THE BLOG
10/17/2014 05:10 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

Answering Four Key Questions About China's Rise

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"Is China going to compete for world power?"

Most people in China, if asked such a question, would show little interest in seeing the country fighting for world power with the U.S., and still less in becoming another U.S.

However, in the U.S. and some European countries, many may ask: How can we trust that China won't be like that? They are concerned that China may try to set up a new regional order under its rule.

In a recent conversation with Henry Kissinger, he told me that he thought more people should know what the Chinese are thinking. I have therefore chosen a few hotly discussed topics below to share some of the views in China.

First, is China a world power?

For most in the U.S., and the world for that matter, China is undoubtedly already a newly rising world power.

According to the latest IMF purchasing power parity calculation, China's GDP overtook the U.S.' to be the number one economy of the world. However, such a story did not raise much excitement in China. Most see it simply as too flattering.

Foreigners see China's progress mainly from the images of China based on skylines in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. But if you drive out of these megacities 100 km, you will easily find people living at very basic levels. By the U.N. poverty standard of U.S.$ 1.25 a day, there are still about 200 million Chinese, or roughly 14 percent of the Chinese population, living under that line.

In China, urbanization has reached 51 percent. But when measured at the human level, people who are living in city conditions are no more than 37 percent. That is to say, more people in China are yet to enjoy urban quality of life like clean water and proper medical care.

China is a country that has just come out of overall poverty. Those born in the 1980s were the first generation of Chinese who have grown up with a full stomach and who started to enjoy the freedom of choices.

But at the national level, more challenges are waiting to be addressed, such as more hospitals, schools and better environment. The country is on a steep upward slope, confronting difficulties sometimes beyond imagination for the outside world.

That is why we state that China is a developing country, and for a long time to come, the country will focus on its reform and opening to the outside world in order to promote development.

We have two centenary objectives. The first is to double the GDP as well as both urban and rural average income based on 2010 figures in time for the 100 year anniversary of the Communist Party in 2020.

The second is to turn the country into a modernized socialist society, with per capita income levels reaching that of a moderate developed country for the 100 year anniversary of the People's Republic of China at the middle of this century.

Second, does China have to compete for world power and might this even lead to war?

According to Hans Morgenthau, the theorist of realism in international politics, countries will inevitably fight for international power as they become stronger. John Mearsheimer, who developed the "offensive neorealism" theory for the post-Cold War international situation, also sees unavoidable, tragic competition among powers.

But it is important for the world to realize that China is consciously shaping a new paradigm that follows a path of peaceful development.

China's foreign trade grew 300 times in RMB terms in the 30 years from 1983 to 2013. But this was not achieved with "flag before trade." Rather, it was the fruit of mutually beneficial cooperation on an equal footing and within the existing rule-based international free trade environment.

Especially after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, international trade grew at an average rate of 18.2 percent annually. China is now the largest trading partner for over 120 countries, importing more than U.S. $2 trillion worth of goods, and creating jobs and investment opportunities around the world. This factor also anchors China's relations with its partners.

During the past three decades, China's GDP expanded 95 times, while the increase in its military spending was only 42 percent of that rate. China follows a constitutionally stipulated national defense policy that is defensive in nature. Grabbing capital, resources and markets by military force as the world witnessed in the past is unnecessary in today's world, and it is unacceptable as a policy option for China.

There are both domestic and international reasons as to why peaceful development works for China.

In terms of internal factors, the Chinese nation has a strong belief in peace. Many of the ancient sayings go deep in people's mind ( i.e, "a nation, however powerful, is doomed if it is always hungry for war", "peace is most valuable under the sun" and "achieving harmony while allowing differences"). China suffered a great deal at the hands of foreign powers. We "do not do onto others what we don't want others to do to us."

As a socialist country, the interest and benefit of the whole population is at the center of China's domestic policy, which has determined that its international strategy is firmly rooted in peace and cooperation with all countries.

Externally, globalization has created conditions that made it possible for China to achieve peaceful development.

When the Cold War ended, it also broke the division caused by confrontation between opposing camps.

Thus a global trend of diffusion occurred, whereby resources and factors of production, such as capital, technology, talents and expertise, previously held mostly in the developed Western world, started to diffuse to the vast periphery. Wars and military expansion are no longer the workable and necessary way to attain economic expansion.

China made good use of this opportunity. Through its persistent reform and opening-up program, China has become the leading developing country in attracting international investment and technology. It has achieved its economic boost by being able to tap into global markets.

This is not a one way street. China's massive growth has benefited all those countries and businesses who partnered with China.

Many other developing countries also took on the wave of globalization, and their role is also essential in adding vigor to new period of world economic expansion.

China's peaceful development has been successful, and there is no reason not to continue it. Only by following peaceful development can China attain its development goals.

Third, how is China's commitment to peace reflected in its policy in the neighborhood?

As we entered the second decade of the 21st century, China's neighborhood has seen much disquiet. The temperature has risen over territorial disputes and maritime jurisdiction -- issues which had lain dormant for years. What has happened?

On April 10th, 2012, a Philippine navy ship sent armed men into the lagoon of Huangyan Island to harass Chinese fishermen who were working there. Photos of the scene angered the people back home who called for actions to protect Chinese citizens and territory.

The following September, the Japanese government went ahead with the so-called "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands, which broke the status quo of shelving the disputes for resolution at some future time. That too ignited serious demonstrations in many Chinese cities and gravely strained ties with China.

China took effective measures in response to both provocations to firmly uphold territorial rights and interests. At the same time, China has exercised restraint and has not given up on resolving disputes through dialogue or the principle of "putting aside differences and going for joint development." We also must watch closely the true intentions and other complicating factors that may lie behind provocations.

China and ASEAN countries have had many rounds of discussions and finally reaffirmed the commitment to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which underpins stability in the South China Sea. We also started talks on a "code of conduct."

Free and unimpeded passage in the South China Sea is crucial for China as a major trading country. Maintaining such freedom remains one of our priorities.

Compared with other regions in the world, Asia has remained peaceful and stable on the whole since the end of the Cold War. With no major conflicts, countries have been able to focus on economic development and cooperation.

In this process, they have not only deepened common interests but also made Asia an engine for the global economy, contributing roughly half of global growth in recent years.

China's good-neighborly policies over these years have played an important role in this process.

THE ASEAN WAY

One priority of China's Asia policy going forward is to support and join in the framework of dialogue and cooperation initiated by ASEAN, which fosters the principles of openness, inclusiveness, consensus building and accommodating each party's comfort level. This is known as the ASEAN Way.

This seemingly loose regional architecture led by ASEAN has provided a major integrating network that brought Asia together in the post-Cold War order.

China supports ASEAN centrality in East Asia cooperation, which now is an important component of the Asian order.

Parallel to this architecture is the bilateral military alliances led by the U.S., which is a legacy of the Cold War. How these alliances renew and reinvent themselves is being watched closely.

The "rebalance strategy" pursued by the U.S. in recent years exhibits a heavy military focus and has given rise to new debate.

THE TROUBLE WITH MILITARY ALLIANCES

First, military alliances are exclusive in nature. Where do non-members come in in its security vision? How do members balance their security interests and responsibilities with those of non-members?

Second, where do alliances draw the line when it comes to principles. Do members always support their allies, be it right or wrong?

Third, how does the alignment regime interface with and accommodate the region's other multilateral frameworks?

In the case of Japan, its current leader refuses to recognize the history of aggression. He has visited the Yasukuni Shrine and denies the fact of comfort women. Furthermore, he constantly invokes the "China threat" to justify his attempt to amend the country's pacifist constitution.

The concern among the Chinese people is that all this may be aimed at freeing Japan from post-World War restraints in order to attain the ability to wage war again.

As Japan's most important ally, how will the U.S. rein in this ally and keep it on a peaceful track? This will affect the future regional order in a fundamental way.

"As Japan's most important ally, how will the U.S. rein in this ally and keep on a peaceful track? This will affect the future regional order in a fundamental way."

In the final analysis, the decisive factor for Asia is whether China and the U.S. can properly manage their relationship and cooperate on regional issues.

Leaders of the two countries have agreed to build a new type of major-country relationship. The question is how this is realized in the real world.

The first issue is whether the two countries could build up mutual trust and reduce misperceptions. The lack of trust between China and U.S., both at a strategic level and in media circles, has led to continuous misreading and misjudgment, which spoils the atmosphere and stands in the way of cooperation.

For the U.S. side, the key lies in resisting the temptation to view China from an ideological standpoint. If this obstacle cannot be removed, bilateral ties are likely to be affected by ups and downs from time to time.

The second is whether the two countries can learn to respect each other's interests and concerns. To the Chinese people, the U.S. seems to prefer choosing to stand on the opposing side on almost any issue that involves China's interest.

For instance, when China faces provocations from its neighbors, the U.S. has pointed fingers at China regardless of facts. By doing so, the U.S. has reinforced its negative image among the Chinese public.

To change that, the two countries could exhibit a more positive tone and conduct more visible cooperation in such areas as climate change, counterterrorism, curbing pandemics and cyber security.

Both countries need a prosperous and stable Asia. We should identify areas where we agree and work on them. In areas where we can't agree, let's put aside differences for further discussion.

We should state together our support for the multilateral frameworks led by ASEAN and leave little room for regional countries to worry about China-U.S. conflict or to take sides.

On the part of China, we should carefully consider how our actions might affect our neighbors. We should explain ourselves more proactively -- to make our voice better heard -- so that the outside world can have a more timely and objective understanding of our thinking and intentions.

Fourth, how do the Chinese people see their country's role in the world and its international responsibilities? Should China share global responsibility with the United States?

The world today is constantly troubled by conflicts in different regions. The Ukraine issue has not yet cooled down and the temperature continues to rise in the Middle East. China is perceived as not playing a sufficient role or even as shirking responsibilities.

In China, people see that most of the world's problem started from the wrong foot and then led to a mess. The easiest way to resolve an issue it to stop the fighting and find a compromise among the parties concerned.

"China may join in discussions about hotspot issues with the aim of seeking a peaceful solution, but it will not turn into a party involved in the conflict or take steps that make the problem worse."

It is a widely held belief in China that countries should not interfere in each other's internal affairs. So China may join in discussions about hotspot issues with the aim of seeking a peaceful solution, but it will not turn into a party involved in the conflict or take steps that make the problem worse.

How about China's global responsibility?

First and foremost, as a country accounting for one fifth of the world population, growing prosperous and staying stable in itself is a very important contribution of China to the world.

As for world security issues, China has offered good offices on the Korean nuclear issue and promoted stability in Afghanistan. We are also parties to many of the negotiations concerning regional and world security. However, China does not see itself as having an overriding power over other countries. Our view is this: should there be the need for international involvement, the opinion of the country concerned and the regional view must come first and the U.N.'s authorization cannot be circumvented.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has elaborated on the concept of Asian security, which promotes common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. That's a crystallization of China's security thinking, and it also goes along with the general thinking in Asia.

CHINA AND GLOBAL PUBLIC GOODS

It is also important that China provides more public goods as its ability grows. For example, since 2008, the Chinese Navy has sent 45 ships to the pirate-ridden Gulf of Aden for escort missions, and half of the ships they helped were non-Chinese.

China has actively participated in international cooperation in disaster relief, combating transnational crimes and maritime security. China now ranks the first among developing countries in terms of peacekeeping assessment at the U.N., and it is the biggest contributor of peacekeepers among the Permanent 5 members of the Security Council.

China also strives to share anti-poverty experiences with African and other developing countries. Chinese medical personnel are at the forefront fighting the deadly Ebola virus and more assistance and resources have been sent from China in recent weeks.

Asia is the key area for China's international cooperation. China's initiatives to develop the Silk Road economic belt and maritime Silk Road are aimed at expanding connectivity and promoting common development. It combines China's advantage and the regional needs.

This modern Silk Road is not a closed or exclusive arrangement. We welcome more participation by countries, including the United States.

"This modern Silk Road is not a closed or exclusive arrangement. We welcome more participation by countries, including the United States."

When the U.S. judges China or other countries about their role in the world, it often prefers for others to just "follow me" or "do for me." This approach does not go down well with the Chinese people.

On the other hand, in China, we also need to fully understand and appreciate our country's new position in the world and grow into this new role.

The direction to go is for the Chinese and Americans to try to understand and appreciate each other's views and positions better. That is indispensable should the two countries want to work closely and effectively on world strategic issues.

This comment is adapted from remarks by Fu Ying at the Asia Society Dialogue on October 12, 2014.