Being clear-eyed about China’s power

October 13, 2016

Being clear-eyed about China’s power

by  Editors, East Asia Forum

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (2nd L) and China's President Xi Jinping (R) attend a meeting at Xijiao Hotel in Shanghai May 18, 2014.

There are many anxieties and uncertainties out there in the world about China and its future. In this year’s Pew polling, almost 90 per cent of those surveyed in Japan are anxious about growing Chinese power with only 11 per cent having a favourable view of China. In Australia, the proportion is 52 per cent and 43 per cent of those surveyed saw their country’s relationship with China as important, the same proportion as those who nominated the relationship with the United States important.

A large majority in Australia nominated the Chinese economy a positive factor, while the different system of government and troubles in the South China Sea came through as clear negatives. But despite the average Australian’s clear-eyed view of China, there is a small industry in this country promoting the argument that security concerns on many levels should dominate the positive effects of the big economic relationship and positive inter-personal interaction (79 per cent of those surveyed).

Image result for china-australia relations

China’s international economic presence has suddenly become big; people all around the world have to deal with the China factor because it permeates every major issue of the day, whether they know terribly much about it or not.

What China has to deal with in keeping its economy on course and delivering moderate affluence to the Chinese people in the next decade or two — the ambition that the Chinese leadership has declared for the country — is a huge challenge. No country has ever had to effect a set of reforms under such intense international spotlight in the global market or of this scale and complexity ever before in human history.

One major anxiety is that the Chinese political system is different from that of countries which are already rich. Indeed, there are no significantly sized countries in the world that have achieved advanced per capita income levels without some form of representative government, the oil states being the exceptions. Is China capable of delivering on its goals to become rich while preserving its political system, and how can other countries deal with China if it does — or for that matter if it doesn’t?

Image result for china naval power

No country has trod the path of economic advance before without presuming to use its economic power to carve a greater slice of global political power. Japan — the second time around — is perhaps the exception, with the adoption of its ‘peace constitution’ and its constrained position within the US–Japan alliance. Every move China makes in the political sphere, whether in the South China Sea or in setting up the AIIB, seems open to the interpretation that China is aiming to overthrow the established order. Exacerbating this is that China’s own regional and global ambitions remain unclear. Hence, China’s behaviour in the South China Sea and elsewhere is being used as a proxy for how China might behave when it becomes even more powerful.

These anxieties are major undercurrents in thinking about China in the established industrial powers as well as in smaller countries, especially those within its neighbourhood.

But despite the scale of all the challenges it faces and the anxieties there are about how they will be managed, the clear-eyed perception of China, more now than perhaps even a few months ago, is of a country that is still growing at more than twice the rate of the world economy and appears to be an island of economic stability in a global sea of economic troubles, as Brexit in Europe and the Trump phenomenon in North America have created anxieties in other parts of the world. China’s leadership as president of the G20 this year modestly reinforced that image of reliability and China’s claims to significant ownership in the international public good, though there is still quite a way to go.

James Laurenceson, in this week’s lead essay, reminds us that ‘economics is at the heart of military and strategic power’. Economic analysis, he suggests, is key to getting a clear-eyed understanding of Chinese strategic policy and its limits.

The simple arithmetic is that, with a population of 1.4 billion, income per person in China only has to reach one-quarter of that in the United States for it to have the world’s largest economy, allowing it to buy sophisticated weapons systems from abroad. In purchasing power parity (PPP) terms China’s real output, the measure that is relevant for paying the wages of war, the IMF estimates, will already be 12 per cent larger than that of the United States at the end of this year. China is large and dealing with this reality is not only or even largely at this point about dealing with the risks of its military power. It is more about the risks in China’s transition towards advanced economic power.

‘Economics can also help to restore some clear-headed thinking on complex matters such as the South China Sea’, Laurenceson points out. ‘The narrative proposed by strategic hawks is that since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 the Chinese government has begun aggressively pursuing expansionism. Yet since the South China Sea arbitration decision was published in July, both China and the Philippines have shown restraint in their response, albeit neither side has backed down from their original positions’.

Rigorous analysis, informed by a modicum of economic training or business savvy, makes this restraint understandable. The economics opens the possibility of these international relations being a positive, or at least mixed interest, rather than a zero-sum game.

‘With income per person still only at 14 per cent of that in the United States (25 per cent in PPP terms)’, says Laurenceson, ‘China can ill afford a dramatic recasting of its relationship with the rest of the world’.

Continuing to put its own commitments to economic and political reform on the table; moving forward on open trade and investment; committing to deeper financial reform and capital account opening (as well as concomitant political reform); undertaking to be a leading partner in a new global trade and investment agenda; and extricating itself from its overbearing projection in the South and East China Seas will all be critical elements in building momentum for the Chinese in managing to calm some of the anxieties about the impact of China’s rise on the international community.

The EAF Editorial Group is comprised Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Being clear-eyed about China’s power

19 thoughts on “Being clear-eyed about China’s power

  1. I have always respected Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, one of the best institutions in the studies of Asian affairs.

    I agree that “there are many anxiety and uncertainties out there in the world about China and its future.” The sheer size of China is intimidating and the Chinese have done a lousy job explaining themselves. And I am not surprised that “…almost 90 per cent of those surveyed in Japan are anxious about growing Chinese power….” The Japanese are afraid of what China would do to them in revenge of what they had done to them. The rivalry between China and Japan has gone back a thousand year, with Korea always sandwiched in between.

    But I do not agree that “…no significantly sized countries in the world that have achieved advanced per capita income levels without some form of representative government….” In fact, the opposite is true. Most significantly sized countries in the world have achieved advanced per capita income levels before becoming a representative government. And great majority of the developing countries that introduce representative government before economic development have failed.

    Perhaps it could be a useful corrective to seeing China that was often simplistic about its massive challenges, amnesiac about the halting way in which Western societies became free, and blind to the fact that China is, in its own way, opening up.

  2. This piece is really being blind-eyed about China’s power, It misleads the world by drawing surveys from Japan, the defeated WWII war criminal, an abnormal nation as political tools where US still stations its occupation military force there, as well as the Aussie, US’s deputy, ex-British convicts/colonial masters… are the real security threats to us.

  3. Clear eye , Skew vision .
    An Anxiety manufactured piece of work by the Western propagandists who never ponder that China has 1.4 Billion mouths to feed and 1.4 issues to deal with by itself.

    The world will have less conflicts, more peace, when the Western powers, including Japan and Australia, learn to deal with itself and among themselves first, before embarking to teach or engage others.

  4. China power ? yes, its an ancient Civilization , and many great Philosophers , learned people , like Confucious, Lao Tze , and Admiral Zeng He ( Laksamana Cheng Ho ) , but its complicated history was marred by Cruel Emperors…..

    Its also inundated by 1.4 billion population and plagued by endless feuds and tribal or communal warfares from ancient times…. and progress were anything but stunted. But actually to ‘ rise ‘ , its not about its mighty population itself, and Knowledge and learning is the main factor for advancement. Tremendous effort in building up the Great Wall which has indeed become one of the wonders of the world heritage …….

    The downside of mighty China, is the Language factor which is greatly hampered by its Chinese character genealogy …..Impenetrable for ‘ outsiders ‘ to breach the Barrier in terms of spreading Knowledge….and that is the Constriction ! –

    In that specific sense , its not going to be that easy for China ‘rise’ in terms of spreading knowledge (or learning) , compared to Western ‘ rise ‘ by their knowledge of the English language, which has become World-wide …..great wall indeed for spreading of Knowledge for all of mankind ? ?

  5. @abbnizar,

    Clear-eyed or not, feeding a billion is difficult. Continue to feed a billion who has tasted comfort is more difficult. In the beginning days of the hundred philosophers, there was a school called ‘vertical-horizontal’ hard at work trying to figure out progress would come from a vertical (aka unified) or a horizontal (aka split up) world. Qin spelled it out how it is possible to have a vertical world. Han made it a reality. Tang perfected it. Yet, now this generation has to continue this dream without knowing how to achieve that. Such is a curse for the rest of the ‘Han’ people, including the foreigners who ruled China.

    What we see is a snapshot of a continuation of a long history of the vertical wanting to perpetuate itself. What we see in South-East-Asia is a mere distraction to harness legitimacy of a ruling party creating a so-called nebulous non-thinking ‘Chinese’ dream. That same logic applied in Zheng-He whom you mentioned. Zheng-He caused China to seal itself for centuries causing its’ ultimate downfall. The same cycle would repeat itself.

    Clear-eyed or not, is there any difference with movement behind ‘make America Great again’?

    The happy thing about this is that in a clear-eyed world, we can have the chance to be courageous in learning how to forgive as a loser. Loser being the Layu-South-East-sian

    – Khek (pendatang even in China)

  6. Languages spread by colonization, when one country invades another country and compels the indigenous people to study their language. Language also spread when the country that speak a certain language becomes strong and economically or politically relevant. Additionally, languages spread through trade and migration.

    English has spread world-wide in the last 2 to 3 hundred years, first by the British through colonization and inherited by the American after WWII. It has more to do with military might and economical and political relevance than how hard or easy to learn a particular language.

    Mongolian was once the universal language from Asia to Europe.

  7. ….”its complicated history was marred by Cruel Emperors…..”

    Who were Cruel Emperors? Definitely not Chinese but Japanese atrocities, the Western Gun Boat Cultures conquered by the British colonial empire and extended by American hegemony!

    English became world language not because of spreading knowledge for all mankind but due to Britannica’s gun boat culture extended by the Americana’s hegemony.

    Unlike Western rise thru wars, like the British Opium Wars poisoning the Chinese, European WW1&2 when Russia defeated Nazi Germany, Americans defeated the cruel Japanese become world power, Chinese rise is peaceful.

    Practically all modern science and technology are based on Chinese inventions, like the rocketry, gun powder, ship building compartmentalization, paper and printing press …..

    Unless English language based on sound or phonic only, Chinese language is based on context, can be pronounced in different sound/phonic and understood by peoples who speak differently all over the world, as world language and knowledge as China rises peacefully.

  8. Language is only a means of communication , that’s OK …..but spreading of ‘Knowledge ‘ , esp Scientific language , in Chinese characters is astoundingly Impenetrable to ‘outsiders ‘ so how to spread beyond China ? Its like the Great Wall ….impenetrable ….. – The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics , at least Scholars or experts have managed to decipher them , still they are archaic….

    Wah ! Wrongways still disputing about Cruelty of Emperors ? Without them, Confucius or Lao Tzu would not have appeared , which actually , gradually woke up the masses , to eventually overthrow them . Who was the last ?

  9. “Unless English language based on sound or phonic only, Chinese language is based on context, can be pronounced in different sound/phonic and understood by peoples who speak differently all over the world, as world language and knowledge as China rises peacefully.”

    Adoi, apa lu cakap ah? World brain, you have not..
    Even the Koreans use an alphabetical language and have disemboweled the hieroglyphics that you are so proud of.. Not to mention the Vietnamese and Tibetans etc.. (who were/are conquered). Heard of East Turkestan? Yeah, non-Han Xinjiang? Uighur land?

    But the Japanese, your mortal enemy love the logographic kanji (based on Chinese characters), besides their own syllabic hiragana and katakana romaji.

    All your vehicles and household items are non-Japanese ya?

    Science requires Classification – which the tonal ‘pictograms’ cannot possibly hope to accomplish. Why? Cuz ‘Science’ is a very Western concept.. The Chinese couldn’t go beyond simple fireworks and blunderbuss with their ‘blackpowder’ nor develop the printing press – why? Paper money they got plenty though..

    What does the Chinese call a computer? Literally translated into ‘Electric brain’ – like yours. Quantum computers? ‘Vely, vely small electric brain’ – also like yours.

    Greater China may or may not prosper with Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles, but ruling with a copy-cat version of WESTERN Marxism couldn’t cut it and neither can the fake orgasm of State Capitalism couched in Communistic rhetoric and opaqueness.

    China needs to rethink it’s political philosophy and it’s role in the world. No foreigner wants to rule China and all this narcissistic paranoid chatter is self-defeating – something the Chinese ‘brainiacs’ are very good at doing themselves.

    La Moy, is it true that almost 80-90% of the R&D for drugs and health products in PRC are faked rubbish as reported by PRC’s own FDA? If so why are you doing research in PRC? You are amongst the 5-10% of honest to goodness ‘research’? How about some efficacious bird-nest formulae? No worries, just asking..

    The Mainline Chinese are buying up almost all the Aussie-European-American health products, including infant formula and OTC medicines to send back to China. Luckily, my grandkid prefers mother’s milk.., although she hates it if put into a plastic bottle Made in China.

    And Middle Class Chinese don’t trust their own food.

  10. Exactly, the Chinese middle class does not trust their own produce, particularly in food, and health sectors.These are some of the billion issues China has to deal with now and on a longer term timeframe.

    Having to deal with the enormous internal problems in its own way does not mean China can do whatever it wants with the SCS area, though it had already assured repeatedly, free air and sea passage.

    While negotiating for solutions with the disputing counters,
    the important thing is to agree on free air and sea passage without sacrificing safety and security where limited military apparatus are to be JOINTLY deployed and maintained by all member countries that have common coastlines bordering the SCS.

    Throughout my past conversations, the resourceful concept of
    “Shared Benefits and Responsibility” has been suggested and expressed. China and the affected countries may want to explore its merits and adopting its basis in finding a permanent solution of sustained peace and security, growth and prosperity.

    After all, it is about
    China’s Vision for Peace and Prosperity in Sharing Benefits and Responsibilities.

  11. CLF:

    My lab is a small potato as compared to Norvatis, a large R&D based in Shanghai. I, too, have dealing in India, 3rd in the world in pharmaceutical manufacturing. According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), 90% of essential medicines made in India depended on intermediates and pharmaceutical ingredients from China.

    It is true that the State Food & Drug Administration (SFDA) has been closing down manufacturers that do not meet the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). The way I see it, the Chinese government is answering the people and SFDA is doing a very good job.

    Actually, the problem in India is not any lesser. In authoritative China, once they decided to do something they do it right away. In democratic India, they talk and talk and talk but nothing get done.

  12. Lupus is talking rots again. Oh come on! where did Sun Yat Sen exile to away from Qing Empire besides USA? Isn’t it Japan?

    Nong Nong time ago, everybody thought that Japs produce were beri inferior as compared to Germany and……….hehehehe, UK. Wanna challenge or not? Things can change one ma. It’s time for you to listen to Byrd. Or heck, read the Book of Ecclessiates la……..

    Science requires classification…….Macai Lupus…….Who the build the pyramid huh? The Greeks? The Romans?

    What language Egypt use hah? Tell doggie……hieroglyphs is not pictograms?

    I understand westerners are generally more tua kee but it doesn’t mean that you must kowtow right

    Some history lesson how ang moh kenna beaten kow kow by cinapeks…….

  13. I would agree with you about the authority part of PRC’s incapacity to curb the excesses of rampant hustling and fakery.

    As for the ‘birds-nest’, i was referring to Prez Xi and his predecessors who quaffed the soup for breakfast without reservation. Until the FDA, decided that the nitrate and nitrate content were unacceptable. Thus the ban was unfortunately ‘selective’.

    The melamine issue, fake eggs/pharmaceuticals and even rice, not only blew a hole about FDAs’ technical capability, corporate responsibility but the tremendous challenges faced. It requires a copy of the European standards and implementation, if not the terribly slo-mo US FDA’s.

    Over here, we depend on Singapore’s FDA, because we are a truly third world FUBAR. India? Yeah, you’re absolutely right – talk-a-molly only.

  14. KuKu Khan C.L.Familiaris, right here: Being clear-eyed about China’s power :

    “China was never a part of the space station family of nations. And, the U.S. congress forbids NASA from cooperating with China. So, China has been going it alone quite nicely. But nobody is getting along very well. It is possible that by the middle of the next decade, all three will be going their own ways and perhaps all in different directions.”

  15. CLF:

    I know you don’t like the PRC and I respect that, for I don’t like many things in the PRC, too. But I have been trying all my life to look at things objectively even though I know it is hard. For what is objectivity without referring to subjective terms?

    Given China’s acknowledgement that its food safety and food fraud situation needs a serious overhaul, there are many rumors spreading to discredit and demonize China, from fake eggs to fake rice, from Thailand to, recently, India. I suspect you have watched too much Fuji TV investigation on YouTube about these fake eggs and fake rice stuff. And I am surprised that a very educated guy like you believe in it.

    I believe in science. There are not any techniques to create artificial eggs. Laboratory tests in China and recently in India all confirmed that the so-called fake eggs were real but have been rotten. Eggs that are stored at 10 – 20 degree Celsius for a period of two-three weeks start rotting when they are moved to room temperature.

    Very recently in India the media reports about people across the state of Kerala complaining about artificial eggs made in China. The Meat Technology Unit and the Department of Livestock Product Technology under the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Science University in Mannuthy has validated rumors about Chinese eggs were merely Chinese whispers and that the eggs were, indeed, real. They were just old and rotten eggs. Dr. George T. Oommen also confirmed there aren’t any techniques to create artificial eggs. Tests conducted at the Centre for Advance Studies in Poultry Science (CASPS) of the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (COVAS) on the eggs also found the same.

    I may have, at times, criticized the Indian government for its stupidity and incompetency, all talk but no walk (talk-a-molly, as you put it). We have a joke: There’s a right way to do things, there’s a wrong way to do things, and there is an Indian government way to do things. But the Indian scientists are very, very good. I know. I work with them. A bunch of extremely intelligent people.

  16. Really good post! Your thoughts are very eloquent and engaging so thanks for sharing them with us. Please check out my new blog ‘Everyday Economix’ as I would love some feedback from you. Thanks again and have a great day!

    Nice blog with good and well articulated pieces. Let me know if I can share them with our friends via my blog.–Din Merican

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