Is China a "threat" or an "opportunity?" Is it a "partner" or a "rival?" These are the questions that have not only been haunting Sino-U.S. relations, but also casting a shadow that subtly affects other international relations as well as the economic development of the entire world. Evaluating China's development in a historical light remains a thorny issue for some economists. "The best comparison for what's happening [in China] is probably 19th-century America, rather than an East Asian nation like Japan or South Korea that recently underwent a similar development," said Arthur Kroeber, Managing Editor of China Economics Quarterly. "Both are continental-size economies with immense manufacturing capacities and vast pools of labor." Kroeber pointed out that the United States was the biggest recipient of global capital a century ago and many complained that cheap U.S. labor threatened Europe's industries. "Now it is China's turn," he said. Obviously, to those who approach development in a rational manner, China's extraordinary development is not a surprise, let alone a threat or a challenge.
In any case, China's economic growth benefits most of its neighbors, rather than undermining the development of its neighboring countries and regions. As noted by some foreign experts, China's diplomatic policies in recent years have been increasingly geared toward shaping good neighborly relations with others, which has paved the way for its peaceful development.
In fact, China's neighbors have eagerly embraced this growth. While reiterating its belief that China's economic takeoff is good for the organization, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is seeking to further boost economic linkages with the prospering neighbor, though it regarded China as a potential threat a few years ago.
As the Chinese saying goes, "the onlookers always have a better picture." Bruce Murray of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) believes that even Asian countries worried about China's skyrocketing exports have actually benefited a lot from the country's huge consumption capacity. Needless to say, China is a major source of motivation for most Asian countries trying to rev up their economies. It is playing an ever-greater role in promoting regional economic development and expanding employment.
History tells us that China's prosperity is conducive to stability in the region. According to David W. Kearn, a U.S. scholar, it is quite unnecessary to worry about China's growth, as historical experience has shown that a strong China constitutes the basis for Asian stability. It is his belief that a weak China tends to result in turbulence in Asia, whereas the continent always remains in good order when China is strong and stable. It has been widely noted that China has generally maintained peace and good order while making great strides forward in the economic field, a prominent feature of China's peaceful development.
As a matter of fact, China does not mean to ascend to supremacy in the world through its development. Materializing development in a gradual manner, China shares its growth and prosperity with all of its surrounding countries. Over the past two decades, China resolved territory disputes with Afghanistan, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and Russia. It also normalized the relationship with Viet Nam and demarcated the border between them.
What is worthy of serious thought is that further enhanced relations between China and other Asia-Pacific nations have exerted subtle influence over the Sino-U.S. relationship. Philippine President Gloria Arroyo once said that Beijing is also an ally of the Philippines, like Washington. According to Arroyo, this assertion is based on the decisive role that China has played in economics and security affairs in the countries of the region, including the Philippines. Given this, the Philippines must associate with China to influence Beijing's actions, thereby ensuring that China will become a friend rather than an enemy of the international community. Despite the slew of people who stubbornly hold onto the "China threat" view or are doubtful about China's peaceful development, Asian countries have chosen to take a balanced approach toward China and the United States instead of constraining China's development.
Furthermore, China's peaceful development has delivered benefits to the world. The economic boom in China has already helped Japan emerge from its longest-lasting economic downturn since World War U. It has also been helpful to the United States in its recovery from a recent economic slowdown. Consumers, Asians and Americans alike, are all entitled to the tangible benefits brought about by China's development. Morgan Stanley, the large global financial services firm, estimates that U.S. shoppers have saved $100 billion because of low-priced clothes, shoes and home appliances imported from China.
There is no doubt that China's peaceful development contributes positively to the world's economic growth through international trade. Being committed to its open-ing-up policy, China has attracted huge amounts of foreign direct investment. More significantly, it has set an example for the developing countries eager to move on.
In terms of economic growth and poverty reduction. China has also made remarkable contributions to the world. Its impressive development kindles hope among the temporarily underdeveloped countries. The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reported that "since Deng Xiaoping executed China's historic U-turn at a session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party [of China] in 1978, 270 million people have climbed out of poverty - the most successful development project in history, and a slap in the face for those who say globalization helps only the rich."
Most importantly, China has evolved from a closed, mediocre country into one that is among the most vigorous in the region in the past two decades. One of its dramatic changes is that today's China has demonstrated a genuine will to join the international community. It is trying not only to adapt its domestic economic regimes and laws to international norms, but also to become an active participant in many international or transnational organizations. In the past few years, China has played a pivotal role in promoting WTO negotiations and UN reforms.
China will never undercut its neighboring countries or the United States in its pursuit of development. It is a well-established fact that the international economy is not a zero-sum game. All the other countries, including the United States, can reap benefits from China's economic development. It is interesting to note that China, as the third largest trading partner of the United States after Canada and Mexico, has dispelled the long-standing myth that the biggest trading partners of the United States are all its close political and military allies. "China is neither close ally nor confirmed adversary," wrote Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson.
It is plain enough that China has mainly focused its attention on economic development. It has no intention to compete with the United States for world supremacy. The last thing that it will ever do is to pose a threat to other countries. In a sense, a correct and rational perception of China's peaceful development not only bears on the sound development of Sino-U.S. relations, but will also determine whether the United States can fully seize the opportunities that China has brought along.
James Sasser, the former U.S. Ambassador to China, has some insightful ideas on this point. It is his belief that the United States can manage China's rise well if it is willing to do so, and if it wants to treat China as an enemy, it will become an enemy. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton also pointed out that compared with a rich and democratic China, the United States has more to fear from a poor and weak China. In other words, China's peaceful development poses no threat, but offers opportunities. It is a motive force, rather than a headache, for the region and the world.
In light of this, President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States, Canada and Mexico helps solve problems, strengthens cooperation, and gives these countries an in-depth and objective picture of China's peaceful development.
For the politicians and entrepreneurs in the United States, it is irrational to deal with China by military or improper political means. The healthy development of Sino-U.S. relations will not only bring about a win-win result for all trading partners, including China and the United States, but is also of paramount significance to a global situation replete with uncertainties. Hu's visit to North America marks a new start in further strengthening Sino-U.S. ties and in turning China's peaceful development into a positive element of those ties.
The author is with the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences