Wed, May 07, 2003 - Page 8 News List

China's power slumps after Sept. 11

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

During the 1990s, China began engaging in "great power diplomacy." China's exchange of visits with leaders of major nations became common. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US, however, the frequency of these exchanges declined dramatically. Now, after the US-Iraq war, China seems to be reviving its suspended great power diplomacy. In addition to close contacts with the leaders of Russia and France, it is also intervening in the North Korean issue. Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will be visiting Russia this month. Is China reviving its diplomacy policy?

Prior to the onset of reforms, China's military and economic strength fell far behind that of the US and the Soviet Union. The fact that China at the time saw itself side by side with the US and the Soviet Union in a triumvirate of superpowers was the result of ideology -- it used opposition to capitalism, colonialism and US imperialism as rallying points to attract followers among third-world countries.

Reforms, however, implied China was accepting Western capitalist logic and abandoning the communist revolutionary world view, thus undermining the power of this ideology. Following the onset of reforms, China has grown militarily and economically strong. It has been supporting both North Korea and Iraq based on previously established alliances. With the support of Muslim countries in Central Asia, it advocated a set-up with one super power and many strong powers in the hope of being able to take a multi-polar approach to fighting uni-polarism.

This Chinese view of itself as a great power expanded beyond the 1990s, and most recently, Beijing's successful bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, together with the 2001 APEC meeting in Shanghai. These events represent the peak of China's status as a great power.

The Sept. 11 attacks, however, was a watershed between two eras. The US' pre-emptive strike strategy messed up the progress of Chinese and Russian strategic cooperation to the north of China. In Central Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has also been neglected and pressured in the name of anti-terrorism. On top of this, the US has returned to Southeast Asia, making Singapore the logistics base for its Seventh Fleet. It has also strengthened military cooperation with all Southeast Asian nations, thereby weakening the influence of ASEAN.

If we add Japan and Taiwan, overt and covert military allies of the US, we see that China's great power strategy has all but collapsed. China, alarmed that its status as a great power was going up in smoke, found itself in an awkward situation. This was apparent in China's diplomatic activities -- the number of overseas visits by the Chinese president fell drastically last year. Nor did China lend a helping hand to its long-term allies North Korea and Iraq.

Five international wars provide concrete evidence of how China's position as a great power arose, wavered, and then collapsed. The Falklands War in 1986 boosted Chinese confidence in the idea that its status as a great power would be guaranteed so long as it fully modernized its military. Even though US high-tech military strength in the Gulf War in 1991 frightened and shocked China, it was never shaken in its decision to strengthen the nation by way of military buildup. Instead, it accelerated the pace of modernization, emphasizing missile-guidance techniques and other high-tech military equipment.

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