Great China taking great leaps
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse June 18, 2009
The 8,851-km stretch of the Great Wall perhaps reflects the enormity of China. Once you limb up to the 1,000 meter vintage point of the Great Wall and the guide explains the history and features of this serpent running through the mountains of northern China, the landmark development in the country and the focused approach does not surprise you anymore.
The country is spread over 9,598,094 square km, divided in close to 40 provinces. China is home to 1.4 billion inhabitants, boasts around 8% GDP growth (despite global recession) and sits over a whopping $2 trillion foreign exchange reserves with an economy of worth over $4 trillion annually.
The fact that the Three-Gorges Dam with an installed power generation capacity of 21,000 MW amounts to less than 5 percent of the country’s power requirements also explains its vastness. This growth and wealth originates in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou with a combined population of at least 40 million. As many as 16 other similar mega cities are also feeding to the economic strength of China that is growing in leaps and bounds with the day. At the moment, $550 billion worth of public works projects are underway across China.
The guiding principles for economic growth, though partially deterred by the global financial crisis, and ever-improving relations with the rest of the world are deeply rooted in its history. China’s foreign policy still seems embedded in the ancient Buddhist and Confucian philosophy – we learn to fight for peace and not for conflict and violence.
These lines from a famed Kung Fu legend still seem to be the guiding principle for modern China. Peaceful co-existence, non-interference in the foreign policy of other countries and relentless pursuit of economic development and cooperation, both in and outside the country, form the mainstay of the country’s foreign and economic development paradigm, also reflected in what the reformist Deng Xiaoping had said at the 6th Special Session of the UN General Assembly on April 10, 1974: political and economic independence are inseparable. Without political independence, it is impossible to achieve economic independence and without economic independence, the independence of a country would be incomplete and unstable.
China is now being led by the fourth generation of leaders but the principles such as peaceful coexistence, political stability, economic development and non-interference in others’ matters continue to guide and shape its policy. It is into the 11th five-year plan being implemented in about 18 mega cities with at least 16 million inhabitants each including Beijing and Shanghai and Guangzhou which are all thumping with economic activity and thereby stoking consumerism.
The message emanating from government officials and state-sponsored research centers in Beijing and Shanghai is unmistakably clear -- we don’t mess up with other nations, and expect others not to mess up with us.
This approach also comes through very clearly from Beijing’s ties with Taiwan. The May 26 meeting between Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the communist party, with Wu Poh-hsiung, Chairman of the Taiwan Kuomintang (KMT), also explains the reconciliatory and economic development-focused path China continues to tread on.
Both leaders agreed to avoid “internal struggle in foreign affairs and work for the interest of all Chinese” thereby underscoring their resolve to break out of the cold war era of perennial acrimony in favor of a peaceful co-existence beneficial to economic cooperation. The emerging Chinese unity obviously has triggered fresh fears in Washington, especially among its hawks. They may be afraid of the China challenging US primacy in world politics. Diplomats in Beijing believe China has essentially outsmarted the US on the issue of Taiwan. Because the United States has been an ardent supporter of Taiwan and has always exploited this issue in negotiations with Beijing.
Another example of China’s regard for old ties is its relationship with North Korea. The May 25 nuclear and missile tests put these ties to another test. These “provocations” once again brought to the fore the Chinese leadership’s frustration with the defiant but reclusive Pyongyang leaders following its long range missile test on April 5. China had reacted angrily by replacing its ambassador to Pyongyang. Some security analysts and communist party officials appear quite wary of Pyongyang’s self-suicidal conduct. They reckon Beijing might at some stage give up on North Korea altogether if it defies advice from its thus far strongest ally.
But the history of Chinese diplomacy and geography go against this argument. That is why the Chinese foreign ministry, despite condemning the nuclear test, hoped any UN-led action will “aid denuclearization and help maintain stability.”
Stability and peace remain the primary concerns for the Chinese leadership, among them fighting terrorism because China itself is a victim of terrorism and extremism on its western borders, which are closer to south Asia. Many academics and intellectuals, on the other hand, believe that China’s reluctance to directly confront disputes and intractable issues with neighboring countries creates an opportunity for other small Asian countries and even some big powers from outside the region to involve themselves and make complicated situations even worse.
In indirect references to India and the United States, the Global Times, Beijing, considered a mouthpiece for the government, on May 27 commented that a host of small countries looking to contain China’s growing strength have already sought to involve other foreign powers in their situations.
“China is also going to have to learn how to deal with the US, which seeks a balance of power in the region -- an outgrowth of Cold War-era philosophies,” argued Global Times, adding, “China must send a clear signal to smaller countries of the region that the involvement of other nations does not guarantee the achievement of their objectives.
In this context, China attaches great importance to South Asia as part of its overall Asia policy, and Chinese party and government officials believe this policy could be best pursued in the context of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) whose leaders are again meeting in Russia to discuss the regional situation.
The Chinese endeavor is to think of how SCO could play a constructive role in regional politics including the fight against religious extremism and terrorism. They call it an overlapping interest of all the countries and believe that the key to success in this area lies in regional approach involving Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran. This way, one can discern, the Chinese leadership also wishes to marginalize the growing US role in the region. For achieving this, however, both major founding members have to nudge both Pakistan and India into normalcy. Only then can China and other SCO members realize the goal of turning this organization into a potent tool for peace and stability – the goals that the Chinese leaders have pursued for centuries.
(The author is the chairman, Centre for Research and Security Studies).