China's growing power is creating unease among a number of countries. The US, of course, has raised concerns about China's lack of transparency on its strategic doctrine and ambitions considering that its military budget rises by double-digit figures annually. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso recently said that the steady rise in China's military budget constituted a threat to his country. He also maintained that this was arousing suspicion in a number of Asian countries.
Beijing is apparently aware of growing concern internationally about its expanding power and lack of transparency. Otherwise, it wouldn't be trying to assure all and sundry that its brand of development is not a threat to any country. Indeed, according to them, it benefits the entire world.
A recent white paper on China's foreign relations claims that, "China's road of peaceful development is a brand new one for mankind in pursuit of civilization and progress."
For added emphasis, it says, "China did not seek hegemony in the past, nor does it now, and will not do so in the future when it gets stronger."
Really? Some of its neighbors who ended up as part of the Chinese empire or as tributaries might disagree.
Beijing's worry now is how best to sell its "rise" in the most non-threatening way. According to Professor Robert Skidelsky, "Part of the problem lies in the use of the word `rise,' which suggests something open-ended. Although some Chinese officials talk about China's `rise' ... others prefer to talk about its `restoration'... signifying a restoration of a disturbed natural order of states [rather] than a hegemonic design."
A restoration of the old order, with China as the Middle Kingdom, seems even more menacing, suggesting a settling of scores for disturbing China's "natural" hegemony. However one looks at it, there is no non-threatening way of picturing or projecting China's "rise."
Beijing is worried that comparisons are already being drawn between its "rise" and the way Japan burst onto the international scene late in the 19th century, eventually causing mayhem all around. Japan's aggression and occupation of Asian countries (including parts of China) before and during World War II, still haunt its neighbors. Indeed, China is unhappy that Japan is seeking to whitewash its historical sins by rewriting history books to blot out wartime atrocities.
China's take on this -- that history will repeat itself, with China as the new fearsome kid on the block -- is that it will be different because the world has changed. Its spokesmen argue that, "It's not like in the past when powers had to expand territorially in order to get markets."
Beijing thinks it is doing things differently. It is simply trying to corner supplies, wherever it can, for scarce resources like oil, while simultaneously creating and expanding markets for its low-priced manufactured goods. In China's new world of global capitalism, it is able to undercut other economies through its skewed currency mechanism and low manufacturing costs.
What is this, if not a scenario for a future conflict -- territorial expansion or otherwise? Japan too traveled down this road, which created conditions for the war in the Pacific.
Beijing's white paper, however, says, "To stick to the road of peaceful development is the inevitable way for China to attain national prosperity and strength and its people's happiness ... Therefore, China's development will never be a threat to anyone."