China is des­tined to lead, but is not yet ready

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - LIANG XIAOJUN news­room@mm­times.com Liang Xiaojun is an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Di­plo­macy at China For­eign Af­fairs Uni­ver­sity, Bei­jing.

FOR a great power to lead the world there are a few qual­i­ties that it should bring to the ta­ble. These in­clude, but are not lim­ited to, ma­te­rial strength, an as­pi­ra­tion for recog­ni­tion and suf­fi­cient in­ter­na­tional sup­port. Does China cur­rently pos­sess these qual­i­ties?

Ma­te­rial strength is the idea that a great power can sur­vive a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter or a man-made catas­tro­phe by virtue of its geo­graph­i­cal ad­van­tage or large pop­u­la­tion. Rus­sia, for in­stance, was able to hold back Napoleon’s am­bi­tions and, later on, un­der­mine Hitler’s ag­gres­sion. The United States also had enough ma­te­rial strength to play a dom­i­nant role in re­build­ing the world af­ter the dev­as­ta­tion of World War II. And, more re­cently, China’s ma­te­rial strength led it to dom­i­nate the re­gional re­sponse to the 1997 Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis and the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Lead­ers of great pow­ers of­ten feel obliged to take on more re­spon­si­bil­ity in govern­ing the world. This sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity is rooted in na­tional iden­tity. But look­ing for this in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion can lead to both the over­es­ti­ma­tion and un­der­es­ti­ma­tion of na­tional power. Ja­pan’s quest for dom­i­nance in Asia is a per­ti­nent ex­am­ple of the for­mer. And the lat­ter can be seen in present-day China, which is al­ready a ma­jor power in the world but still un­pre­pared to play its role.

Fi­nally, great pow­ers are ex­pected by the rest of the world to pro­vide lead­er­ship and help main­tain in­ter­na­tional or­der as only great pow­ers can be re­lied upon to do so.

China’s con­tin­u­ous eco­nomic growth over the past three decades has led to ris­ing in­ter­na­tional ex­pec­ta­tions that it will take on a lead­er­ship role. New con­cepts such as a “G2” of China and the United States, and the emer­gence of China as a “re­spon­si­ble stake­holder” in the in­ter­na­tional or­der il­lus­trate this trend. The rest of the world, and par­tic­u­larly the United States, has an im­por­tant role to play in en­cour­ag­ing China to ac­com­plish its mis­sion in a con­struc­tive way.

But they must wait pa­tiently as China is not ready to be­come a great power just yet. There are four rea­sons for this.

First, there is no do­mes­tic con­sen­sus within China. Chi­nese lead­ers and the Chi­nese peo­ple are deeply di­vided over a wide range of do­mes­tic is­sues, from the govern­ment’s role in eco­nomic and so­cial life to for­eign pol­icy is­sues such as the South China Sea ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes. New “left­ist” ar­gu­ments (pro­mul­gated by schol­ars such as Wang Wen, Su Changhe and Wang Yi­wei) cur­rently hold favour in China, and tough na­tion­al­ist ar­gu­ments are on the rise. The rift be­tween the left and the right in China is deep­en­ing. How can a di­vided China lead the world?

Sec­ond, China re­fuses to ac­cept key values of the lib­eral in­ter­na­tional or­der such as democ­racy, lib­erty and the rule of law. In re­cent years, lec­tur­ers within China have been given re­peated or­ders that they can­not dis­cuss these values in the class­room. This raises more ques­tions re­gard­ing China’s lead­er­ship po­ten­tial.

While re­ject­ing pop­u­lar lib­eral values, China also fails to pro­vide any ap­peal­ing al­ter­na­tives. Com­mu­nism has lost its at­trac­tion do­mes­ti­cally and abroad, and the core values of Con­fu­cian­ism – which em­pha­sise so­cial hi­er­ar­chies – ap­pear un­ac­cept­able in light of the con­tem­po­rary im­por­tance given to equal­ity. China will be con­sid­ered a leader once it ei­ther ac­cepts the dom­i­nant lib­eral values or else es­tab­lishes some vi­able al­ter­na­tive that is in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cept­able.

Third, China does not pro­vide suf­fi­cient pub­lic goods for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. The United States rose to global hege­mon sta­tus by fa­cil­i­tat­ing a di­verse range of pub­lic goods un­der the um­brella of the Bret­ton Woods sys­tem. Thus far, China has ini­ti­ated the Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion and is now lead­ing de­vel­op­ment of the Asia In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, but these are only re­gional ini­tia­tives.

The pro­vi­sion of pub­lic goods is a func­tion of both the ma­te­rial re­sources of a na­tion and its hu­man re­sources. China is se­verely con­strained in its abil­ity to pro­vide pub­lic goods due to the gap be­tween sky­rock­et­ing de­mand for in­ter­na­tional tal­ent and China’s ac­tual do­mes­tic sup­ply. For in­stance, un­til Novem­ber 2011, there were only 519 Chi­nese young vol­un­teers work­ing in 19 coun­tries, com­pared to the more than 220,000 Amer­i­can Peace Corps vol­un­teers who have served in 140 coun­tries since 1961.

China also lacks a great power men­tal­ity that can in­spire the world. The cit­i­zens of a great power should care about the well-be­ing and

How can a di­vided China lead the world?

pros­per­ity of peo­ple both do­mes­ti­cally and abroad. Great pow­ers are ex­pected to be happy to give more and take less rather than op­er­ate on a strict cost-ben­e­fit ba­sis.

But China is not ready to give more. China of­fers for­eign aid bi­lat­er­ally based upon mu­tual ben­e­fit rather than seek­ing to fos­ter mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism. For­eign aid pol­icy, more of­ten than not, at­tracts fierce op­po­si­tion in China. And, to make mat­ters worse, na­tion­al­ism is on the rise within the ne­ti­zen com­mu­nity, a trend that will likely re­sult in China’s iso­la­tion from the world rather than any deeper in­te­gra­tion.

So, while it might be time for China to take on the bur­den of global re­spon­si­bil­ity on a part­ner­ship ba­sis, China is still not ready to be­come the great power. – East Asia Fo­rum

Photo: EPA

A man walks by a large Chi­nese na­tional flag be­hind glass re­flect­ing im­ages Mao Ze­dong dur­ing an exhibition at the Na­tional Mu­seum of China in Bei­jing on Septem­ber 9, the 40th an­niver­sary of the for­mer leader’s death.

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