelings. The majority of the Chinese people clearly remember that China was bullied and humiliated by Western powers for a century.

Patriotism in China is growing increasingly strong. Nevertheless, the US has kept selling weapons to Taiwan. The Chinese government has no choice but to elevate its military capabilities. The reunification of Taiwan with the mainland is the common will of the majority of the Chinese people. If the Chinese government weakens its stance on the Taiwan issue, it could trigger an anti-government movement at home.

On the other hand, if Washington takes a wrong policy turn on the Taiwan issue, it could hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and trigger anti-American sentiments. Charles Glaser, director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University, wisely suggests that the US should modify its foreign policy, making concessions to Beijing, including the possibility of backing away from its commitment to Taiwan, in order to avoid a war between the US and China.

Many American scholars believe that China has begun to take a more aggressive strategy towards the US, [11] questioning if China is departing from Deng Xiaoping's foreign policy of tao guang yang hui (hide brightness and nourish cherish obscurity, or bide our time and build up our capabilities) toward the US. Elizabeth Economy, director for Asian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that the consensus of the Deng era has begun to fray and that Beijing will expand its influence to the rest of the world. [12]

However, in order for China to shoulder the responsibilities of a rising world power, many China experts worldwide maintain that China must become more assertive. There are also different views in China on why China's relations with bordering countries are deteriorating. According to the 2011 Pacific Blue Book published by the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, all problems with bordering countries are not the result of new Chinese foreign policy, but derived from the US returning to Asia. China believes that the United States seeks to contain China's rise or to block it.

China's soft power does not hurt global interests
There is a view that soft power is becoming more important to a country's comprehensive power in international society, while hard power is becoming somewhat less important. [13]

Since the 1990s, China has achieved impressive gains in using soft power through implementing its "smiling" foreign policy, providing scholarships for foreign students in Chinese studies, financially aiding many countries, playing critical roles in many international organizations and meetings, and hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 2008. Joshua Kurlantzick believes one of reasons for China's success is that China is using soft power to appeal to other countries and position itself as a model of social and economic success. As a result, China is winning friends and influencing people around the world almost as fast as the United States is doing the opposite.

Chinese government spending on education is still low. In addition, overwhelming evidence suggests that Chinese traditional culture is waning on the mainland. The CCP has recently attempted to revive Confucianism to help in developing harmonious society, but the result of this effort is uncertain.

It will take a long time for the West to accept Chinese culture. While China's trade surplus exceeded $21 billion in 2010, its cultural trade deficit is growing. According to a China Daily report in 2006, the ratio of China's imports of cultural products to its exports was 10:1, and is believed to be much higher today. This reflects that the influence of Chinese culture in the West is very limited. More importantly, the CCP has not solved the puzzle of how to integrate its political system, one of the most important aspects of soft power, into the current mainstream of the global order.

The US is worried about China's expansion in Africa and Latin America. In fact, China's policies toward Africa and Latin America obviously are more economically driven than cultural or political. China is acting similarly in Europe, the Chinese government has promised to help helping Spain and other European Union countries deal with their financial crisis and to regain market confidence.

Ideologically and politically, the world today is still pretty much dominated by Western ideas and values. Most of the accepted "cosmopolitan values" originated in the West, such as human rights and democracy.

According to Joseph Nye, despite China's efforts to enhance its soft power, the US remains dominant in all soft power categories. In terms of soft power influence, China is still no match for the US. And there is no telling how and when China will catch up with, let alone surpass, the US in this regard.

Non-democratic China can peacefully co-exist with US
Generally, Western societies view the political system in China as directly contradicting the core values of the West and see no fundamental way for the two sides to co-exist, because they assume that a democratic government would inevitably runs in conflict with a non-democratic one.

However, this is a misconception. A democratic government does not necessarily make peace with another democratic one. For example, there are many conflicts between the US and other democracies. On the other hand, a democracy could make friends with a non-democracy, such as the US and Saudi Arabia. So there is no reason why US could not co-exist with China, non-democratic as it may be for the time being.

To be sure, different nations have different national interests; and every nation puts its national interests as top priority. Conflicts of interest between different nations are very normal. Benign economic and cultural competition between different nations is healthy.

China is no longer a typical communist country; and China today is more open than 30 years ago. The CCP is willing to tolerate different opinions to some extent. Although it is proper to criticize China for its human-rights violations, the West should not ignore the substantial progress China has made since 1978.

China's political reform is pressing but it cannot be completed overnight. The CCP remains a powerful and pervasive influence in every sphere of the Chinese society. There is no other opposition party in China to compete with it. For the CCP to dissolved before the Chinese political system is successfully restructured could mean chaos. The best way for China is to reform the political system within the current political system.

It is necessary to continue to use the CCP as the main vehicle to drive China toward the future. John and Doris Naisbitts believe China has a different type of democracy than Western nations to deter an overly quick rush to judgment of China using Western values. [15]

The Chinese government has learned from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, and the ongoing popular uprisings roiling autocratic governments in the Middle East, so the CCP will approach political reform cautiously in order to maintain social stability. It is expected that the CCP will continue to resist political changes, even though this could delay China becoming a world superpower.

China is a huge country with a massive population and 56 ethnic groups, making it very difficult to govern. Any attempt to launch a "Jasmine" revolution in China is not only unrealistic but could also harm China's national interests. A fragile China simply could not afford a violent Jasmine revolution. An unrealistic bid for democracy would waste political resources and sacrifice the interests of the majority of Chinese people. [16]

China's political reform will be a very slow process. The US and the West do not have any other choice but to patiently work with China while continuing to do business with it. In reality, Western political leaders often push aside political disagreements in favor of maintaining the crucial economic relationship, because many Westerners see economic ties with China as a means of binding them together.

The Implications of the 'China threat'
Since a rising China poses no threat to the United States and the West, why the is "China threat" theory so popular in Western society? It is in part derived from the psychological impact of exaggerating China's rise.

Thomas J Christensen, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, points out that the press has often exaggerated the influence of China's rise. [17] The US remains the dominant power in the world. Also, mistrust from both sides contributes to the "China threat" theory. Some reports say most Americans not only distrust but despise China. [18] During the US mid-term election in 2010, about 30 anti-China advertisements appeared on US televisions. Beijing does not share many of the same interests and values as the US and its allies.

The US does not want to become the Number Two power in the world and refuses to tolerate China as a regional power. The majority of Americans are not happy that China is becoming the largest economy behind the United States. However, the United States cannot stop China's rise.

If the US tries to keep China weak, this will increase China's domestic instability, negatively and seriously affecting global peace and development. A strong China contributes to the world's development and to global peace, while the collapse of China will gravely threaten Western societies.

The most important thing for both sides is to understand each other and build trust. A rising power will not necessarily threaten the US and the West. The United States in the 20th century is a good example of a state achieving eminence without conflict with dominant countries. Hopefully, China's performance will be better in the 21st century.

Notes
1. Washington Is Preparing for a Long War With China, US News, Mar 31, 2011.
2. The Rise of a Fierce Yet Fragile Superpower, Newsweek, Dec 22, 2007.
3. China’s imperialism on full display, Washington Times, Jan 11, 2011.
4. 'Wei-Wen' imperative steals the thunder, Asia Times Online, Mar 12, 2011.
5. Is China a threat?, Townhall, Oct 27, 2005.
6. China rising: Back to the future, Asia Times Online, Mar 16, 2007.
7. The Future of Chinese Growth, New America Foundation, Mar 1, 2011.
8. Chinese Juggernaut?, Foreign Policy, Mar/Apr, 2011.
9. How to gracefully step aside, The Economist, Jan 10, 2011.
10. US struggling to hild role as global leader, Clinton says, Financial Times, Mar 2, 2011.
11. The New Era of U.S.-China Rivalry, Wall Street Journal, Jan 17, 2011.
12. The End of the 'Peaceful Rise'?, Foreign Policy, Dec 2010.
13. Think Again: Soft Power, Foreign Policy, Feb 23, 2006.
14. Joshua Kurlantzick, Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World (Yale University Press, 2008). 15. John and Doris Naisbitt, China’s Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society (Harper Business, 2010).
16. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, How China's Leaders Think: The Inside Story of China's Reform and What This Means for the Future (Wiley, 2009).
17. The World Needs an Assertive China, New York Times, Feb 21, 2011.
18. Benjamin I. Page and Tao Xie, Living with the Dragon: How the American Public Views the Rise of China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 74.
19. The Rise of China and the Future of the West, Foreign Affairs, Feb 2008.

Jinghao Zhou is an associate professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York. He can be reached at zhou@hws.edu.

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