China and the USA: cooperation or conflict?
China and the USA: cooperation or conflict?

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

China and the USA: cooperation or conflict?

2.2 Policy debates

However, in the context of burgeoning external relationships, extensive debates about China’s place in the international system developed. According to Chinese foreign affairs specialist Zhu Liqun (2010), China’s debates focused on three related aspects of China’s relationship to external powers:

  1. judgements about the overall international context, configuration of power and the direction of processes of change, or ‘Shi
  2. China’s identity and responsibility in the international system
  3. the appropriate strategies China should pursue.

Opinions in China range across a number of positions in all three areas. However, a strong contrast can be drawn between two broad perspectives.

The first perspective, albeit a minority view, evaluates the overall context for China as hostile, with China’s chief responsibility being its national interest defined in terms of its internal developmental needs and stability (Zhu, 2010). In terms of strategy, while some look for a long-term accommodation with the United States, they see this outcome as far from probable and don’t rule out the possibility of major conflict or a Cold-War-style stand-off. Some even fear that the United States will seek actively to constrain or indeed reverse China’s development (Foot, 2006). At the farther reaches of Chinese nationalist opinion, are views such as those held by the authors of the best-selling book Unhappy China, published in China in 2009. These authors argued for an aggressive Chinese policy to assume world leadership and rectify historical wrongs perpetrated against China (Zhu, 2010).

Opposing these views is what Zhu calls the ‘neo-internationalist’ perspective, which emphasises a Shi defined by ‘peace and development’ (in contrast to the ‘war and revolution’ of the pre-1979 era) and the need for China to engage fully and cooperatively with other states. Official policy statements make frequent references to the potential for ‘win–win’ international relationships, emphasising China’s peaceful rise and development, and mobilising historical figures like Zheng He (Admiral of China’s Treasure fleet under the Emperor Zhu Di) to stress China’s peaceful, cooperative heritage (see Section 1). Senior Chinese Communist Party advisor Zheng Bijian summarised the perspective:

[China will] transcend the traditional ways for great powers to emerge, as well as the Cold War mentality that defined international relations along ideological lines. China will not follow the path of Germany leading up to World War I or those of Germany and Japan leading up to World War II, when these countries violently plundered resources and pursued hegemony. Neither will China follow the path of the great powers vying for global domination during the Cold War.

… China does not seek hegemony or predominance in world affairs. It advocates a new international political and economic order, one that can be achieved through incremental reforms and the democratization of international relations. China’s development depends on world peace – a peace that its development will in turn reinforce.

(2005, p. 24)

From this perspective there is much greater potential for cooperation with the United States even if that necessitates a process of ‘agonized mutual adaptation’ (Shi Yinhong, cited in Foot, 2006, p. 83).

Described image
Figure 7 China joins the World Trade Organization in 2001
DD313_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371