How Beijing will treat the rest of the world


No one would still accuse China of hiding its light. After years of obeying Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of restrained foreign policy as the best means of advancing its peaceful rise, an emboldened Beijing now appears more comfortable about brandishing its strengths and achievements. Whether it is greeting visiting dignitaries with stealth fighters, encouraging the adoption of its currency abroad, or allowing retired generals to designate the South China Sea an area of “core interest”, the days of China as a shrinking violet are behind us.


The question is, what kind of foreign power will China become as its confidence grows and as its economic interests from south-east Asia to Africa and Latin America pull it deeper into world affairs. Unlike Japan, the world’s second-largest economy until last year, China will not be America’s shadow. In the phrase of Paul Keating, former Australian prime minister, the international order is returning to a more normal state in which the world’s second most important power is no longer a “client state” of the first.

问题是,随着中国自信心增强,以及在从东南亚到非洲和拉美的经济利益的拉动下,中国进一步深入全球事务,中国会变成什么样的强国呢?与直到去年还是世界第二大经济体的日本不同,中国不会成为美国的影子。用澳大利亚前总理保罗•基廷(Paul Keating)的话说,国际秩序正回到更为正常的状态,世界第二大国不再是第一大国的“附庸国”。

Even at this early stage of a process that may take 30 years or more to fully unfold, it is possible to make out the contours of China’s foreign policy. One stark difference between it and the US, where Hu Jintao, China’s president, finds himself this week, is that China is unlikely to be a proselytising power. America was founded on ideas and documents. That, coupled with its Christian roots, produces a strong evangelical streak. Whether in regard to its constitution or the merits of its liberal democracy and free-market ideology, much of the US discourse assumes it has fashioned a superior system. America has often led by example and through the attractiveness of its model. But it has not shied away from using force – through coups in Latin America or war in Vietnam and Iraq – in an effort to impose its vision on the world.


China, by contrast, lacks such ideological compulsion. Beijing is not blind to the utility of soft power. Dozens of Confucian Institutes around the world are spreading the Chinese language, and its state media has stepped up efforts to spread a “Chinese view” of the world. But at bottom, China’s political system and its pragmatic, mixed economy are not ideologically driven. They are a means to an end, the end being the creation of a rich and strong nation. “Americans are the evangelical nation,” says Orville Schell, head of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations. “China wants respect and admission of stature.”

相比之下,中国缺少这样的意识形态冲动。中国并不缺乏使用软实力的眼光。世界各地的众多孔子学院正在传播汉语,中国国有媒体也加强了传播中国世界观的努力。但从根本上说,中国的政治体系及其实用主义的混合型经济并非受到意识形态的推动。它们只是实现最终目标的一种手段,即建立一个富裕的强国。“美国是传教式国家,”亚洲协会(Asia Society)中美关系中心主任奥维尔•斯科勒(Orville Schell)表示。“中国希望得到尊重和对其地位的承认。”

China’s official foreign policy doctrine is non-intervention. Beijing deals more or less evenly with Burmese generals and elected western politicians alike. It has shown limited interest in influencing the domestic political agenda of other nations. Its preference for non-intervention will, nevertheless, be strained as its interests become more deeply entangled with the rest of the world. An initial test could come in Sudan, where China’s thirst for oil has led it to do business with Khartoum, but will now require it to build fences with the oil-rich south. Elsewhere, what would happen if there were violent backlashes against ethnic Chinese communities in Indonesia or Malaysia? It is increasingly hard to imagine China standing idly by. And how would Beijing react if an African government nationalised Chinese-owned mineral deposits or if a democratic government in Burma reneged on deals struck with Beijing by the generals?


Beijing has made much, too, of its supposedly non-expansionary nature. General Ma Xiaotian last year quoted Mao Zedong saying: “Fifty years from now, China’s territory will remain 9,600,000 square kilometres . . . Should we seize one inch of land from others, we would make ourselves aggressors.”


Of course, all states have been expansionary in their past or they would still be confined to villages and valleys. Qing Dynasty China was considerably larger than Ming Dynasty China. But if you accept China’s definition of the Middle Kingdom – incorporating Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan – then its assertion does not ring entirely hollow. Historically, China has preferred hierarchical, tributary relationships with “lesser” powers to outright territorial conquest. For example it never conquered the Ryukyu Kingdom, which paid tribute to it for centuries. Japan, which in the 19th century took on board western notions of the sovereign state, absorbed Ryukyu (now Okinawa) and went on forcibly to incorporate much of Asia into its short-lived empire.


Christopher Ford, author of The Mind of Empire, argues that China “lacks a meaningful concept of co-equal, legitimate sovereignties”. As its strength grows, he predicts: “China may well become much more assertive in insisting on the sort of Sinocentric hierarchy its history teaches it to expect.” Michael Wesley, head of Australia’s Lowy Institute, predicts China will, in time, try to push US forces away from its maritime borders, the better to exercise authority over smaller neighbours. There may already be a hint of this. Beijing has become more insistent in asserting rights over the entire South China Sea, even though these waters also adjoin several other nations, including Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia.

《帝国意志》(The Mind of Empire)的作者克里斯多佛•福特(Christopher Ford)提出,中国“没有真正意义上的平等合法主权的概念”。他预测,随着中国实力的增强,“中国可能会愈加强硬地坚持中国历史教会它去期待的以中国为中心的等级制度。”澳大利亚罗维国际政策学院(Lowy Institute for International Policy)执行主任迈克尔•韦斯利(Michael Wesley)预测,最终,中国会努力将美国军队推离其海上边界,更好地对较小邻国行使权力。关于这点,目前可能已有暗示。中国如今更为坚持对整个南海的权力主张,尽管这片海域还毗邻其他几个国家,包括越南、泰国、菲律宾和马来西亚。

Mr Schell of the Asia Society says China will increasingly seek to reinvent the old tributary system. Other countries will not have to emulate China ideologically. But they will have to show respect – if necessary through concessions. China wants to “let everyone know it doesn’t have to trim its jib to maintain relations with others”, says Mr Schell. “From now on, others are going to have to trim their jib.”