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China Perspectives
China"s New Intelligentsia (6)

On the other hand, China"s "neocons"¡ªor perhaps they should be called "neo-comms"¡ªlike Yang Yi and his colleague Yan Xuetong openly argue that they are using modern thinking to help China realise ancient dreams. Their long-term goal is to see China return to great-power status. Like many Chinese scholars, Yan Xuetong has been studying ancient thought. "Recently I read all these books by ancient Chinese scholars and discovered that these guys are smart¡ªtheir ideas are much more relevant than most modern international relations theory," he said. The thing that interested him the most was the distinction that ancient Chinese scholars made between two kinds of order: the "Wang" (which literally means "king") and the "Ba" ("overlord"). The "Wang" system was centred on a dominant superpower, but its primacy was based on benign government rather than coercion or territorial expansion. The "Ba" system, on the other hand, was a classic hegemonic system, where the most powerful nation imposed order on its periphery. Yan explains how in ancient times the Chinese operated both systems: "Within Chinese Asia we had a "Wang" system. Outside, when dealing with "barbarians," we had a hegemonic system. That is just like the US today, which adopts a "Wang" system inside the western club, where it doesn"t use military force or employ double standards. On a global scale, however, the US is hegemonic, using military power and employing double standards." According to Yan Xuetong, China will have two options as it becomes more powerful. "It could become part of the western "Wang" system. But this will mean changing its political system to become a democracy. The other option is for China to build its own system."

The tension between the liberal internationalists and the neo-comms is a modern variant of the Mao-era split between bourgeois and revolutionary foreign policy. For the next few years, China will be decidedly bourgeois. It has decided¡ªwith some reservations¡ªto join the global economy and its institutions. Its goal is to strengthen them in order to pin down the US and secure a peaceful environment for China"s development. But in the long term, some Chinese hope to build a global order in China"s image. The idea is to avoid confrontation while changing the facts on the ground. Just as they are doing in domestic policy, they hope to build pockets of an alternative reality¡ªas in Africa¡ªwhere it is Chinese values and norms that increasingly determine the course of events rather than western ones.

The western creations of the EU and Nato¡ªdefined by the pooling rather than the protecting of sovereignty¡ªmay one day find their matches in the embryonic East Asian Community and the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. Through these organisations, China is reassuring its neighbours of its peaceful intent and creating a new community of interest that excludes the US. The former US official Susan Shirk draws a parallel between China"s multilateral diplomacy and her own country"s after the second world war: "By binding itself to international rules and regimes, the US successfully established a hegemonic order."

The UN is also becoming an amplifier of the Chinese worldview. Unlike Russia, which comports itself with a swagger¡ªenjoying its ability to overtly frustrate US and EU plans¡ªChina tends to opt for a conciliatory posture. In the run-up to the Iraq war, although China opposed military action, it allowed France, Germany and Russia to lead the opposition to it. In 2005 when there was a debate about enlarging the UN security council, China encouraged African countries to demand their own seat, which effectively killed off Japan"s bid for a permanent seat. Equally, Beijing has been willing to allow the Organisation of Islamic States to take the lead in weakening the new UN human rights council. This diplomacy has been effective¡ªcontributing to a big fall in US influence: in 1995 the US won 50.6 per cent of the votes in the UN general assembly; by 2006, the figure had fallen to just 23.6 per cent. On human rights, the results are even more dramatic: China"s win-rate has rocketed from 43 per cent to 82 per cent, while the US"s has tumbled from 57 per cent to 22 per cent. "It"s a truism that the security council can function only insofar as the US lets it," says James Traub, UN correspondent of the the New York Times. ¡้š†่ŒซThe adage may soon be applied to China as well.¡้š†่„Œ

 
   
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