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China The Emerging Superpower History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016


In the 20th century, we have seen many great nations arise and fallen. Great nations compete with each other to influence and compete for shaping the world. For the past century alone, we have witnessed four nations that rise as a great powerful nation feared by its neighbour, ruled and influenced others and over stretched its sphere of influence and finally collapsed. Such nations are like Imperial Germany during 1900 until 1918, Imperial Japan 1931 until 1945, Nazi German during 1933 until 1945 and lastly Soviet Union during 1945 until 1989. The downfall of these great nations created the opportunity for other nations to reflex its muscle to gain regional domination or hegemony. After the Cold War era, with the fall of Soviet Union; United States (US) has become the sole ‘Superpower’ until now. US known as “World Police” play its role in maintaining world peace and stability by ensuring power balance of any uprising nation. Potential Superpower coming from Asia has emerge – China and India.


There have been some signs showing that the United States is declining with the emergence of several nations matching its economic level and technological development. Next sign is the financial crisis starting in the US soon its economy will face difficulties due to the big debt of the US government. Besides that, US is still in wars with Iraq and Afghanistan.


Wikipedia (n.d.) definition for superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests. A superpower is traditionally considered to be one step higher than a great power. The basic components of superpower stature may be measured along four axes of power: military, economic, political, and cultural. (Alice Miller; p1).


First criteria to indicate the rise of China is in term of its military capability. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world’s largest standing army with the second-largest defense budget. Since 1989, China is developing a new generation of strategic and tactical missiles in order to pursue its goal of military modernization program. China is shaping a more capable navy and bought aircrafts. Most importantly, these military modernization does not focus on the strategic and power capacity of a hostile superpower but instead aiming for the needs of specific conflict scenarios in China. (Alice Miller; p 2).

Second criteria for the rise of China is its fast economic growth. China has transformed itself into the world’s fastest growing economy after the introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1978. It is also a member of multilateral organizations including the WTO, APEC, BRIC, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and G-20. Currently it is the World’s Second largest economy after US.

Third criteria for the rise of China is its political arena. On 2nd October 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered to buy Greek government bonds and proposed to set up a $5 billion Greek-Chinese shipping fund to show China’s support for in-debt euro-zone nation. China is playing a key role in financing western countries’ economies, this financial and political move may show a new turn in recognizing China as a key world player. This Chinese “rescue plan” may not be the next “Marshal Plan” that help to save the Europe economy during the Post World War 2, but it certainly marks a turning point in the relationship between Europe and China. (Veronique Saize-Lozac’h; p7)

Last criteria for the rise of China is its cultural improvement. In the 1990s, under China’s President Jiang Zemin and China’s Premier Zhu Rongji’s ten years of administration, the PRC’s economic performance pulled an estimated 150┬ámillion peasants out of poverty and sustained an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of 11.2%.


The Association of Southeast Asian nations were firstly formed on 8 August 1967. The original founder was Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. Currently there are 10 members. The original aim of ASEAN being form was to counter Communism threat during the Cold War. After Post Cold War era, ASEAN aim was for economic growth among its member, social progress, cultural development, security and to discuss differences peacefully.

ASEAN has successfully managed to create a regional framework what is called the ASEAN way. The ASEAN way can be traced back to the signing of the Treaty of Amity and cooperation in Southeast Asia. “Fundamental principles adopted from this included: (“Overview Association of South East Asian Nations”, Accessed on 27 July 2009.)

mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations;

the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;

non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;

settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner;

renunciation of the threat or use of force; and

effective cooperation among themselves”.


China has a long history with Southeast Asia in the form of trades and friendly relations. Chinese traders travelled towards Southeast Asian region trading silk, Chinese poultry and buying spices in return. Envoys from China such as Admiral Cheng Ho was sent to seek friendly relations with Southeast Asian nations. At various occasions, inter-marriage between both royal counter parts happened. Nowadays, informal relation between ASEAN and China began in 1991 & 1992. ASEAN-China relations were formalized in Bangkok on July 23, 1994. ASEAN accorded full dialogue status to China at the 29th Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta in 1996.

Cold War Era and China impact in Southeast Asia

China during the Cold War era in the period of 1950’s to 1960’s was trying to solidify the Communist Parties in Southeast Asia. How China did this is by subversion and infiltration politically like in Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Philippines and Indonesia. China leading other nations such as Indonesia, North Korea, North Vietnam and Cambodia was against the West. However, it was stopped by domestic development in China (Cultural Revolution) and the abortive coup of the PKI in Indonesia. (Jusuf Wanandi; p 285)

During the Cold War, both China and US has a common cause that is Soviet Union. As a result of the Sino-Soviet split in 1960, tensions between China and Soviet Union reached its height in 1969. President Nixon used the conflict to shift the balance of power towards the West and made friendly relations with China in February 1972. Under US President Jimmy Carter it was elated to the full diplomatic relations in 1979.

Following Deng Xiaoping’s visits to several South East Asian countries in 1978, a new law on Chinese Citizenship of 1979 was enforced. It was stated that Chinese descents in South East Asia who were already citizens of the countries where they lived, were no more Chinese citizens, and have to be loyal to their respective countries concerned. (Jusuf Wanandi; p 285)

China not trying to be hegemony to its neighboring country or is?

China has been trying hard in showing the world of its intention for friendly cooperation. It tried to adopt the “ASEAN way” which is necessary for economic growth. Chinese leaders has publicly obliged for international friendship an example is President Hu Jintao has used the term ‘harmonious world’ to describe China’s model of international relations and Zheng Bijian developed the term ‘peaceful rise’ to describe China’s development. Another example was during the ASEAN leaders meeting in 2005, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji stated that “China is no threat to South East Asia..”.


China has contributed in the Korean peninsula as negotiator in the current Korean conflict. On 23 November 2010, North Korea had fired artillery shells on island of Yeonpyeong. China has called for an emergency meeting of key nations amid tension in Korea over the North’s deadly shelling of a Southern island.

Wu Dawei, China’s representative to the talks, said on Sunday: “The Chinese side, after careful study, proposes to have emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the six-party talks in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present.” (BBC News Asia Pacific; accessed 28 Nov 2010)

ASEAN trade with China

The focus on economic growth and prosperity has been a common goal and driving force for both China and ASEAN. The founding of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 1989 and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1992 identify the deep economic integration and interdependence is a relatively recent in East Asia. Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN between 1991 and 2005 reached $130.3 billion. In November 2002, China arranged China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA). CAFTA came into force on January 1, 2010. CAFTA is part of China’s diplomatic policy to win trust among the ASEAN members by “giving more and taking less”. (Mikael Weissmann; p.62).


During the Asian Financial crisis in 1997, China has been somewhat buffered so far from the regional economic crisis. Its currency, the Yuan, is not freely convertible and China has enjoyed large current-account surpluses and foreign exchange reserves. Although a devaluation of the yuan in 1994 may have contributed to the regional problem in the first place, China has pledged not to devalue again in current circumstances – allowing last year’s wave of devaluations in Southeast Asia to boost those small countries’ exports and promote their recovery. China has also extended direct assistance to some ASEAN countries – a $1 billion loan to Thailand and aid even to its traditional rival Indonesia, to which it has pledged a $200 million export credit facility and $3 million in medicine and food aid.


The reason for China’s involvement in the South China Sea is because of historical claims of discovery and occupation. Historical details of discovery is well documented in Chou Ch’u-fei’s Ling-Wai- tai-ta (Information on What Lies Beyond the Passes) during the Sung dynasty (12th century) and in the records of Chinese navigators during the Qing dynasty (18th century). (Christopher C. Joyner, p 59).

There are various incidents happened in the Spratly Island. One such incident is

China and Vietnam clashed at sea over possession of Johnson Reef in the Spratly Island in 1988. Chinese gunboats sank Vietnamese armed transport ships supporting a landing party of Vietnamese soldiers.

Another incident was the “Mischief Reef” incident between China and Philippines. The incident happened in late January 1995. Chinese troops forced 35 Filipino fishermen to leave “Mischief Reef”, in an economic zone claimed by both the Philippines and China. Making the matter worst, China detained the fishermen for a week, stationed armed vessels at the reef, and began fortifying it. It was the first use of force by China against a member of ASEAN. Philippines made international complaint about China action in constructing five-story, cement building which was believed to be a military facilities in the region.

Following this, an agreement was reached between the China and ASEAN member nations whereby one country would inform the other of any military movement within the disputed territory and that there would be no further construction of any infrastructure. However, China and Malaysia violated this agreement. Seven Chinese naval vessels entered the area to repair “fishing shelters” in Panganiban Reef. Malaysia erected a structure on Investigator Shoal and landed at Rizal Reef. In response, the Philippine warned to send troops and navy forces to attempt the invasion in the islands.


In July 1995, China Foreign Minister Qian Qichen announced to an ASEAN forum that China was prepared to settle these disputes diplomatically on the basis of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. On 4 November 2002 a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed by the 10 foreign ministers of ASEAN countries and China in Phnom Penh where the signatory countries pledged to resolve their sovereignty disputes in a peaceful manner, without resorting to the use of force and through direct negotiations among the countries concerned. The parties also undertook to exercise self-restraint with activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, including refraining from inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.


China’s tension against US existed because of human rights, Taiwan, proliferation and technology transfer. Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989 had shattered friendly relations between China and US. Chinese communist leader threatened by Western democratic idea; used violence to repress Tiananmen protestors. Americans viewed this incident as breach of human rights and stop the China-US friendly relations since Nixon administration. Southeast Asian in the other hand did not condemn the Tiananmen incident, but instead engaged China.

Taiwan’s fully democratization was reached in March 1996. Taiwan effort in trying to achieve separate party from Mainland constituencies gained sympathy and support from United States. Hence, US sharpened its domestic debate in America over policy toward Beijing.


The presence of US in the Pacific region is like a stabilizing power since World War II. After the fall of Russia after the Cold War, there were no nations that match US. The rise of China has become a potential rival. Emerging China resent US interference in China’s internal issues especially US support on Taiwan.

The responses and reactions of the United States and surrounding countries would decrease the possibility of China becoming a regional hegemony. United State is checking China balance of power strategy by supporting ASEAN members, Taiwan and India.


China has become a full dialogue partner with ASEAN after 1997 Financial Crisis, and announced their decision to establish a 21st century-oriented partnership of good-neighbours and mutual trust. The ASEAN + 3 (APT) has been of foremost importance for network and trust building process. (Mikael Weissman; p.47).

On the basis of the cooperation framework for China-ASEAN full dialogue, China has signed a Joint Statement on a Plan of Action for the 21st Century with Thailand and a Joint Statement on Framework for Future Bilateral Cooperation with Malaysia, and issued a Joint Statement with Vietnam. In the security area, ASEAN and China have coordinated and supported at ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and other multi-lateral dialogue forum.

The general approaches, consolidation and develop cooperation to be adopted is outlined as follows: (Asean Secretariat; 2009)

China and ASEAN is to generate partnership of good-neighbors and mutual trust.

Cooperation in various fields with the focus on economic, trade, scientific and technological cooperation.

To expand regional and international cooperation. This includes strengthen mutual support in the United Nations and other international organizations.

Handle differences and disputes by peaceful means and through bilateral friendly consultations.


In summary, China has transformed its power-oriented foreign policy to “soft power” diplomacy towards the Southeast Asia region. ASEAN’s “constructive engagement” policy towards China has created expanded relations and deepened collaboration. This has resulted in both China and ASEAN reinterpreted their political interests and transformed their behavior towards each other. This is the fundamental of better understanding and friendly cooperation between China and ASEAN. It is the ‘ASEAN’ way.


By all these measures, China is not a threat but a friend to ASEAN. It is establishing itself as a great power on par with Great Britain, Russia, Japan and India. Southeast Asian nations should not be worried about China’s becoming the next superpower but instead take advantage of its economic success. Conflict of interest between China and ASEAN will surely afloat and its important for both China and ASEAN to sit and discuss any problems.

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