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China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ Still Raises Fears

Prepared by: Esther Pan
April 14, 2006


Since 2003, China's foreign policy has been formulated according to its so-called "peaceful rise" policy. This states that China will develop economically in a peaceful international environment while maintaining and contributing to world peace. The implications of the idea, first articulated by Chinese scholar and political advisor Zheng Bijian, are examined in this CFR Background Q&A. Experts say the policy came about after China's leaders recognized that to ensure continued economic growth and domestic stability—their two highest priorities—they had to reassure the rest of the world, and particularly Asia, of their peaceful intentions. Such assurances are necessary as China's economy and military might continue to grow. Gregory Clark, an Australian diplomat, writes in the Japan Times that other nations have a long history of seeing a threat from China, justified or not. As Chinese President Hu Jintao prepares to meet President Bush in Washington April 18, Council Senior Fellow Elizabeth Economy tells's Bernard Gwertzman in this interview that China's agenda for the meeting includes public acknowledgement of its status as a significant world player and important U.S. partner.

Eric Teo Chu Cheow of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs writes that China is resurrecting the tributary system of the Ming and Qing dynasties, where Beijing was the "central heart" of a regional Asian system of trade, cultural eminence and respect (Jamestown Foundation). Anouar Abdel-Malek writes in Egypt's Al-Ahram that China's experiment with economic liberalization and gradual political reforms is a model for the Arab world. But China's steady climb toward superpower status is also raising concerns. Humphrey Hawksley of the BBC writes that China's growing influence in Brazil, where it presents its 'peaceful rise' policy as a better model for poverty reduction than American-style capitalism, is prompting concern and pushback from Washington.

A publication by the Brookings Institution, Power Shift: China and Asia's New Dynamics, outlines the effects of China's rise on the region. Editor David Shambaugh said in a discussion about the book that China's rise is bringing it mostly economic power, with some increases in diplomatic status, but relatively fewer gains in the security sphere.

Some observers are commenting on the underlying instability of China's rise. Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says China's staggering growth is making observers selectively ignore its rampant corruption, rising social injustice, and an elite focused on its own survival. In a Foreign Policy article, Pei details the ways the authoritarian state is a "parasite" on the economy. The China Post writes in an editorial that "China pays a huge price for its peaceful rise," and cites the growing gap between rich and poor and rampant environmental degradation as threats to the country's development. Zheng, the architect of the "peaceful rise" policy, writes in Foreign Affairs that China's challenges include a shortage of natural resources and a lack of coordination between economic and social development. The Brookings Institute offers a collection of Zheng's speeches in which he outlines the policy and how to present it to the world.

Finally, Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute writes in the Australian Financial Review that fears of China surpassing the United States economically are overblown. He says China's growth is not the result of innovation and increased productivity, but reliance on exports, the investment of nearly half its GDP, and the successful shift of its rural labor surplus into the market economy. Until China embraces free market reforms, he says, it will not be able to match U.S. productivity gains.

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