Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Is the idea of China saving the world a fair expectation?

By Jing Gu

In the recent weeks, the Eurozone crisis has become much more dramatic. Despite grave and widespread predictions among officials, business people, academics and journalists that China can save the world, this has not transpired.

The questions that we should ask are:
  • Why should China save Europe?
  • Can China balance its domestic development and its international role?
China inevitably lacks a clear definition of its international role, because it falls between developed and developing countries: Song (2003) points out that it needs a stable and orderly international environment, ensuring free trade, so that it can make the most of its huge economies of scale and large development potential. However, the technical development level of its industry does not match that of developed countries will mean that it wants to try to find ways of assisting its industries. This is reflected in the trade disputes in which it has been mainly a defendant in the WTO. So it can be easily noticed (Pang, 2006) that while China is characterised as a “participant” in the international system, this does not mean China wishes either to be a leader of a developing country block, or to side with the developed countries. 

The distinctive element of China's global self-presentation is its cautious, reactive and pragmatic diplomacy: Here, Chinese policy declarations and statements of core principles may appear, in parts, vague, but “…these expressions reflect the Chinese way of viewing and conducting politics and have their roots in Chinese political culture” (Wang, 1998). China may not appear to be following an overall articulated strategy. But this is where an ingrained cultural style combines with a deeply pragmatic responsive mode towards the dominant power in world society. Wang says:
In Chinese eyes, ‘adjustments’ in domestic and foreign policies are only natural as long as ‘principles and goals’ remain unchanged… In the Chinese mind, wise and farsighted statesmen are those who can ‘adroitly guide action according to circumstances (yinshi lidao)’ (Wang, 1998).
It has to be recognised that a primary principle of Chinese culture is the practical and common sense nature of adapting to different relationships: In an interview with Joshua Cooper Ramo - the author of the ‘Beijing Consensus’, the former Singapore’s leader Lee Kuan Yew made remarks about China: “They made ad hoc pragmatic decisions as they went along, and then looked to whether that lead to disorder or loss of control…This is a controlled opening up, exposure to foreign ideas of people who are absolutely sound ideologically. I detect a pragmatic step by step approach.” (Ramo, 2005)

The extent of the difference between the Chinese way of thinking and that of some Western countries is in itself, the key issue that has to be addressed before China can be expected to ‘save’ the world.

* References 

Pang, Z. (2006) The role of China in the international system, FuDan International Studies Review, 6 (in Chinese)

Song, H. (2003) China and WTO: A process of mutual learning, adapting and developing, In Y. Wang (Ed.), Construction within contradiction: Multiple perspectives on the relationship between China and international organisations (pp. 164–195), Beijing: China Development Publishing House

Ramo, J. (2005) The Beijing consensus, London: Foreign Policy Centre

Wang, J. (1998) International relations theory and the study of Chinese foreign policy: A Chinese perspective. In T. W. Robinson, & D. Shambaugh (Eds.), Chinese foreign policy: Theory and practice. Oxford: Clarendon Paperbacks