China’s rise, by means of economy over past three decades, has overawed the West. China was integrated into ‘laissez faire system’ by USA to wean it away from erstwhile USSR. Chinese leadership, starting with Deng Xiaoping, adopted the concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It essentially meant shift from command economy to the market economy, having a strong political control inside the country. It helped China grow at an amazing speed.
The Chinese rise, complemented by BRI, is being viewed with scepticism and a bid to expand Chinese sphere of influence in the garb of trade and connectivity, claimed as a win-win cooperation. China, however, claims BRI is not a solo but a symphony revolving around voluntary participation and cooperation. The five principals of UN Charter sit at its vision. Sovereignty of the states; dialogue; consultation; rule of law; and win-win cooperation would steer BRI.
At Belt and Road Forum 2014, President Xi Jinping remarked “the ancient silk routes thrived during the times of peace, but lost vigour in the times of war. The pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative requires a peaceful and stable environment.” Yang Jiechi termed it as “working for community with a shared future for mankind by promoting international cooperation and multilateralism”. CPEC, one of the six land corridors of BRI, revolves around the vision “to improve the lives of the people of Pakistan and China”.
The Global Development Initiative (GDI) was presented by President Xi during UNGA 21. He said the initiative will provide “invaluable guidance to developing countries in pursuit of more people centred development”. The main elements of the GDI are: development comes first; focus on people not the capital; non-discrimination; innovative use of technology for development; protect nature by a green development approach; and the initiative would be action-oriented. GDI is aligned to the UN’s SDGs 2030.
The Global Security Initiative (GSI) aims at mitigation of evolving threats “posed by unilateralism, hegemony, power politics and increasing deficits in peace, security, trust and governance” Wang Wenbin communicated. President Xi said GSI was “to uphold the principles of indivisible security, build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture and oppose building of national security on the basis of insecurity to other countries”.
China’s critics interpret these utterances very differently. China is perceived to be a revisionist state attempting to challenge the prevalent world order steered by USA. China claims all these initiatives are for collective good that will integrate the world through intertwined destinies that could beget well-knit world community engendering enduring peace. US apprehensions may not be unfounded. It is a fact the hegemons have a life span of 90-100 years, and then the challengers emerge. The transitions have often been bloody. Graham Allison, in his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? presents analyses of 16 such cases from past 500 years. Out of these 14 cases ended in conflicts.
China is a civilisational state. Having been a great power of the times, despite being powerful and in possession of a sizeable naval fleet, in its history of thousands of years it never invaded or annexed any country. It had no colonies. From 1405-1433 Admiral Zheng He, a Muslim, undertook seven voyages with hundreds of ships and thousands of sailors in the Indo-pacific region. All the voyages were aimed at establishing cultural and trade ties. The next Chinese emperor ordered dismantling of the fleet, presumably to forestall development of any offensive capability or projecting threat to other countries. Chinese conduct is largely impacted by Confucian thoughts of peaceful coexistence. Hence, emergence of a warring China seems least likely. It may become a superpower in next 25-30 years, and may flex military muscles but its history and culture preclude such possibility. One wishes and hopes that USA and China could avoid a military confrontation, and develop understanding to co-exist for a peaceful World.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 18 October 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.