Sat, Mar 09, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Can China become a great power?

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

In an attempt to construct a new relationship framework with his Chinese counterpart, US Presi-dent George W. Bush concluded his recent trip to Beijing by emphasizing the need for Chinese society to move toward economic liberalization and political openness. Bush's trip was truly a "working visit," since he only spent 30 hours in China.

Seeking mainly to pitch his anti-terrorism plans to Chinese leaders, Bush talked in depth about Western democratic values in the speech he delivered at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University. During his summit meeting with President Jiang Zemin (江澤民), Bush emphasized the need for China to comply with internationally-accepted rules, especially now that Beijing has completed its accession to the WTO. In their post-summit press conference, both Bush and Jiang expressed their divergent views with respect to freedom of religion.

Most people tend to overlook the significance of Bush's speech at Tsinghua University. However, the speech reflects Washington's efforts to incorporate China into the world community and help it become a responsible country. Washington's efforts at building a "candid, constructive and cooperative" relationship with Beijing, as US Secretary of State Colin Powell described it, should be made part of a broader attempt to bring China into international organizations. The aim is to incrementally transform China into a politically democratic and economically liberal country, while at the same time letting Chinese leaders shoulder the responsibility of heading a great power.

As a growing regional power, China's future not only affects the establishment of a new international order, but also influences a peaceful and secure post-Cold War era in the Asia-Pacific region. Furthermore, the liberalization and internationalization of the Chinese economy will no doubt have a decisive affect on the process of globalization.

International observers argue that the danger of war increases when the challenger of the existing international order is an undemocratic state. Democratic countries are generally more satisfied with the status quo. Simply put, democracies do not fight democracies. An undemocratic challenger is more threatening to world order, and hence more likely to induce a more belligerent response from a democratic leader and its allies.

China's growing military might has no doubt created concerns for the region as well as for the US. Given that Beijing is rapidly expanding its political, military and economic influence, it is worth asking whether China understands all the responsibilities of being a "great power." More significantly, does it have the capability to shoulder them? This is not to mention the fact that China has thus far never renounced its threat to use force against Taiwan. Nor did the Chinese leadership indicate a readiness to open talks with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Beijing must understand that the status of a great power is illustrated neither by active expansion of military capabilities nor by military threats against smaller countries. Instead, China must understand its responsibilities from the perspective of a leader in the region.

Suppressing Taiwan and creating tension in the Taiwan Strait are not constructive endeavors. The art of being a great power requires the capability and intention of playing a constructive and stabilizing role in the regional order. The world has been closely watching the development of China following the exit of Russian influence from the world stage.

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