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The fall of Peaceful Rise, or has it?

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As a term, if not a policy, "peaceful rise" fell short of the earth orbit of Chinese foreign policy orthodoxy expressions such as "one country, two systems" and "peace and development." "Rise" (jueqi) was opposed for setting domestic expectations that could not be met and could backfire, and causing regional upset over China's emerging hegemony. "Peaceful" (heping) could deny China the military option to recover Taiwan, sending a mistaken signal to Taiwan that it could proceed, and was not applicable to relations with Japan as it was with the US and India.

Former president Jiang Zemin remains firmly in control in China, not least from his control of the PLA, notwithstanding his 2002 handover of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) head and President to Hu Jintao. Hu does not have a free hand, is still attempting to consolidate power as it is devolved to him by Jiang, and has frozen liberalization that could expose him to criticism before he has done so. While Hu would seem to outrank Jiang, he remains "studiously deferential" in all public joint appearances with Jiang, proceeding a 'step behind' and never contesting the coverage accorded to Jiang's remarks.

Such divided leadership is neither rapid, decisive, or quick to compromise, a condition clearly shown by Jiang's overturning of Hu's prolonged, painfully delicate 'market testing' that created and promulgated Peaceful Rise that became a public staple of Hu and the prime minister, Wen Jiabao. While the term was a virtual diplomatic blanket from every PRC embassy and consulate in 2003 and was used going into the April 2004 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), China’s version of the Davos World Economic Forum, perhaps as early as March 2004, Hu was under pressure to drop the term -- a timing that corresponded to elections in Taiwan, the reelection of Chen Shui-bian as president, and its threats of unilateral declaration of independence.

In any case, by May Hu used "peaceful development" (heping fazhan) to refer to China’s foreign policy strategy. It is certainly not clear to this observer that peaceful development will become the "new pathway" (xin daolu) but it does punctuate the effort that China’s devotes to shaping external perceptions as it expands its influence, first regionally and then internationally. While the Chinese continue to emphasize that this moderate approach is strategic and signals a 'permanent' shift, they note that it depends largely on a "constructive U.S. response to the moderate Chinese approach."

The PRC is preoccupied with the US given it current dominance in Asian and global affairs, and see it as the principal "international danger" able to "confront and complicate China’s development and rising power and influence in Asian and world affairs." China is mindful that three nations that sought to overturn the prevailing international order of their day, Weimar Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union, were punished by an allied coalition of established nations. While I've not see it in print, I cannot but note that the leader of the winning coalition in each case was the United States, a fact that I cannot imagine has been lost on the Chinese.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the wide-ranging US-PRC policy gulfs over economics, security, and sovereignty, the PRC is doing what it can to not exacerbate a US backlash. By mid-2001 China had "curbed attacks on a wide range of U.S. domestic and foreign policies and practices, [had] narrowed criticism of U.S. policies and behavior to areas that relate to Taiwan [and asserted] that they accept U.S. leadership in Asian and world affairs." Even as the Chinese acknowledge that the US may not be able or willing to reciprocate internationally, the PRC has already seen regional benefits.

By any name, the new approach has greatly expanded Chinese influence and created a buffer along China’s periphery, reduced the ability of the US to ‘recontain’ China, and even begin to place limitations on US action.

The US could benefit by less unilateral tub-thumping, greater sensitivity to the needs of Asian states, and an activism shorn of interference or condescension.

Part one and two

China Debates Its "Peaceful Rise" Strategy
Is a kinder, gentler Beijing the best route to development?
Evan S. Medeiros
YaleGlobal, 22 June 2004

China’s peaceful rise and U.S. interests in Asia – status and outlook
by Robert Sutter
PacNet Number 27
Pacific Forum CSIS
June 24, 2004

Former Leader Is Still a Power in China's Life
By JOSEPH KAHN
New York Times
July 16, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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