These countries were not against the idea of China’s rise to power at all; they welcomed it with open arms. They believed that China could give everyone prosperity while also being capable of keeping the US, the leader of the current world order, in check. With people holding such opinions and the way China came through the recent global financial crisis unscathed while the US found itself in severe trouble, China came to be in a very strong position.
What is surprising though is how in just three short years — from 2010 — many countries that in the past did everything they could to get rid of US influence and become closer to China have all turned around and are trying everything they can to keep US troops in their countries. An example of this is when China’s traditional allies, Kazakhstan and Cambodia, took part in a series of US military exercises in 2010 that drilled troops in possible conflict with China.
China’s “miraculous” rise to power has also seen some experts and academics from the west and Taiwan speak at great length of the virtues a powerful China could have. One point they all made was how China will be able to build an international order far superior to the one the hegemonic US has established. They echoed what Chinese academics have said about the current Western concept of Westphalian sovereignty — that it is fraught with crises, that it represents a form of anarchy and is nowhere near as capable of bringing about peace like China’s traditional political arrangements such as the “tianxia system” or “celestial order.”
Is what we are seeing with the current state of affairs in East Asia an embodiment of the great Chinese systems of times gone by?
To many, the concept of a celestial order may seem attractive. So when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) recently said that the “Chinese race” will again rise to power like it did during the Han and Tang dynasties, was he implying a return to this celestial order?
Former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush recently released a book in which he described the current situation in East Asia as being like “one mountain with two tigers.” China and Japan are the second and third-biggest economies in the world, so referring to them as “two tigers” is in line with reality.
However, what this theory overlooks is the fact that the celestial system allows there to be only “one dragon” and nothing else, especially not two tigers. Is this what China really thinks? It would definitely seem so. This is why regardless of how much Japan tries to appease China, Beijing will not allow Tokyo to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council or a “normal country,” and also why Beijing tells Tokyo what to do every chance it gets.
The celestial system also includes the idea of a system of tributary trade in which the “celestial court,” or China, offers concessions. China now gives such trade concessions to ASEAN countries, but why have ASEAN members all turned to the US and broken one of the taboos of the celestial order by coming together and blackmailing Beijing when it comes to the issues of the South China Sea?
With things like this, it is no wonder the world has an “unhappy China” on its hands.