China’s Peaceful Development, officially the latest white paper from China released on September 6, 2011 by the Republic of China’s Information Office of the State Council, offers a glossy view of how Beijing wants the international community to interpret its domestic and international policies for economic and social prosperity. As the BBC observes, the document’s “main point is summed up in the three-word title.” As is usually the case with public strategy and policy documents, this white paper is written for China’s competitors rather than as a strict guideline for operation. Peace, harmonious society, economic and social prosperity, sovereignty and acceleration are the document’s often repeated slogans. With the West increasingly concerned about China’s rise, every month brings new books and articles on how the US should compete, deal with, submit to or collaborate with its ‘partner’ in the G-2. China claims not to desire regional or global hegemony but instead seeks a cooperative and collaborative world of states that respect each other’s internal business and share its goals of economic and social prosperity.
Some of the echoing themes in the paper are the following:
• China has respect for other states’ sovereignty, and how the international community should not interfere with a state’s internal matters;
• China acts as a responsible international player, participating in UN operations, providing development assistance to other states, and continuously meeting its targets for the Millennium Development Goals;
• China is a peaceful state and does not pursue war or conflict; it is the only nuclear power to declare that it would not “be the first to use nuclear weapons, or use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones”;
• While still a developing state, China continues to make a significant effort to reduce the environmental impact of its industrialization; it is the first developing country to create a National Climate Change Program and set goals for current and future emissions reductions.
According to the document, the domestic strategy for peaceful development is about ensuring the basic needs of its population and getting to a ‘middle’ stage of development. In order to reach its goals of domestic harmony and prosperity, China plans to focus on policies which will tweak its economic patterns. First, Beijing intends to accelerate a shift in the growth model; to improve domestic consumption patterns, the state will mix drivers of investment, consumption and export. Second, it aims to exploit domestic resources and domestic consumption patterns. Third, it aims to accelerate the creation of a harmonious society and improve access to social services, education and employment, etc. so everyone shares in the responsibility of being prosperous and harmonious. Fourth, in trade and production China’s focus will be on the quality rather than the quantity of trade, production and investment. Finally, China aims to utilizing bilateral and multilateral agreements, while also safeguarding sovereignty. The creation and maintenance of a peaceful domestic and international environment is essential for Beijing’s wellbeing at this stage; the government has a tight grip on social and economic control and by enlarging the middle class it hopes the economic freedoms will continue to overshadow the lack of social freedoms.
The white paper’s foreign policy steps for China’s peaceful development do not provide any surprises. Political, economic, cultural, and environmental and security concerns are all pathways for cooperation and peaceful relations. Respect, trust, and collaboration in these five areas will lead to the promotion of a ‘harmonious world’. Furthermore, like other state actors, China explicitly stipulates that its core national interests provide the basis for its foreign policy decisions, and they include the following: “state sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and national reunification, China’s political system established by the Constitution and overall social stability, and the basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development”.
According to the white paper, “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination” lead to a more equitable international order and stability. In the hopes of gaining an advantage, China perpetually proclaims that it “does not seek regional hegemony or sphere of influence, nor does it want to exclude any country from participating in regional cooperation”. China is realist in that it maintains its core interests and seeks to pursue them, but seems to follow a softer realist pattern by explicitly stating that it does not seek power regionally or globally. In fact, it aims to preserve the existing balance of power held by the US and contribute to stability in this way. China sees itself as aiding in regional prosperity and harmony during its peaceful development, rather than as a challenger or new hegemon.
“China’s prosperity, development and long-term stability represent an opportunity rather than a threat to its neighbors. China will uphold the Asian spirit of standing on its own feet, being bold in opening new ground, being open and inclusive and sharing weal and woe. It will remain a good neighbor, friend and partner of other Asian countries.” China claims that it is and will remain a developing country for some time, and it needs peace and stability to follow through with its national development plans. China does not foresee greater prosperity in an international system of conflict, but of peace and cooperative exchanges.
Peace and economic globalization are worldwide trends that every country seeks, or should seek, in this age. Countries cannot solve crises (manmade or natural) unilaterally because they share common security issues. “The international community should reject the zero-sum game” because it is only through cooperation and collaboration that goals every nation seeks will be pursued effectively. “We want peace and not war; development and not stagnation; dialogue and not confrontation; understanding and not misunderstanding”.
China hopes the international community will “support rather than obstruct China’s pursuit of peaceful development”. However, the international community would be incapable of obstructing that development in any case. The global economy is too intertwined with China’s production and distribution of goods to be able to obstruct its development. While demand for certain types of non-essential consumer products has decreased due to the global financial crisis, at this stage no country can replicate China’s powerful grip on low-cost production. The fluctuating exchange rate between the USD and CNY, increasing scarcity of labor and demands for improved working standards and wages may eventually drive particular industries out of China. Some of China’s neighbors or countries in Latin America may attempt to pick up these industries, but inevitably consumers will not be able to get the same low prices. Internationally workers continue to seek and hope for improved social and economic status as well as safe and hospitable working conditions, and rightly so. Neither labor nor the environment can sustain the perpetual damage. In addition, the Chinese domestic market provides an apt place to mitigate the effects of the drop in international demand for Chinese-produced goods.
So, what does this white paper mean for state relations in the Asia Pacific? China’s actions in the region should be worth more than its words although both are mostly positive for improving the situation in the region. China’s desire to boost cooperation with ASEAN members, invest in the United States, and go it alone in aid to the Pacific reflect China’s strategic evaluation of its relationships and investments and attempts to utilize them for their benefit like any other major power. Since the latest Chinese white paper release, Australia declared it was time to review its links with Asia “in the so-called Asian Century” while New Zealand is also contemplating its future. China will continue to attempt to get its own house in order while spreading cultural diplomacy and economic ties throughout strategic regions across the globe; it will maintain that it is trying to be a good neighbor and international actor by participating in UN processes and operations and multilateral mechanisms and forums. Importantly China will also seek to improve its domestic environmental conditions and decrease its carbon output; while the US takes steps backwards or small, hesitant steps forward arguing about budgets, China continues to call for energy conservation and emissions reductions, and is even suggesting that the US and China cooperate in new clean energy technology. Overall, the US welcomes the trend towards a perceivably more open and clean China with higher standards of living and working conditions. Being in China’s relative neighborhood, Asia Pacific states have much to gain or lose depending upon the path China takes over the next decade; the path toward ‘peaceful development’ and its policy steps are welcoming as long as they appeal to and provide for the real wants and needs of the Chinese people.