After a century of seeing itself as a victim of great powers, and decades of isolation during the internal revolution, China has emerged onto the world stage as a great power. With increased economic and political influence, China is using bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. It operates within the rules of the international system and is becoming socialized to international norms. China is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with a veto vote.
China’s economic revolution, embracing free markets, and opening to foreign investments have resulted in over 30 years of sustained economic growth as high as nine percent a year. As the world’s second-largest economy (IMF.org) China has pursued an economic policy of a “peaceful rise,” and has become a model for other states.
China’s rising economy and increasing world trade have amplified its global presence. In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). This has given China an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that is can adhere to the rules established by the WTO. China is actively engaged in regional economic and trade agreements such as the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. In 2015, China signaled to the global community that it was ready to challenge the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund when it established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB (Links to an external site.)). With over 100 members, the AIIB has funded 95 projects worth $20 billion ().
In its rise, China has acted responsibly toward both the advanced capitalist states and the developing world. China finances a large portion of the United States (U.S.) debt through its balance-of-trade surplus. During the 2008 financial crisis, China refrained from putting pressure on the U.S. dollar and interest rates. China is encouraging domestic consumption, increasing worker’s salaries, and permitting its currency to appreciate.
China’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure program promotes development and interregional connectivity. The project will connect China with Central and South Asia as well as Istanbul, Moscow, and Venice. China’s infrastructure investment program has also established relations with many African and Latin American countries. With trade of more than $210 billion, China is now Africa’s top business partner.
As a great power, China has invested in its military. In 2019, the U.S. spent $732 billion (Links to an external site.) on defense and China spent $261 billion. Thus far, China has not sought to use its military capabilities, nor has it fought militarily to expand its territory. It has and does work to defend its national security interests, including its One-China policy. This policy views Tibet, Taiwan, and the islands in the South China Sea and part of China.
Since 2014, in pursuit of this policy, China has dredged thousands of metric tons of sand into coral reefs to create artificial islands in the Spratly Island group to strengthen its territorial claims. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Links to an external site.) found that China’s actions violated international law. China responded as great powers do to international organizations they disagree with, they refused to recognize the ruling.
China is building capacity—naval—to deploy military forces farther and farther away from its shores. Projecting its power and presence in the region and beyond. China argues that as a global, with global interests it must be able to reach its citizens when they are stranded or threatened abroad. China has benefitted from the international order of the past 50 years and will have an impact on the international order over the next 50 years and beyond.Sources:
Backgrounder—Adapted from Mingst et al, 2019
https://pca-cpa.org/en/home/ (Links to an external site.)
How are China’s actions affecting the configuration of the international system in terms of the distribution of power? In terms of identities? In terms of interdependence?
How do China’s actions differ from other great powers? How are they similar?
If we examine China’s policies and actions from the state level or the individual level of analysis, what might we conclude that would be different if we were focusing only on the systemic level?
If China continues with its current actions, what do you think the international system will look like in 20 years?