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  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 9:27pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

China must make friends, not foes, to thrive

Lex Zhao says the emergence of a new cold war mentality, exacerbated by China's military elite, is a growing menace which can be headed off by Asia embracing global and regional co-operation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 3:11am

The release online of a documentary; The Silent Contest, made by the People's Liberation Army's National Defence University, has stirred controversy. It claims that China is being infiltrated and subverted by the US, just as the Soviet Union was before its collapse.

This is in marked contrast to China's international appearance, where leaders have repeatedly said they do not seek hegemony. Vice-premier Wang Yang, even said that the relationship between China and the US should be "like husband and wife".

So one has to wonder: which is the real China?

With the purchase and refitting of the aircraft carrier Liaoning and the showdowns over the Diaoyu Islands with Japan, where they are known as the Senkaku Islands, China seems to be inviting suspicion or even antagonism from the international community.

Three decades of economic boom have made China the world No 2 in terms of gross domestic product, and many Chinese are feeling very rich and want to take on the world. The new generation of top leaders (mostly former Red Guards) is fuelling the fire against "foreign plots" and "foreign penetration", making good use of their fighting skills learned during Mao's Cultural Revolution: only the great Communist Party leadership can protect ordinary Chinese from suffering foreign humiliation again.

It's time for China to wake up. How many friends - true friends - does it have, either nearby or far away?

Meanwhile, Japan seems to be effectively applying its new pillar of diplomacy, the "arc of freedom and prosperity", forming close ties with India, the Philippines, Vietnam and, recently, even with Russia, through joint meetings of foreign affairs and national defence ministers. We should also mention that Japan has already moved its ground Self-Defence Force headquarters into a US military base, and that the US has deployed F-22 Raptor fighters, Osprey helicopters and patriot missiles all over Japan.

It looks as though the cold war has returned, only that the rival has changed from the USSR to China.

China, on the other hand, seems to be turning inward, bringing back Maoist ideology, cracking down on internet "rumours" and jailing dissidents, making friends only with a few isolated, backward countries. Confronted with such dangerous circumstances, it is time for China to slow down.

A war with Japan would lead to these foreseeable consequences, among others: billions of dollars wasted on weapons build-ups; billions of dollars of capital flight to the US; military personnel taking over power; housing prices in China and Japan tumbling; lives being lost and; US bases remaining in East Asia for the next 100 years.

So how could such a scenario be avoided? For starters, the likes of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam should see sense: it's absurd to go to war over "being No 1 in East Asia", or over some barren rocks.

In fact, these countries share many cultural traits and customs, and their institutions are all based on a strong central government. Economically, they are the most suitable to form a common market and multinationals have established complicated production chains and marketing networks in the region.

Co-operation not only preserves the peace, it could also lead to unlimited opportunities for all to share markets, natural and human resources, management and governance know-how.

If - like with the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement - China, Japan and South Korea could form the pillars of an "East Asian Community", not only would they win, but the world also. The benefits of such an approach are clear, but special interest groups, such as the military, won't let it happen; on the contrary, they are seeking a race to war.

China, especially, is facing problems of corruption, pollution, inequality, population ageing, and also internal unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet , which could possibly drag the country into a middle- income trap and stop economic growth.

It is much more urgent to focus on detailed measures to tackle immediate problems rather than chasing a "China Century". Forming something like an "East Asian Community" could enable the country to learn from the advanced technologies and know-how of Japan and Korea, and possibly escape the trap.

China has achieved a lot over the past 30-odd years, much of it due to the end of the cold war and the friendly arms of an open global trading system. and foreign direct investment from other countries have made it "the world factory of manufacturing". It puzzles me why some Chinese do not see this and would rather take on the world instead.

It is true that there is unequal distribution of the development pie, simply because China is such a vast country.

While the coastal regions have almost caught up with some rich nations, the inner regions are still backward and poor. Modernisation of the whole country is time-consuming. During this long process, there will be anxiety and sometimes struggles arising from regional and income inequalities, causing internal unrest and external conflict.

In this age of globalisation, no country can become a superpower or even regional power without followers and friends. For China to rise, the co-operation of Japan and other neighbours is vital, without which the so-called "Chinese Dream" will never become reality.

And for Japan, there can be no real peace or sustainable growth without co-operating with China, either.

Lex Zhao is a professor of economics at Kobe University in Japan. zhao@rieb.kobe-u.ac.jp


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All very fine sounding, but politicians do not act out of altruism. China is becoming so arrogant that eventually there is bound to be war.
It is very hard to find a good rational sensible chinese like Lex Zhao these days. Bigger a country does not mean it has a superior culture than a smaller nation and chinese should understand that. America has a population of 340 millions has dominating the world for a very long time, most of the inventions and innovations came from America ranging from from airplanes to cars to electricity all of which contributing to human advancements so what china has contributed to mankind, the answer is obvious nothing. Gunpower is not an invention or innovation, its just an accidental discovery and a lot of people doubt it originated from china.
Respects do not come from barrel of guns or any form of threats and it is not free, chinese have to earn it.
Professor Zhao teaches at Kobe U so it is clear where he comes from.
Truth be told, every Chinese CCP leaders especially the inner circle including Xi and Li should be briefed on the USA, and a key to that brief should be 2012 Stone & Kuznick’s “Untold Histories of the USA”, to see how USA is still clenching to that "exceptionalism", how their War-machine will ensure continuity of the USA commercial imperialism in China and the rest of the third world. Against this China should be applauded for BRICS, for investing in the sub-Saharan and Central African countries which have long been impoverished and damned literally, since the 18-19th century slave trades.
Japan is somewhat unique in that they still don’t see themselves as part of Asia, as a bully they believe they could still ‘buy’ their favours from Vietnam and Philippines when they can’t work with their closest neighbor, and the nearest history. Go back far enough in the Shogunate history all of Japan was voluntarily paying tributes to China, so why make such a fuss about the Diaoyu and Okinawa, which are rightly Chinese’s. If Japan cannot show some added respect to China, that is one friend China can do without.
It's easy to see the simplistic tactics USA deploys- let's now give Myanmar access, "aids" and "trade" when it can in the process have an added ally to ringfence China. Also let's the Laotians and Vietnamese governments can't remember the USA dropped more bombs in their countries than combined all bombs ever dropped in human history, nothing with bit of access, "aids" and "trade" these folks will say no to, so long as they halt all Chinese's rails and roads from connectiing with the Vietnamese and Laotian networks, and stop the hydro-electricity flowing the other way. By "aids" USA is genuine in providing 70s' & 80's obsolete munition at exorbitant prices and by "trade" USA will lift your GDP % by having labour-intensive factories that their own EPD would bar locally on USA soils. By the way we'll give you all the support and advantages should China elbow you around, just don't let them have the South China Seas.. Uncle Sam les you forget will be behind you.
If you don;'t believe us, look at the good work we did at Honduras, Cuba, El Salvador, Indonesia hack the whole world, we even topple Gorbachev and fed them a Yeltsin, that's how gullible the world can be at our finger tips. BTW you know we already bagged Phillippines again after we return to Subic Bay, so we'll ensure the South China Seas is nobody's business but ours.
Presidents come and go, but the USA-machine is here forever, and we have your backs!
this is so naive. make friends not foe? it is not about friends but about "dealing from a position of $ strength. if you take a page from US, US certainly is not making friends with guns, drones, missiles, NSA... and US certainly has very few friends except a few in the anglo world (UK, NZ, AUS)...
A few years back China was promoting a concept of an East Asian Community but this was seen as a threat by the US where many policymakers and academics perceived it as an effort to “shut the United States out of Asia.” Now, you have a contest for influence in and over Asia between Beijing and Washington. Right-wing leadership in Japan and opportunistic leaders in the Philippines are fanning and inviting confrontations because they think it will draw the US back in and Washington will protect them. However, they should examine very closely the death lock countries and regions like Israel and the Middle East have on US domestic politics and foreign policy if they want to see where the ‘real’ priorities of the U.S. are. Moreover, the so called US pivot/rebalance to Asia is, besides about asserting hegemony over Asia, is about ensuring American companies have (dominant) access to Asia-Pacific markets which is where all significant future economic world growth comes from. If they lose that than there is no hope for strong growth or a strong economy in the future. Much how central Asia was key for the Great Game, Asia-Pacific market is key for the U.S. and West in the 21st century.
Japan has hardly been effective in “applying its new pillar of diplomacy, the ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’” –which, in reality, is the US pivot strategy of using allied nations in the region (of which Japan is the US’ foremost ally) to “lead from behind.” The inexplicable miscalculation on Washington’s part being that the only country less liked than China in Asia is probably Japan for its war time atrocities and continuing insensitivities regarding its imperial transgressions across Asia.
China is hardly turning towards a “Maoist ideology” – the persecution of Bo Xilai made that quite clear that the Maoist and New Left won’t be allowed to hijack reform. Rather, China’s actions should be seen as responses to both international and internal developments such as the Arab Spring, failed calls for a Jasmine Spring, and the external and internal efforts to overthrow one-party rule such as through US democracy promotion which holds as its core value a multiparty system with rotating power – something which China has continually rejected while attempting to find its own way towards greater democratization of the process under the CCP.
Foreign efforts to subvert the Chinese system, and Chinese efforts or lack of efforts to achieve regional or global hegemony are two separate issues. The lack (or presence) of one has nothing to do with the other. So it is not a case of “which is the real China?”
China is not entirely responsible for how its actions are perceived or represented by others; other nations actively attempt to shape an image of China and its actions which are beneficial to their own worldviews. This is very much the case in territorial issues and in the use of adjectives like aggressive. At what point does being assertive about one’s claims become aggressive? Many actions by China painted as ‘aggressive’ by some observers are framed as defensive or in less threatening characterizations when the other nations are allies of the labelers. Just saying someone is aggressive does not mean that their action is or was – especially when taken in the context of other’s actions and whether certain actions are – in fact – responses to others’ ‘aggressive’ or ‘assertive’ actions.
so keep on hating then?
China has some old wounds that should have been dealt with long time ago like a short battle similar to what happened in the Falklands, where winner takes all. Instead it chose to deal with matters diplomatically which have achieved little and countries like the Philippines saw this as a weakness by clamoring. In areas where China won the battle, it allowed an opposing nation to administer those regions which runs contrary to actions after most wars.
There's an expectation for the country to be at the same level as developed nations particularly in the West so it is treated as such, but it is still developing and half the population is in poverty (though it has lifted more people out of poverty in the short time span than any democratic nations could ever do). It's successes are desired by many nations but some of those nations don't want to see it succeed so a softened stance will retract it's accomplishments. Of course, there are China friendly countries as well.



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