Analysis of China as a Superpower
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Published: Tue, 06 Mar 2018
The Dragon Awakes – Will China be the next superpower?
China is a sleeping dragon. When it awakes, the world will shake”. (Eccleston H, 2004, p290).
Napoleon Bonaparte made this prophetic comment regarding China in 1808 and it would seem that today China has indeed awoken. (Optimize, 2004p. 1). China has had unprecedented economic growth at around 9.5% perineum, a statistic even more impressive amazing bearing in mind that only in 1978 China was poorer than Korea and Taiwan were in the 1960s. (Nye 1997-98 p. 67). China also shows signs of extending its economic reach and is expanding its ventures into developed states.
Only recently the Chinese firm Nanjing bought the British ailing car firm MG rover for £50 million. (BBC News 2006 p. 1). Also in 2005 the Chinese Lenovo Group acquired IBM’s PC business making Lenovo the third largest PC Company in the world. (Economic Times, 2005 p. 1) There is also a huge inflow of FDI (foreign direct investment) into China. China has established 22,245 new firms attracting $59.2 billion in FDI making a total of $33.4 billion in 2003.
This makes China the top destination for FDI and a country that firms want to do business with. (People’s Daily, 2003). It is thought by some observers that China’s economy at its present rate could eventually overtake that of the US(United States). (Nye 1997-98 p. 67). If this is so, could China surpass the US in other areas and displace the US as the world superpower. There will be huge implication for international relations if this is to be the case.
The writer’s hypothesis is that China’s rise to superpower status will mean a shift of economic, military and cultural power from the west tithe east. Drawing on the work of John Mearsheimer that states are power maximizes, China will continue to pursue power in a bid to become the most powerful state in the international system, a position currently occupied by the US. (Mearsheimer 2001 p. 21).
Even those who advocate that the spread of liberalism will lessen the need for the pursuit of power have not been able to ignore this development. Fukuyama in his book “America at the Crossroads” says that social engineering like that seen in Iraq leads to unexpected consequences and undermines its own ends. Therefore actions which are put forward as promoting peace and democracy turn into something they were not intended to be, the promotion of the national interest of the US. (New York Times, 2006 p. 2).
Therefore a state whose power is so big it is unchecked is unable to police itself and act benevolently in the anarchic system. Its main concern is the accumulation of power and it will not be satisfied as purported by Waltz’ defensive realist view, by only seeking to acquire as much power so as to feel secure. (Bailys& Smith 2005 p. 169-170).
A world dominated by China
A world dominated by China may be very different than the present world that has for the last two centuries been dominated by a western power. As already mentioned China’s rise will not result in it being status quo power and therefore it will not be happy to work within system determined by western values. (Guardian 2005 p. 2). China has different values to that of the west and its rise will lead to the promotion of those values through its economic, military and institutional power.
Therefore as Huntingdon notes, the new fault-lines will not be between ideologies like the two World Wars and the Cold War but between civilizations. This is due to the different views that cultures have in regard to relationships such as the citizen and the state, husband and wife, liberty and equality. (Huntingdon 1993 p.25). The west has promoted its values of liberalism as being the universal values of the world community. But due to the anarchic structure of the system these values have been used to promote its national interest.
China will appeal to those states who have different view of the world that the one being put forward by the US and other western states. These states will have similar cultural values to China which stress the subordination of individual rights and elevate consensus differ from the western beliefs of liberty, equality and individualism. (Huntingdon 1993 p. 29).
Indeed China is forging links with states that the US deems as rogue states such as Iran with its recent gas deal worth $100 billion. The US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran and this gas deal is a clear sign that China does not intend to work within a system determined by the US. Further, Iran is looking to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which could act as a counterweight to US institutional power. (Asia Times 2004 p.1-2).
The writer will look at China’s potential superpower status using the neo-realist theory and its conceptual and methodological framework. This will entail the use of secondary research methods by exploring the concepts of neo-realism through the scholars in this field. This theory rose to prominence during the late 1970s due to the writings of Kenneth Waltz. (Buzau in Zale ski 2002 p. 49).
It rests on the earlier realist perspective of writers such as E H Carr and Hans Morgenthau, which was dominant in international relations in the post-World War II era. Realism also rose due to the inability of the liberal perspective and its principles to maintain peace in Europe. (Bur chill, 2001 p. 71). It was concerned with the causes of war and ways in which it can be prevented. (Buzau in Zale ski 2002 p. 48). EH Carr’s “The Twenty Years Crisis” was a critique of the liberal view that co-operation, under institutions such as the League of Nations, would render war obsolete. Carr’s theory was proven when World War I broke out the day after his book was published. (Bur chill 2001 p.71).
Morgenthau’s work, Politics Amongst Nations (1948) sought to apply positivist methodology used in the natural sciences to international relations. Thus we can draw objective knowledge and laws from the social world in the same way that we can from the natural world. (Bur chill 2001 p. 77). He maintains that politics is governed by objective laws rooted in human nature and that human nature is reflected in the way states behave.
The outcomes of the interaction of states are due to the behaviour of statesmen and thus human nature. (Bur chill 2001 p. 83). Morgenthau and Carr draw on a long philosophical heritage going back to the writings of Thucydides 460BCto 406BC and Niccole Machiavelli 1469 to 1527.
The neo-realist perspective came about in response to the rise of liberal internationalism and their interdependency theory in the1970s. Neo-realism engages with this approach that deems the state tube less significant in an interdependent world due to the rise of institutions, regimes and transnational corporations. (Bailys &Smith 2005 171). Realism recognised that it had to develop new tools to analyse these new developments.
Thus realism reinvented itself sane-realism, acknowledging that such non-governmental actors exist, but they have to work within an anarchical international system where there is no overall authority above that of the sovereign state. This means states can never fully co-operate within these institutions due to the possibility that one state may gain more out of this co-operation. The anarchic structure of the system is where neo-realism departs from the earlier realist theory that human nature determines how states behave.
Waltz’ systemic approach
Waltz’ systemic approach is that it is the structure of the international system that determines the way states behave and not human nature. Despite this departure it can be said that there are core theoretical elements that underpin the earlier classical realism, modern realism of Carr and Morgenthau and Waltz’s structural realism. This is known as the realist triangle of state, survival and self-help. (Bailys & Smith 2005 p. 163).
The primary actor in the international system is the state. This can be traced back to Thucydides’ time when the unit of analysis waste city-state or polis. (Bailys & Smith 2005 p. 163). That said, Carr and Morgenthau were less state-centric in that they did not envisage the state as the final form of political community. (Burchill2001 p. 76). The state is the only legitimate representative of the people and it uses this legitimacy to wield its authority within and outside the state. (Bailys & Smith 2005 p. 163). The second core element is that of survival.
The priority of the state is to ensure its own survival in the anarchic structure of the international system. This concept is present in Machiavelli’s “The Prince” which details what leaders must do to keep hold of their power. (Bailys& Smith 2005 p. 174). The third concept is that of self-help that Waltz deems necessary to gain security in an anarchic structure. Hedley Bull’s “The Anarchical Society”(1977) concurs with Waltz that all states exist in an anarchical society where there is no higher authority than the sovereign state.
Therefore national interest is the state’s first duty that ensures the right for citizens to feel secure within state borders. Self-help is necessary as this cannot been trusted to anyone else and this is achieved through the accumulation of power to reduce vulnerability in the anarchic system of states. The state’s first “law of motion” is to preserve the state and in order to do this it must pursue power. (Bailys & Smith p. 162-3, 169).
The writer has also been inspired by the academic Paul Kennedy (1989)in his book: “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. The writer will use this thesis to assess whether China is rising at the expense of the decline of the US. According to Kennedy’s thesis the rise and fall of power is cyclical thus once a great power has arisen it must inevitably fall. A state that has achieved economic strength will protect that strength using military power but this involves great cost.
Eventually the cost will be too great and the power will decline and be replaced as evidence by the decline of Britain in 1873. (Nye 1990 p. 3) The United States has undoubtedly been the great power of the 20thCentury. Will it remain so during the 21st century or will it fall and be replaced by China thus confirming Kennedy’s thesis that all great powers will eventually follow this decline thus paving the way for the next great power?
There are those who believe the era of the superpower is coming to amend. Fukuyama believes that states will not need to rival each other for power. The spread of liberal democracy and its sidekick liberal economy has “triumphed” over other regimes. (Fukuyama 1992). It is further believed that open economies create interdependency and sharing of common interests. (Nye 1997-98 p. 76). Also, the state is in relative decline due to the emergence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and (World Bank) and also MNCs (multinational corporations. (Bailys& Smith 164).
Even in the US Congress the former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich does not regard China’s growth as in any way a threat whilst there are those who have views to the contrary. This highlights how the theoretical debate translates into apolitical one. There are those who view the universalism of western liberalism as unchallengeable and now the norm.
This view may be borne out by the fragmentation of the Soviet Union but Matthew Rees views China’s position as similar to that of the Soviet Union in that it threatens western values of liberty and democracy. (Nye 1997-98 p.65-66) . Mearsheimer has also warned of complacency against the Chinese threat, stating of the current good relation between the two states: “this US policy (of containment) is misguided. A wealthy China would not be a status quo power, but an aggressive state, determined to achieve regional hegemony” (Mearsheimer 2001)
Another writer in this field Joseph Nye refutes the claim that the state is in relative decline. His thesis is that the classic realist view of states as the most important actors cannot be disputed due merely to the rise of NGOs. This is because it underestimates the nature of the system of states that is anarchic in structure. Therefore if there is no higher authority to settle disputes the state cannot leave its survival to others.
It must ensure its own survival and the only way this can be done is for the state to increase its power capabilities. (Bailys & Smith 164). Thus in regard to on-state actors it is “business as usual” in that non-state actors must still work within a system of states. Thus states will still vie for power within these organisations. (Bailys & Smith p. 173). This is the soft power element of the state.
Definition of power
“Man’s control over the minds and actions of other men”.
(Morgenthau (1948) cited in Bailys & Smith p. 173)
Power is a highly contested concept because it is difficult to assess what elements actually constitute power. The traditional view of powers the possession of resources that include the size of population and territory, military might and economic strength. (Nye 1990 p. 26). Thus the resources of each state can be measured and compared.
But measurement is not enough as evidenced during World War Two when France and Britain had more tanks that Germany but still Germany was able to outmanoeuvre the allies. Therefore when assessing power we also need to assess a state’s ability to convert its resources into such power assume states can do this more effectively than others. (Nye 1990 p.27). These avenues to power will be explored and the evidence that China has these capabilities will be extrapolated.
The basis for power does not remain unchanged and must be assessed in its own context. For example the basis for power in 18th Century Europe was its population as it provided soldiers and tax resources. Today it is much more difficult to pinpoint the resources that provide the basis for power. (Nye 1990 p. 27) It is therefore not sufficient to look at the concept of power merely in terms of hard power or tangible resources. As Nye has noted in the post-cold war era there has been a shift in the balance of power in the anarchic system.
The bipolar world has shifted to one that is unipolar with the US as the sole superpower. The US has exhibited all the usual traits associated with this position such as military, economic and territorial strength. But advances in technology and the emergence of NGOs and MNCs have meant a closer more interdependent world. Interdependence between states does not mean co-operation as liberals purport. It can be used to further national interest and this type of influence is the intangible soft power element of state apparatus. (Nye 1990 p.30).
We can see soft power in action through the Washington consensus where the US is the leader in these institutions. We can also see soft power through the spread of the US’s liberal ideology in terms of economics and politics in what Fukuyama has called the “Triumph of Liberal Democracy”. (Fukuyama, 1992). This soft power has served to reinforce the US’s hard power resources by gaining it consent and legitimacy as the dominant power. (Nye 1990 p. 33).
The universalism of American culture has also helped to further the power of the US by enabling it to establish values and beliefs that are consistent with its own society. Therefore the thesis of this dissertation is that China will be the next superpower by maximizing it’s hard power resources to secure itself in the anarchic system of states. Also, due to interdependence among states and the growth forgoes and MNCs it will seek soft power in its pursuit of power capabilities. The consequences of this systemic shift will mean the promotion of Eastern collective values over Western liberal individualistic tendencies.
Part One: Hard Power Resources
If, as Kennedy suggests, China’s rise will be at the expense of the US, then at present most US concerns are directed at rapidly growing Chinese economy. There are certainly some impressive claims being made about the rise of Chinese economic power. Jeremy Warner writes that “like it or not, from China’s impact on finite world resources to climate change and the laws of supply and demand, it is transforming the way we live with a speed barely imaginable just a few years ago(The Independent January 27, 2006).
Over the last 27 years, China has grown at an average rate of 9.6 present per annum, reaching a GDP of £2.2 trillion in 2005 (The Independent January 27, 2006). In 1979, China represented 1 per cent of the world economy, with foreign trade totalling $20.6 billion. Today China accounts for 4 per cent of the world economy, with $851 billion in foreign trade, the third largest in the world (Fijian 2005, p19).There is of course still a lot of progress to be made – China’s economy for example is still only one seventh the size of that of the US(Fijian 2005, p19) but it is the rate of growth, along with plans for future expansion, the country’s high savings ratio, and plans to expand supplies of nuclear , clean coal, hydro-electric and renewable forms of energy that lead US experts to believe that one day China will challenge the US as the world’s dominant superpower. Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary has compared the integration of China into the world economy as one of the three great economic events of the last millennium – on a par with the renaissance and the industrial revolution (The Independent, July 23, 2005).
The US has had similar fears about economic competition in the past. In the early 1980s it had concerns about the economic successes being enjoyed by Germany and Japan – fears that were allayed after stagnation in both countries. With China however, US fears appear to be deeper-rooted, primarily at the incredible rate of progress seen in China. Whilst the US economy may still be much larger at present, the rate of growth in China will continue to narrow the gap quickly. And of course, there is an ideological issue at the heart of the US fears about China– how is a Communist country succeeding where others have stumbled?
The answer lies partly in America’s own attempts to take advantage of the economic conditions in China when Deng Xiaoping began to open up China to the rest of the world. China had historically been an insular nation, separated from the rest of the world and failing to make the most of its earlier technological advances. Deng understood that whilst China had a huge labour force, to succeed it needed to be organised, competitive in international markets and producing the type of goods that the rest of the world wanted to buy.
For this to happen, China would need help from the outside world. The result has been huge foreign investments as companies from across the world have attempted to take advantage of China’s low labour costs. As Stephen King concludes, foreign investors have turned China into the world’s biggest assembly plant: “China may be a one-party state, but the authorities know all about Adam Smith and the division of labour” (The Independent, February 13, 2006).
China is gradually picking off the economies of other G7 nations. Whilst its economy is still considerably smaller than Americas, by the end of 2004 it was bigger economically than France, Italy and Canada(The Independent, February 13, 2006). Germany and Japan are likely tube overtaken soon and then China will have the US firmly in its sights. It will have the opportunity to challenge US regional and global hegemony.
Whilst there is an optimistic view that the economic growth in China will lead to long-term mutually beneficial cooperation with the US, more likely outcome is growing tension between the two. As China continues to grow, it will gradually begin to demand more of the world’s scarce resources – oil prices for example are already high and may be pushed higher by Chinese demand. The same will happen with other commodities with the result that China’s success increases the commodity bill for US consumers and increases global competition for raw materials. The US consumer may also put pressure on the government to curb Chinese economic expansion. With petrol being so lightly taxed in the US, motorists are affected directly by oil price rises. As The Economist reports: “they want somebody to blame and they may have heard that China is scouring the world to lock op oil supplies for its own ‘energy security’” (The Economist, September 3, 2005).
Both the US and China have some common economic interests. Both benefit from free trade for example. However, with China now exporting six times as much to the US as it imports from it (The Economist, September3, 2005)., it is now China that has the most to gain, something of an irony after years of America hammering on its door to access Chinese markets. There have also been concerns in the US that China is trying to but its way into strategic assets within the US. In June 2005,CNOOC, a Chinese state controlled company attempted to buy Unocal, medium sized US oil company. Hawks within the US administration argued against allowing oil firms to fall into Chinese hands and, with public opinion in the US against the deal, it eventually fell through.
The Chinese view on globalisation has been mixed. There is a view that globalisation gives a stronger reason for economic cooperation between economically strong states and certainly the acceptance of global brands into Chinese culture supports the argument that it has embraced globalisation. On the other hand, globalisation tends to reinforce US and Western interests first and foremost and the 1997-99 Asian financial crisis has convinced many within China that it could expose Chinese economic vulnerability. As Foot concludes: “with America’s advantage in technological innovation, revolution in military affairs and cultural domination, globalisation seemed to confer gains on Washington and thus further to reinforce the unipolar structure” (Foot2006 p82).
To assess China’s rise to Superpower status we need to look at how it ranks in regard to military strength and capability. (Waltz 1979 p.131). The Neo-Realist view is that the nation-state is the most natural form of society and it should be defended for the national good. (Kennedy p. 90). Armies are essential for controlling land and bringing security to the nation state and which is the main objective in a world of states in a system of anarchy. (Mearsheimer p. 86). Due to competition for resources in a world of anarchy military powers a crucial instrument of the national interest. (Garnett, 1987 p.71). Thus military power is monopolised by states and used to protect states from external force. It is the capacity to kill, coerce or destroy and plays a significant part in international politics that will not be supplanted until the system of states is transformed. (Garnett 1987, p. 69-71). Those who have the most military strength are usually the most influential and the most respected in the system and certainly a proposition shared by Mao Ste-Tung’s saying that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. (Garnett 1987, p.74).
Recent analyses of the Chinese military threat from Washington have expressed growing concern. The 2005 Pentagon report concluded that China could threaten not just its smaller regional neighbours like Taiwan but eventually “modern militaries operating in the region.” This can be taken to include the US. (Washington Post July 23, 2005).
Yee and Storey suggest that there are a number of contributing factors to the belief that China is gradually attempting to extend its influence in the region – 1)its territorial disputes with other countries in the region have intensified, 2) its rapid economic development has accelerated its military modernisation process and 3)China has elevated re-unification with Taiwan as a higher priority following the successful retrocession of Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in1999(Yee and Storey, p4).
These factors can be interpreted as evidence of strategic expansion in the region, with territorial claims on the islets in the South China Sea being seen in particular by China’s neighbours as a sign of a policy of expansion. The hard-line policy on Taiwan and the refusal to abandon the threat of military force against it is also seen as evidence of an aggressive state. As Harry Harding writes:
“the rest of the world has viewed the prospect of a Greater China with both fascination and alarm. Some see it in benign terms, as a dynamic common market that provides growing opportunities for trade and investment. More frequently, however, there has been concern that the combination of economic and military resources available to China will pose a significant threat to the commercial vitality and the strategic stability of the rest of the region” (Yee and Storey p4).
There is certainly evidence that China is building up its military capability to the point where it could at least challenge the US in the region. Whilst Kennedy had written in 1989 that China’s army is strong numerically but “woefully under equipped in modern instruments of war”(Kennedy 1989, p577), more recently China has bolstered its naval, submarine and cruise missile capabilities, is in the process of purchasing advanced aircraft systems and is building a nuclear missile arsenal that is capable of striking virtually all of the United States(Washington Post, July 23, 2005).
Whilst much has been made of Chinese reforms since 1979 since in terms of economic growth, it is important to realise that there have been great efforts made to reorganise the military from the early 1980sonwards. Plans were put in place to reduce the People’s Liberation Army from 4.2 million to 3 million (Kennedy 1989, p579) and develop a much more professional force with a higher quality of personnel.
In 2000, the total estimated strength of the Chinese military was 2.5million, of which an estimated 1.8 million are ground forces. The overall strategy for the PLA is an overall reduction and reorganisation of both equipment and personnel with a view to creating a more modern and mobile army.
In terms of equipment, China falls a long way behind the US military but is looking to modernise. It has a tank inventory of around10,000,many of which are Soviet or Chinese built. Its air force possesses around 4,350 aircraft, the majority of which are combat aircraft. The government is also looking to develop a local aerospace industry that would have the capability to produce technologically advanced aircraft, whilst continuing to import aircraft from Russia. The government also has plans to buy a number of AWAC aircraft from Israel.
More recently there have been statements from Chinese military strategists that indicate that China is gearing up to use its military hard power resources. Taiwan will be the most likely arena for the flexing of Chinese military power. General Wen Zinger , political commissar of the Academy of Military Science has stated that the Taiwan problem “is of far reaching significance to breaking international forces blockade against China’s rise… to rise suddenly, China must pass through oceans and go out of the oceans in its future development(Washington Post July 23, 2005).
For proponents of the Chinese threat, such statements support the realist view that China is seeking to increase then demonstrate its power in the international arena. Just as Morgenthau argues that the pursuit of power in world politics is both natural and justified, surrealists will argue that China will become unsatisfied with the existing global power structure and adopt a policy of imperial expansionism aimed at attaining both regional and global hegemony (Yeaned Storey 2002, p7). Whilst China also has the option of economic and cultural means to accomplish its strategic objectives, military force remains the most traditional form of imperialism, and the most likely course for China to take once its economy is fully developed.
Joseph Nye observes that the ‘rise’ of China is actually a misnomer and that a more accurate term would be the re-emergence of China. Certainly, China has long been a major power in East Asia, and technologically and economically it was the world’s leader (though without global reach) from 500 to 1500, before being overtaken by Europe and America. Indeed, China’s re-emergence would equate with Kennedy’s argument that power across the globe is cyclical.
China already has some issues with the US and the other great powers over foreign policies. As a member of the UN Security Council it has traditionally opposed the views of Western states on the international arena and is continuing to do so in spite of its closer economic ties with the West. Whilst China may accept that at the present time it must operate in a US-dominated unipolar world, it believes that its future should at least lie in a multipolar world encompassing the US, China, Europe, Russia and Japan (Foot, 2006, p81).
Certainly during the 1990sthere was Chinese unease at the continued American dominance in global affairs with issues such as further NATO expansion eastward, the renegotiation of terms of the US-Japan alliance, US defence missile systems and intervention in Kosovo being of particular concern.
China’s population can be both a hard power resource and a burden. Its current population of 1.3 billion is expected to continue to rise until2030 when it will peak at 1.5 billion before going into decline. Population of such a size is of course a huge resource in terms of manpower, yet a huge burden on the domestic economy and from a domestic security point of view and massive number of people over which to maintain effective control. Western states continue to lobby the Chinese government for greater democratisation, yet the fear of anarchy from a more liberalised system would appear to be keeping the leadership committed to an authoritarian regime.
From a realist perspective, it is the combination of economic and military power of China that will ultimately lead to conflict with thus. The build-up of such hard resources will be seen as a threat by thus regardless of any ‘good neighbour’ policies that Chinese diplomats may point to. Realists within the US policy making sphere will argue that China is merely biding its time until its economy is strong enough to provide a basis for future hegemony. Thucydides argument that the belief in the inevitability of conflict can be the cause of war is appropriate here – if both sides believe they will eventually end up in conflict, the military build-up will continue, economic cooperation will fade away, and conflict will become unavoidable. China will eventually have to seek further power in order.
Certainly, as the Chinese economy continues to grow, it is likely that its military power will increase. For example, early in 2005, it announced a 12.6 per cent increase in defence spending (Nye, Daily Times March 27, 2005), something that makes it appear more dangerous touts neighbours and further complicating US military commitments in Asia. A RAND study has projected that China’s military expenditure will be more than six times higher than Japans by 2015 and accumulated military capital stock at around five times higher (Daily Times, March27, 2005), again something that suggests it is looking to achieve regional hegemony before aiming its sights higher and looking for global hegemony.
Whilst a global military challenge to the US in the short term is unlikely, there is certainly a possibility that China could challenge the US in East Asia, or even more probably over Taiwan. China would almost certainly intervene militarily if Taiwan were ever to declare independence, irrespective of the military or economic cost. No Chinese leader can afford to be seen as the one that lost Taiwan permanently and at present, the West’s main concern about the Chinese military rests ar
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