Since ancient history, China’s capability to be a dominant and influential actor in the world had made itself known as it grew as one of the oldest and influential civilizations to exist even in the modern world. The Chinese had introduced Eastern culture to the West and brought the West and the East together as they were one of the earliest traders and scholars. Throughout the times of the Great Wars, it is visible China did not make a significant role and have mostly concentrated on its own affairs regionally. However, in recent years, many are now noticing China’s steady rise that now competes with the capability of the United States. It is a question if China would not instigate the formation of a conflict, either regionally or internationally, as the country continues to develop. Regardless of its background and current territorial disputes, China’s rise to power will be peaceful as the country’s agenda, political and economic partnerships and its position in the international community implicates that China is supportive to peaceful cooperation with its fellow countries and foster sustainable development.
China’s rise to power had been debated upon by the international community given the rate Chinese power is increasing and how the international community should react to this mobilization. Some experts perceive that China’s rise to power is dangerous and the possibility of the country rising peacefully is not possible given three major security challenges: territorial disputes, political stance, and economic challenges. In the case of territorial disputes, Fravel (2007) stated that China has long been using force to settle territorial disputes since 1949 and the impact of these attacks vary in intensity. Out of the country’s twenty-three territorial dispute records, China has used force in six of these disputes and most of them are violent in nature. China’s territorial disputes are mostly due to its ethnic geography and the distribution of Han Chinese to several islands and territories not located near its borders. Chinese leaders have long maintained the belief that they should control its vast borders, especially the ethnic minorities which were not under direct rule from the government. However, for those located outside the Chinese shores, leaders believe that it would be a means for them to secure its maritime presence and also benefit from the lands they claim for their economic and strategic worth.
Out of the major disputes China currently has over territory, there are at least a few notable cases that still lingers today and the use of force by China is a concern for these nations they encounter. First of these disputes is with Taiwan. In itself, China’s claim over Taiwan is very weak and sensitive, however, it had continued in fighting against the Guomintang (Nationalist) forces for the sake of national unification. Taiwan remained at odds with the mainland because of its desire to attain democracy in the 1990s. While China had used force in several instances (1954, 1958, 1995 and 1996) to get the Taiwan issue resolved, the issue is still disputed up to the present due to China’s one-China policy that prevents Taiwan from being acknowledged. China and India also has a territorial dispute in the Himalayas that began in 1953 as China wanted to control the Aksai Chin, the western region of the Chinese-Indian border. China built a road through the disputed area and suppressed the revolts against the construction, causing the Indians to return fire. By 1993 and 1996, agreements were set to stop further military action, however, there is still no sign if both parties would agree to a resolution.
China also made claims in the South China Sea islands in 1951, most notably the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. Both island groups are also claimed by Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan. In the case of both island groups, China had clashed with Vietnamese to take control over the Paracel island groups, the Yongle and Xuande Groups by force. While China had gotten control over the Paracel, the issue about the Spratly Islands is still unresolved today . The final notable territorial dispute that causes concern for the international community is the Senkaku Island dispute between Japan, Taiwan and China. Manyin (2013) stated that the issue regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu/Diaoyutai Islands is one of the longest disputes for China. The claims on the island vary as all three wished to claim the islands perceived oil and natural gas deposit. China asserts that it has long been a part of the Chinese territory since the time of the Ming Dynasty, mirroring the claim of Taiwan over the region. Japan, on its end, stated that the islets do not have an owner, which is why it is safe for them to claim the area. While Japan still holds claim over the area, China had increased patrols towards the islets since 2012 and given China’s growing military presence, it presents a great deal of threat for East Asian security .
In the case of its political stance, a peaceful rise for China would not be possible considering its political allies and observed intentions in the international scene. According to Ott (2006), China’s rise to power should be an event of concern for the international community because China is showing an inclination of reducing the US influence in the East, especially as to where it has current territorial disputes. With the removal of the US to these areas, China can launch several attempts getting influence in Asia. Since Japan, for China, is no longer capable of actually opposing China’s actions; China is unopposed in getting this seat of influence in the region. With China in control of the region, its political influence could now enable them to claim jurisdiction over their contested territories in the Southeast and Taiwan. Its policies had already ensured that Chinese troops based in these contested areas have the power to keep foreign vessels away from its “claim” territories. Finally, China is also showing signs that it wishes to use the Asian region as a part of its territories, playing to the wishes of Beijing’s strategic interests. It could be said that this idea of the Chinese is similar to the US Monroe Doctrine, prohibiting or expelling any non-Asian or Japanese (in the case of China’s interest in the Southeast) military in the region and become the only influential government that can determine Asian policy and interest. The members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations or the ASEAN have expressed great concern over this possibility since China is now moving towards Burma, Laos and Cambodia .
Aside from these concerns, China is also the remaining ally to North Korea, currently classified as a very dangerous threat to the international community. According to Heberer and Senz (2007), China sustains almost 80% of North Korea’s energy supply and one third of its food supply. It is also sustaining NoKor’s weapons and indirectly aids the country against international scrutiny and sanctions through the UN. While North Korea claims China no longer has the same influencing power in the country, China supports the country through getting security guarantees from the US before it could disarm or dismantle their nuclear capability. The international community sees China as the only nation that can influence North Korea, however, the possibility of China doing such active influence in North Korea is slightly difficult as North Korea is China’s means to counter Japanese rearmament and to influence the Korean peninsula. Unless China makes an effort to influence North Korea, the threat of North Korea’s position as a budding nuclear power and military force can threaten the region and China altogether .
Finally, it is unlikely for China to rise peacefully unless it can resolve its economic challenges, which can undermine its overall development and rise to power. Morrison (2013) states that while China records a high rate of development and economic reform, the Chinese economy is mostly an incomplete “socialist-market economy”. This incomplete aspect of China’s economy disables its small open economies or SOEs from succeeding in business and lose money. The country is also having difficulties over its banking system due to debt as Chinese SOEs are mostly the ones accounting for 85% of loans that are sometimes left unpaid by the SOE. The IMF in 2013 warned China of the possible complications brought by extensive borrowing as it has the capacity to increase the local government debt to $2 trillion. China is also experiencing difficulties in sustaining its economy due to the undervalued currency or the renminbi. Experts argue that China’s undervalued currency would make it difficult for the government to sustain the inflation and impacts of the recession in the country .
However, while these challenges are indeed posing problems to China’s rise to power peacefully, China remains firm in its agenda, partnerships and stance that it is supporting a peaceful rise to power without needing to cause chaos to achieve it. In terms of agenda, the idea of utilizing a peaceful means to rise to power, according to Goldstein (2010) has long been in the perception of Chinese leaders, especially, Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping in the 1990s. He believed it was the time for China to take a much more active and politically stable foreign policy that would utilize the less threatening environment to push for a peaceful economic development. China, under this agenda, could address military changes later as it could concentrate on modernizing its system to become “a rich, powerful and respected member of the community of modern states.” The perception of Xiaoping had not been easy to uphold given the challenges presented by the international community and China’s domestic issues. Nonetheless, Beijing pressed on to improve its relations with its neighboring countries and push for constructive dialogues to resolve its disputes. Since the 1990s, China took this ideal into heart and entered unofficial and official talks between its neighboring countries to resolve disputes and even expand economic, social and academic agreements. The US even commended China for this policy behavior, giving China a cleaner image to the international community .
In support of the agenda of the Chinese in developing the country as a respected member of the international community, China is slowly reaching out to its neighbors and to other nations for partnerships to support its agenda and promote development. According to Goldstein, the idea of working on “partnerships” started in 1996 as China knew its image to the world is not as appealing to the world powers. The country did not support any particular state or group of states in order to show its position as an independent state. Once China makes contact and create bilateral ties would then lead on to simple connections that would then grow into something much more beneficial for China’s development. However, China takes great caution as the possible pressure from the great powers may entice sour relations that can jeopardize the entire Chinese society. The creation of these partnerships is also a means for China to cope up with the growing American power in the region and in the international community. The partnership diplomacy would enable China to act in accordance of its interests rather than succumbing to the primacy of the US on issues that can threaten China’s agenda and goals .
Currently, China is in partnership with most of its neighbors and other nations like the US despite the tensions brewing between their parties. Hickey (2005) stated that China has complex relationships with Japan, South Korea, North Korea and Taiwan despite their territorial disputes. When it comes to Japan, both nations benefit in the trading industry as Japan exports almost seven trillion yen worth of products to China like steel. Japan benefits from Chinese exports, allowing it to improve its economy through investments and job creation. In the case of South Korea, both nations used to be bitter rivals until August 1992. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner and China is now South Korea’s preferred investment destination because of China’s flexible domestic market. Both China and South Korea contribute to the other’s economic recovery given their trading agreements, and the increase in tourists for both nations. As for North Korea, China is the country’s main ally and supports a part of the country’s economy on imports. In the case of Taiwan, despite the conflict between the two governments on territory and legitimacy, China is Taiwan’s largest export market and investment hub with almost $100 billion investment in the mainland .
In terms of the ASEAN, Chambers (2005) stated that China and the Southeast Asian countries had begun talks in December 1997 to “promote good neighborly and friendly relations, increase high-level exchanges, and strengthen the mechanism of dialogue and cooperation in all areas to enhance understanding and mutual benefit.” Despite their territorial claims in several areas in the Southeast, China has exerted immense effort to demonstrate its willingness to work with Southeast Asian nations to create a stable regional environment for economic and political growth. At first, the Southeast Asian countries have been reluctant to accept this openness coming from China to create dialogues for development. However, with Beijing’s presence in the 1997 ASEAN Summit, it had been able to help Thailand on its economic troubles with a bailout of $1 billion funding. Beijing had also ensured that they can alleviate the fear of the Southeast over their intentions by signing cooperation framework agreements with the ASEAN for cooperation in sectors of education, security, economy and politics. In 2002, China signed the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area by 2010 to open the markets for easy trading. In 2003, China was the first non-member state to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation that would ensure support to discussions raised in the summits. While China promotes itself as a “good neighbor” to Southeast Asian countries, it enables China to create a peaceful and stable environment in which could aid its economic development and prosperity. In turn, the ASEAN is permitted greater prosperity with the help of China’s involvement and increase the possibility of sustaining peace in the region.
Finally, China has the capacity to rise peacefully as it supports several initiatives of the United Nations and other international organizations to maintain peace and promote development. Heberer and Senz stated that China had earlier showed a passive stance in being involved with international politics, especially in the UN Security Council in the 1970s. However, throughout the years, China saw the benefits of being involved in the UN and aided in discussions over international operations to prosper peace and global governance. The country is also working tirelessly to support the reduction of arms and favor inspections to countries considered as nuclear states. Beijing also emphasizes in these meetings in the SC that military force should not be used to enforce peace as seen in their preference to aid most of its territorial and political disputes. China is also well represented in 21 international organizations and 71 international nongovernmental organizations to both serve as China’s means to become involved in the international arena, but also to serve as China’s means to support global governance and cooperation. China’s support to international initiatives on peace is also seen in its position in the war on terrorism. Beijing had immediately condemned the terror attacks on 9/11 and offered support to the United States against international terrorism. The support offer has an underlying condition that would paint China in a supportive light as a reliable partner and getting the US to support or accept China’s efforts to fight terrorism in the mainland. China had also established the “Shanghai Cooperation Organization” with Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to combat the growth of terrorism in the region as these former Soviet territories, as well as China’s borders are flocked with rebels, terrorists and insurgents. China also supports the UN to monitor all international interventions conducted in several territories .
With the growing rise to power of China, the United States must take into consideration several key factors when it comes to dealing with the issue. Lawrence (2013) stated that both the US and China share bilateral partnerships in global, regional, and local issues that influences the overall status quo of the international community. With China now second to the US in terms of economic capability, Washington is now working on means to improve cooperation with China to sustain the global economy after the successive changes caused by the recession. As a fellow member of the SC, the US also sees China as a key factor in influencing Iran and North Korea on nuclear disarmament. Given China’s closeness to the Asian region, it is also the goal of the US to encourage China to act as the regional actor to support peace and sustainability in the region. It is also the desire of the US to work with China to address crucial issues like climate change, human rights and the rule of law in the region and support China’s actions for the sake of creating a peaceful coexistence .
On the other hand, according to Mearsheimer (2010), the United States must expect the possible attempts of China to dominate the Asian region given its territorial inclinations and political agenda in the region. The US can treat China similar to the Soviet Union if it shows any sign that it would threaten regional security, but also the US’s allies and US influence in the region. Throughout the years, the US have made partnerships to almost all nations in which China has agreements or disputes at the present time. It is crucial that the US is prepared to counter China once it moves against its neighbors. Many nations are already joining a US-led coalition designed to sustain China’s rise and at the rate China is going, the US must make sure that while it sustains bilateral agreements with China, it would be able to launch into action once needed by its members .
China's rise to power as one of the influential members of the international community is inevitable considering its capability to withstand any challenge presented against its progress. On the one hand, its rise to power would not be very easy or peaceful considering that China remains at odds with the international community over issues on territory, politics and economy. On the other hand, however, China's intentions should not be seen as a threat as it pushes for a peaceful rise to power through the improvement of bilateral relations between them and their neighbors. While China tries to improve its capability, it supports the agenda of openness and an active position in the international arena to open discussions with their neighbors and entice political and economic cooperation for development. It is uncertain as to how China’s image would develop in the current state of the international arena, however, it is certain that even this growing nation would try its best to prevent possible use of force as it could hinder their rise to power.
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